When planning for the biggest and best meal of year, I often find myself overwhelmed with who to invite, what to serve, how to decorate, and when to start preparing. After working at Serendipity for the past few years I have learned a few strategies that have conveniently become helpful when holiday planning. A few top tips for stress-free Thanksgiving planning, which by the way, is just twenty-two days away- no worries, that’s plenty of time!
Guest list: Start by narrowing down the guest list, and confirm how many are coming at least two-three weeks before Turkey Day. Once you know how many guests are coming, the menu will be easier to plan. From here you decide how big a bird you should serve, and make note if any of your guests have special dietary requirements, such as vegetarian or gluten free.
Make a Menu Game Plan: Now that you know who is coming, it is time to start my personal favorite part, the menu planning! Start with the food centerpiece of the dining table–the turkey–and make a phone call to a favorite grocer to reserve your bird, tell him how many you are expecting so they get you right size. (or perhaps you choose a different meat this year) Once you have your main protein picked, work your way out from there. Typically a Thanksgiving menu has three to four sides, two appetizers to munch on while the dinner is being prepped and, of course, two desert options. Decide if you are taking this on, or if you will be asking guests to help by bringing dishes.
Lists, Lists, And Lists: Download your favorite list-making app (I like Best Shopping List and my Shopi) because it is list-making time! I like to start by writing down every ingredient of each recipe I am making. Then I go through my kitchen and check off what I already have, leaving me with everything I need from the store. Other lists worth making are a liquor store list, a list of decorations you have and what you need, and an eating ware, glassware, and linens list. Make sure you have what you need for eating ware and linens now, in case you need to order more!
Confirm Menu: I always call my guests to go over the menu in order to either confirm what dish what they are bringing or, if there are any dietary requirements, to make sure that what is being served fits their needs. Nothing worse than slaving over a meal a few guests can’t eat!
Shop! Two weeks ahead of time it is safe to buy any beer, wine or liquor I will need, as these keep well without refrigeration. A typical drink portion per guest is around two-three drinks. Sometimes my crowd varies on the lighter, or heavier drinking side. I love this online drink calculator, which tells me accurately what I will need.
One to two weeks ahead of time I also start shopping for non-perishables like canned pumpkin, sugar, flour, and canned cranberries. I also purchase any paper or plastic goods like napkins, and disposable appetizer plates. I don’t forget to pick up the turkey and make sure it is fully defrosted, if frozen.
(Save the perishable shopping for the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Now is when you want to buy fresh veggies, fruits, and dairy.)
Prep Early When You Can: In order to save sanity, I find five days ahead of time it is perfectly acceptable to begin prepping and even finishing a few items such as cranberry sauce, layering and freezing gratins and casseroles, chopping heartier vegetables like Brussels sprouts and beets, and I even fully prep pies- simply bake them Wednesday and warm on Thanksgiving before serving. I also throw any wine, or beer that need to be chilled in the fridge.
Decorate: My second favorite part! Aside from fresh flowers, set out all décor at least three days before hand. Over the next few days I play around with the decorations to make sure everything is just how I like it, and that it will not be too much in the way of guests or where I will be serving food. I make things even easier by fully setting the table now too.
Clean: Yes, it is a busy few days but I always take some time to clean and straighten up everywhere guests will be.
Thaw: I take my turkey (if frozen) out of the freezer and into the fridge 3 days before thanksgiving. Then the day before, I brine it. (Thank you Serendipity kitchen staff for cluing me in on this excellent turkey tip!) On Wednesday, I relocate any of my prepped gratins, casseroles, or pies from freezer to fridge too.
Thanksgiving Day: For me, first thing is first on Thanksgiving morning—caffeinate. After a large cup of Joe I turn yet again to list making, going through everything I am making and what guests are bringing. I prioritize what will take longest (obviously, the bird), starting with taking the turkey out of the fridge to sit at room temp for at least two hours before roasting. A turkey typically takes five to six hours to roast, so I have plenty of time to get other things done…
Like any last minute cleaning and straightening up. Also putting fresh flowers in vases and adding finishing touches to my decorations, candle lighting, table setting. I also use this time to get myself and my family dressed for the occasion, with two small children, this is no easy feat!
With much of my prep done earlier in the week I truly only have potatoes to mash, which I do two hours before guests arrive, and keep warm in oven, a simple gravy to throw together once turkey is done, and a salad to toss last minute before sitting down. I keep my oven on all day to warm my prepped sides and fill the air with the magical once-a-year Thanksgiving aromas. As dinner begins to wind down, I pop pies in the oven to warm, sit back down, pour a glass of wine and proudly enjoy a relaxing, and successful Thanksgiving.
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Have any Thanksgiving questions? I’d love to hear from you! Comment below with any Turkey Day thoughts, or questions you’d like to share.