Blueprint for a Perfect Thanksgiving

Planning for Thanksgiving…something that has been on my mind A LOT as the calendar gets closer to this wonderful holiday that celebrates food and family. Speaking of family, I have 35 family members that will be joining me this year (and many staying for brunch the next day)…yes, you are reading this correctly.

For holidays like this, we need a strategy. After all, similar to a storm you know is coming (not that I’m likening my family to a storm or anything), what you do ahead is key to a successful outcome.

Vermont Cheddar Mashed Yukon Golds
Vermont Cheddar Mashed Yukon Golds – 1 Guiding Star

2 weeks ahead

This is when the lists are made and the foundation is laid to what will be your “well built” Thanksgiving.

Create your menu: do this now so that as you are grocery shopping you can pick up the non-perishable foods you need. You will not only spread out the grocery bill, you will be able to catch the best sales as they happen.  Of course, this type of shopping requires a master list so that you don’t miss an ingredient.

Take advantage of what is around you: If you are hosting a large crew like me, one bird isn’t enough (unless you have an industrial kitchen and the desire to start cooking at 4am). So, a few years ago we started getting a platter of carved turkey from a local caterer. Now we cook a turkey and voila, have extra meat ready to go! No, this isn’t cheating…it is being resourceful. If it isn’t your specialty or you fear you won’t have enough food…outsource it.

Your table: Once I have my seating settled (I figure this out now to save time and stress later), I like to create a center piece that is meaningful to my family. This year we will be doing an “I’m thankful for…” tree on each table. A quick trip to the craft store allowed me to get little tin pots, fake branches, foam to press them into (something to cover the foam), ribbon and cardstock. I am asking guests to write what they are thankful for and hang their leaves, which I hope to bring back next year and the year after. You may also want to consider activities for kids such as those I suggest in my previous post on kid-friendly holiday feasts.

1-2 days ahead

The shopping is done; the food you can order or outsource is covered. Now you need to prepare the dishes you are responsible for.

Make ahead dishes: Luckily, many dishes are easy to make a day ahead and reheat. As some of my family is vegetarian, I make at least two different stuffing dishes such as Wild and Brown Rice with Apples, Pecans and Cranberries (made with vegetable stock) and another more traditional. Making mashed potatoes ahead of time can be a bit trickier. Luckily this recipe for Vermont Cheddar Mashed Yukon Goldsincludes reheating instructions.

Create a cheat sheet: This is a master list of all the dishes you will serve so that nothing gets left behind in the fridge! Before your kitchen is swirling with well intentioned family members, take a moment to write the dish, if it needs to be warmed in the oven and what you will serve it with. If you are super organized, then you may want to even label serving pieces ahead of time as well as create name tags for each dish so that guests are informed about what they are eating.


Turkey time: It is always a relief to get the turkey in the oven. I suggest this recipe for Herb Roasted Turkey, which includes all you need to create a moist turkey. Aim to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Remember that some cooking will continue when the turkey is resting. There are many guides to perfect turkey roasting if you are looking for more advice.

The magic 30 minutes: This is the moment, while your turkey is standing, that you have to reheat the beautiful dishes you made the day or two before. This is when you prepare the gravy and make sure everything is ready to go. Grab your Cranberry Sauce and other extras for the table.

Your beautiful table: Take some pictures. You deserve it. After all, the meal will be done before you know it. Then, if you are like me, you will prepare your brunch casseroles.