I appreciate opportunities to write about Thanksgiving in the weeks leading up to the food-filled holiday for a few reasons. For one, I love food and adore anytime we can gather with friends and family to celebrate delicious dishes. Another reason I love writing about Thanksgiving is that it’s celebrated by so many of us and, except for small shifts in the menu, we essentially all do it the same way. Yes, we may add our own touch and often honor the recipes we grew up with that connect us to loved ones. But, for the most part, we’ll all be heading to the supermarket for potatoes, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and of course turkey (unless you’re having a turkey-less Thanksgiving).
Naturally, a fantastic feast doesn’t just appear on the table without thought, menu planning, and strategically timed visits to the supermarket. To help you prepare I’ve put together five planning tips and of course a few recipes too.
Tip #1: Keep it simple.
Regardless of your crowd, I recommend only choosing 4-5 recipes and then scaling the amount you need. Trying to take on too many different dishes can become confusing, time-consuming, and even more difficult to warm up and serve when you have many guests. Consider too if there is any crowdsourcing you want to do and reach out to your guests for ideas and inspiration.
Tip #2: Stick to what you know.
Unless you have time to try techniques before Thanksgiving, this is not the best time to experiment with a cooking method you’re less familiar with or a complicated recipe with many steps. The goal is to prepare flavorful, well-cooked dishes. The good news is that most Thanksgiving recipes are simple.
Tip #3: Consider your kitchen.
We may want to prepare all our dishes on Thanksgiving, but is that possible if your turkey will be in the oven for several hours? Furthermore, even if you prepare most sides a day ahead (like I do!), then you’ll still need to warm up those dishes. How will you time that? Depending on your oven space, it may be best to consider recipes that can be made in a slow cooker or on the stove. You will have time when the turkey is resting to warm dishes in the oven. In this case I recommend pulling those dishes from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes ahead of time so that they lose their chill before going into the oven.
Tip #4: Aim for a balanced menu.
It’s easy to end up with a Thanksgiving menu of starches alongside turkey. This happens when our sides are all made from potato, sweet potato, stuffing, and dinner rolls. I like to add something bright and fresh, and keep in mind how colorful the plate will look (considering that sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce are the only colorful foods on an otherwise bland looking plate). Lastly, consider your guest list and any dietary needs that may impact the desserts you choose
Tip #5: Prep ahead.
Don’t forget that some recipes may begin a couple of days ahead. For example, do you need to cut up bread and allow it to become stale for stuffing? Are there common ingredients, like diced onion or herbs, that may be prepped ahead of time to save time? Lastly, don’t forget that a frozen turkey will take several days to thaw.