Planning Thanksgiving Dinner

November 14, 2018   12 Comments

Planning Thanksgiving dinner is a major project. With the shopping, the cleaning, the counting (of people, plates, and chairs) - who hasn’t been stressed out with the task?

Planning Thanksgiving Dinner

I am telling you that I have solved the major problem of planning Thanksgiving dinner. It took me many, many YEARS but I finally have come up with a plan that I love.

But, before I get to that plan - be aware that the easiest way to have Thanksgiving is to either go out or order it in. If you are having a tough time, just give in and place an order with your local grocery store. Whole Foods sent me a brochure to encourage me to do just that! If I hadn’t come up with my latest plan - I might be handing over my credit card.

The key, my friends, is to:

  • Get everyone involved.
  • Time it so everything that needs the oven is done by noon. The bird then gets the space to roast.

Now, when I say "everyone" I do not intend for you to include these little rascals. Who has time for that?

I suggest that you invite the people who would ordinarily sit in front of the TV or laptop and just show up to the meal. No, they can’t do that anymore because the entire meal is too hard! Turkey, stuffing, gravy, pies, cranberry sauce, vegetables, etc. etc. etc. No person can do all of this without passing out from exhaustion. I know because I have tried.

My inspiration came from this article: The 400-Degree Thanksgiving. In it, the chefs cook Thanksgiving in one day, on four burners, and in one oven.

Yes, it is possible. Not only is it possible but I believe it is the best way to cook the meal as everything is fresh and everyone has to collaborate.

How does it work?

You start the day with a pie or crumble, stuffing (not in bird) and sweet potato dish in the oven at 400 F. At noon, everything that needs the oven is done and you put your turkey in to roast. While it is roasting, you do stovetop things like cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, braised kale or sauteed green beans and salad.

When the turkey is done, you pull it out to rest - put the stuffing, sweet potatoes, etc. back in the oven to reheat while you make the gravy. Voila!!

One kitchen, one oven, one stove-top and you have a meal at 4:30 or so depending on how big your turkey is.

We tried this last year as a family and we ended up looking like these people:

I mean how happy are they?

We didn’t actually look like those people but my 13 year old daughter and 11 year old son were ready to go this year and try again. They loved being part of the action and I loved the lack of stress.

We all signed up for dishes a couple of days before and I bought all the ingredients. Two people were assigned to each dish so that no one was stuck doing too much.

I handed out an itinerary of who would be in the kitchen at what time so people could go watch TV or take the dog for a walk and then arrive in time for their assignment.

The best part was that I was not exhausted (and the food was really good). Everyone helped out, everyone was invested, and we all had a wonderful meal.

How do you plan Thanksgiving Dinner? Have you tried to do it all in one day? How did it go?

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As I get older, I find that doing it all in one day is just too much. So bread for the stuffing gets baked on Monday. Cranberry sauce on Tuesday since it gets better as it ages. Mashed potatoes and stuffing get done on Wednesday. Both can be put in crockpots or in oven on Thanksgiving to reheat. That leaves just the turkey and fresh vegetables for Thanksgiving Day. I've followed this schedule for the last three years and Thanksgiving has become a pleasure. I actually get to enjoy the meal with family and friends without being exhausted. Clean up is a lot easier too. However you schedule it, I hope you and your loved ones have a wonderful holiday.

Do you reheat the things that came out of the oven at noon when you're not eating until 4:30? I know some of them don't need to be served hot like pie, but it seems like stuffing and sweet potatoes are better warm.

The way I've dealt with preparing Thanksgiving and one oven is to roast and carve the turkey the day before (in a Reynolds oven bag for speed, moisture, and easy cleanup). I bag up the turkey for sandwiches. I put the turkey amount for dinner in an oven-safe serving dish and cover it with the turkey juices, the skin, and tinfoil. I also prepare the stuffing and mashed potatoes on Wednesday but don't bake them.

On Thanksgiving day, I bake the stuffing and mashed potatoes in the oven. (I use dishes that are small enough that I can fit 4 things in one oven. I usually bake half for our noon-day meal and may bake more for our evening meal. I have a recipe for mashed potatoes that you do ahead and bake, but it might work with most recipes.) Then I add the turkey at 350 to reheat for at least 30 minutes. I don't notice the turkey being too dry, though some purists might. To me, it's worth having everything come out warm at once and having most of the mess dealt with the day before.

When our kitchen was under renovation, I cooked Thanksgiving dinner with six slow cookers and a toaster oven. It is possible! 😊

@Jodie - Everything that needs to be heated in the oven is put back in for 15 minutes before we serve the turkey. For me that would be stuffing, mashed potatoes, and sweet potatoes. You have room now that the turkey is out! 400F for 15 minutes and you are good to go.

