The most important thing to remember at Thanksgiving isn’t the food, or the table. It is the reason why we celebrate the holiday. Thanksgiving is an opportunity to bring together the people around us who mean the most; to share a delicious meal; to take a moment to reflect and be thankful for everything and everyone around us.
But, to help you plan and organize all the tasks that have to be done between now and then, we’ve put together a list - a roadmap of sorts - of all the tasks and tips you need to remember when hosting a gathering, of any scale, and cooking a large meal this holiday season. Please note that depending on the scale of your event, and the products you choose (some turkeys need to be ordered way in advance), some of our tips may not be applicable .
Last thing to remember: on Thanksgiving Day, culinary malfunction or none, remember why you and your guests have gathered, and don't forget to smile.
2 months in advance:
- If you need to order your turkey, desserts, or arrangements (or any rentals, depending on the size of your event) this far in advance, make note and do so.
- Talk with your family, and other Thanksgiving guests, to begin confirming the guest list.
- Do you have children? Talk with them about their vacation and activities they want to do, or might have planned. Are they away at school, and need you to pick them up? This will take time away from your preparations, so make sure to consider this than when creating your timeline.
1 month in advance:
- Confirm your guest list, and any weekend houseguests.
- As well, consider your plans for the rest of the holiday weekend as you figure out what meals you will serve before and after the big meal. Many families shop on Black Friday (which may mean you don’t need to have a lunch planned, with leftovers and turkey soup for dinner Friday night). Others will go get their Christmas tree that weekend. Often, travel and activity plans will determine what other meals do/don’t need to be planned for!
1st weekend in November:
- Determine what recipes you are going to be making. Some important things to consider, or remember: Do your dishes go well together, flavor-wise? Is the meal balanced (vegetables, starches, etc.), and are you offering something for everyone (especially if you have vegetarians or lactose-intolerant guests)? Remember volume – you might have to double one dish to feed your 8 guests, but then triple another.
- Can you cook all the dishes in your stove/oven? Run through the cooking process, noting when things are on the stove, or in the oven (and at what temperature), and that you have space for it all. Nothing is worse that realizing you can’t bake two side dishes in your one oven because the turkey is cooking there. Oops!
- Once your menu and cooking road map are figured out, you can make a day-of timeline for when the oven needs to be preheated, the turkey needs to go in, the casseroles have to be made and baked, and the vegetables sautéed, with the end goal of all the food being ready to serve, at the proper temperatures, at the same time.
- If you have kids home from school, decide on what other meals you will be making in the days preceding and after the holiday. Beforehand, it’s best to choose easy one-dish meals that you can make and freeze in advance, if you don’t want to resort to going out or ordering in. Remember that you will likely have Thanksgiving leftovers, so think about turkey soup, turkey croquettes, and turkey sandwiches.
- Put together a shopping list, divided into perishables and non-perishables, to make shopping easier. As well, don’t forget household basics for breakfasts and lunches around the holiday. Just in case, stock up on emergency back-ups, in the event of an appetizer or dessert snafu. Don’t forget salad dressings, butter, salt and pepper…
- Make sure that any orders you need to place are made, noting when they will be picked up or delivered.
- With your menu, go through your serving dishes and utensils. Marry together each recipe with the dish you want to serve it in and the utensil it will be served with, labeling each set with a post-it. Do the same with your cooking utensils, making sure you have a baster and kitchen twine, and check to make sure you have enough containers to store leftovers in! If there is anything you need, purchase it now.
2nd weekend in November:
- Focus on your centerpieces and décor this weekend. Determine how you want to set each place: Chargers? Dinner and salad plates? Bread and butter plates? How many pieces of flatware? Just a fork and knife, with a dessert spoon on top? Once this is determined, you can figure out what you have and what you need. Don’t forget about glassware: for water, white wine, red wine, mixed drinks, kids drinks. Purchase anything you need but don’t have now.
- Make sure the dishware and glassware you are using is clean. Polish any silver that you may be using.
- For centerpieces, whether you are creating your own (see slideshow), or ordering one from a florist, make sure you have the ingredients, inspiration, and time (!!) you need to transform your vision into reality. As well, think about where you want to put candles, and what kind. Maybe tapers on the sideboard, and votives along the table?
- Make sure you have linens for the table(s) – not just the dining table, but bar table(s), serving table(s), or tables of appetizers, whatever you are using -- and that they are clean and pressed. If not, you should arrange that now.
- Consider the beverages you will serve. Maybe you’ll serve a signature cocktail, offer a fully stocked bar, or simply just bubbly, beer, and wines. Make sure you have enough liquor, water, and mixers for the number of guests you’re expecting, and have the proper utensils and ingredients – don’t forget cocktail napkins, lemons and limes!
- Serving appetizers or desserts that can be made and frozen without a problem? Meals for the days leading up to the big day? Go ahead and make/freeze those dishes now.
3rd weekend in November:
- Remind your guests that you’re looking forward to sharing Thanksgiving with them, and confirm when they will be arriving.
- Prep your home! Is your powder room organized and stocked? Is your icemaker clean and working (will you need to pick up extra ice?)? Straighten up around the house, and, if you don’t clean the home this weekend, make sure it can done before the big day.
- Clean out your refrigerator to make room for your dishes.
- Check your lists and what you have in your pantry. Do you have cocktail napkins, toothpicks, paper towels? Coffee, tea, milk and sugar to serve with dessert? Back-up appetizer and dessert options in the event of a snafu? Kid-friendly basics for picky eaters, if you have kids coming? As well, make sure you have staple items, like sandwich breads and wraps, or carrots, onions and celery to make turkey stock, to help create meals out of leftovers. It’s better to be prepared than out of luck.
- Organize your bar and chill any beverages that need to be cold.
- Begin defrosting your turkey, if it is frozen.
- Making coffee cakes or muffins for breakfasts? Or a dish, like a braise, where the flavors improve with time? Often these can be made a couple of days in advance.
Monday and Tuesday:
- Make your pies, cranberry sauces, and other dishes that can hold for four days.
- Set your table and decorate the spaces where your guests will be.
- Begin chopping vegetables for cooking, and slicing lemons and limes for the bar. Are your butter dishes ready, and salt and pepper shakers full? If you are brining your turkey, you can make the brine, too.
- Continue chopping and prepping, assembling the stuffing and other dishes that can be refrigerated overnight.
- Do a final run through of your lists, recipes, and pantry inventory, making a final grocery run if necessary.
- Make sure the foods and centerpieces you ordered will arrive in time.
- Make a fruit salad to serve with breakfast.
- Determine when you need to get up in order to do what you want to do (Coffee? Exercise?) and still preheat the oven, and get the bird in, at the proper time.
- Get a good night’s sleep.
- Do a final sweep of your set table and bar area, set the serving dishes in a place where they can all sit before being served, preparing a creamer and sugar for coffee and tea.
- Prep your appetizers.
- Cook and have fun.