Planning for Success: Making the Thanksgiving Meal a Happy Tradition

by Laura on November 7, 2011

in Thanksgiving, Traditions

In the second of our Holiday Entertaining Series Collaborative posts between Family Eats and Rosanna Inc. we look at the Tradition of Thanksgiving. You can read Rosanna’s post, Thanksgiving Entertaining: Making A Healthy & Cherished Tradition. 

As a child, Thanksgiving was spent at my grandparents’ home along with my aunt, uncles and cousins. As we arrived, preparations were in full swing, the house smelled wonderful and we didn’t have to lift a finger (except when we got older, us girls helped with the dishes).

It was a big feat feeding the 15+ of us, but Grandma Marie seemed to make it so effortless. She had a smile on her face, and was excited just to have her 3 girls and their families back together for a delicious Thanksgiving meal. Behind the scenes, I’m sure things were a bit hectic from Grandma, but she never showed it.

Behind the scenes in our house can get a bit hectic, but as the years go by, and we log multiple Thanksgiving dinners behind us, we have come to embrace the importance of Planning for the big day of cooking.

Whether I’m feeding just our family of six, or welcoming family from out of town, I find things really go much more smoothly, when I take the time – several weeks ahead of time to Plan the meal.

Plan the Meal

Start at the beginning of the month perusing cookbooks, cooking magazines and online for new recipes you’d like to try. Grandma used to prepare the turkey the same year in and year out – something she did perfectly – but we like to mix it up a bit. We revisit the menu we prepared the previous year and decide which elements we would like to keep and which we’d like to change.

The biggest rule of thumb when planning the menu is to make sure that you match the turkey flavors with that of the stuffing and other side dishes. Don’t opt for a Mexican style rub on the turkey without complementing the flavors with a perfect stuffing. That doesn’t mean tossing old family favorites . . . because no matter what we decide on, there are always Grandma Marie’s potato dumplings on our Thanksgiving table.

We also take a careful look at the recipes we choose for the menu to make sure that they don’t require too much last minute preparation – otherwise I’ll be overwhelmed when it comes to dinnertime.

Then, once I’ve decided on the recipe, I make a copy of the recipes and put them in a notebook or other binder for easy reference. Nothing is worse than having five cookbooks and three magazines open in the kitchen as I’m cooking dinner.

Plan the Shopping

Grab those recipes and make a list of EVERYTHING needed for the feast. Check your pantry. Which spices do you have, which do you need? Do you have enough flour, sugar, maple syrup? What about butter, eggs and heavy cream? What about the star of the feast – the turkey? If you are ordering a heritage, organic, or pasture-raised turkey, oftentimes you’ll need to order early. Check with your local market, or order online, and ensure the delivery of the turkey that you want.

Beyond the ingredients needed for this fabulous holiday feast, don’t forget to plan to have the proper tools on hand. Roasters, basting tools and carving knives are the obvious items to have on hand, but don’t forget digital meat thermometers, fat separators for making gravy, potato mashers, and pie plates.

If you’ve two ovens in your kitchen, preparation and keeping things warm and ready-to serve simultaneously is a bit easier than one-stove-households like ours. We find our slow cooker is a big help in getting things cooked and on the table. Induction hotplates are also handy – not only for cooking, but for keeping food warm on the table or the buffet. We even get our grill into the action, especially when we make the Grill-Roasted Vegetables with Pine Nut Pesto.

Plan the Table

Presentation makes the Thanksgiving meal even more special. Take the time to plan your table to create an inviting meal that is extra special. Are you using formal dinnerware or everyday dishes? If the former, get them ready and dusted off a few days ahead of time. As the day nears, bring the dishes, serving plates and utensils out and have them handy (if space provides). Bring out the tablecloth and napkins, and iron if needed. Be sure to read Rosanna’s blog for some fabulous ideas on how to personalize the table as well as ideas for decorating the table with something from nature.

Plan the Week

Before the week gets started, sit down with your recipes and read them all the way through. Which ones can be prepared ahead of time? Some may require pre-preparation and marinades, which will demand a few extra hours of preparation on Thanksgiving day. Also note which ones are best when made last minute?

Also, choose the day to go shopping and get all the shopping done at one time. When unpacking food for the feast, try to keep order in the refrigerator in order to make it much easier to find when you are in the midst of making the meal.

Start the day before chopping vegetables so preparation goes much more quickly. Store pre-chopped vegetables in an airtight container until ready to use. If making bread or rolls for dinner, bake them a few days ahead of time, then wrap and place it in the freezer? And, don’t forget dessert. The day before Thanksgiving is our pie day, as it is almost futile to squeeze pie-baking in on the day of.

Plan the Day

Timing is everything, and essential when creating a feast. You’ll want to ensure that everything from turkey to bread rolls are ready to go at the same time. First determine the time you want to eat, then back out the time it will take to prepare everything. Make note as to what time the turkey needs to be in the oven, when potatoes should be boiled and mashed for dumplings, and when green beans need to be steamed for your favorite green bean casserole. If you thrive on being organized organized, create a timeline when items should be prepared and when to plop them in the oven or on the stove.

Plan the Moment

If you’ve planned properly, you should have a moment to sit down with family and friends at the table. Remember the most important part of the day is enjoying the fruits of your labor, If you properly planned ahead of time, you’ll be sure to actually get off your feet and give thanks for your blessings.

Enjoy the meal. . . just don’t forget one of the side dishes in the oven (we’ve done that before!)

To help you get started planning for the perfect Thanksgiving moment, here are a few favorite recipes:


Grill-Roasted Vegetables with Pine Nut Pesto

Cranberry Compote with Ginger and Molasses

Rosanna’s Thanksgiving Squash

Port-Glazed Onions and Shallots

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