Great question!

I always ask everyone to bring either a side dish, dessert, appetizer, or even a beverage (for those who don't cook). I think people like to bring something and to get their dish oohed and aahed over.

After many years of cooking, I would like to change the Thanksgiving menu to two items: stuffing and pie. That's it -- only the best!

We usually have from 6-10 people.

Thanksgiving Day:

1). Get up and watch NBC Thanksgiving Parade while getting table set, dishes ready, veggie casserole baked.

2). Dinner is at 4 or 5 pm

3). Everyone brings something. Martha makes homemade cranberry relish and pecan pie. Mary brings drinks & appetizer. Maybe another dessert.

4). SIMPLY POTATOES!!!! WHy have you never used these? Read their ingredients: it’s exactly What you’d use yourself!! So easy!! Saves all that mashed potato business & u can use either microwave or stovetop. This is not Bob Evans. It’s just really good. Saves a bunch of work.

5). Buy onion/celery/pepper already cut up at Trader Joe’s or wherever. Big time saver for stuffing.

6). Take a little extra time w veggie casserole of some type. Most people appreciate it.

7). Most important of all: use Reynold’s Turkey oven bag! Follow direction exactly. Your turkey will cook in oven in 2-3 hours if you do.

8). I’ve been experimenting w buying the gravy, but haven’t found a great solution yet. Anybody?

9). My husband & his sister carve the bird. This is still a work in progress.

9). I help put away food and dishes, but others load dishwasher, clean large pans, & take out garbage.

Me and my 3 siblings all have families, and some other family obligations, or new traditions of our own. My Mom is in her 70's and doesn't want to prepare large meals, and do the cleaning, even when we helped, it's just gotten to be too much. Thanksgiving everyone does their own thing, me and my husband make a roast in the crockpot, have a pumpkin pie (I make/bake), green bean casserole, Costco mashed potatoes and frozen rolls. It's all delicious, and easy, no stress. For Christmas we have everyone over to our house, for a brunch, which is also easy, I make my pots de creme, a pie, and a main brunch item, this year it'll be mini Monte Cristo's. Then everyone else will bring whatever they want to bring. I used to make it all myself, but never having kids, and not having made large meals for anyone, only once my parents aged out of wanting to do it, it was super stressful! So now I'm back to "hey this is what I'm making what do you want to bring?" Because thankfully, nearly everyone in my family loves to cook or bake.

Happy holidays!

Cook your bird the day before if you can. Then you can carve it, cover it with gravy in a foil plan, and just heat up the next day. Voila!

This year I have gotten my two grown sons and my nieces and nephews involved. MY son sent a group text asking the 5 cousins to each bring a side dish. My sons are in charge of the turkey and potatoes. I will still make my stuffing which everyone looks forward to. Of course we will help supervise as necessary, but it will certainly make my day easier and I might even get to watch a little football.

A big time saver for me is making the gravy ahead of time. I roast the heck out of turkey wings until they are dark brown, then simmer them, along with the drippings & fond left in the pan, with low sodium chicken broth. Then measure how much you need for the day & freeze it. You can do this weeks ahead. You can thicken it first or when you thaw it out. I make quite a bit & use the extra for turkey soup. You can add the turkey drippings if you want but you don't need really them. Always used to hate the last minute gravy hassle but no more.Much better than store bought.

I have found the best way to do Thanksgiving. I cook my vegetables (squash, rutabaga) a couple of weeks before and freeze. The Pioneer Woman has a great mashed potato that can be made a few days ahead which I do and it is delicious. A few weeks before Thanksgiving I make my mincemeat/cranberry pie and my regular dressing and cornbread dressing and freeze then. . (they freeze beautifully). I make my cranberry chutney a couple of weeks before the holiday. I set my table the weekend before Thanksgiving (cover it with a sheet). Clean the house Monday and get guest rooms ready. On Tuesday I make pies or anything else that cannot be frozen (appetizers, stuffed celery). I relax and do nothing on Wednesday and by Thanksgiving all is done and the only thing I have to do is heat the veggies, and roast the turkey. I buy a quart or two of homemade gravy from our village market and when the turkey is done, save all the juices and make gravy from that on another day. Thanksgiving is a relaxing and enjoyable time with my family because all the work has been done. A friend just gave me a recipe where you cook the turkey a couple of days before Thanksgiving so you don't even have to do THAT! She did it last year and she said it was better than turkey roasted on Thanksgiving.

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