Have you decided what you are serving for Thanksgiving this year? Earlier this week I finalized my menu and mapped out my preparation timeline in full. Today I want to share all of this with you with the hope that the lessons I have learned over the years might help eliminate some of the last-minute stress from your Thanksgiving preparations.
Here is my Thanksgiving Menu:
Ina’s Autumn Sangria
Maple Chipotle Snack Mix
Cornbread and Sausage Dressing
Sweet Potatoes with Brown Sugar Pecan Topping
Green Bean Casserole
Buttery Dinner Rolls
Pumpkin Tart with Gingersnap Crust
Three Lessons I Have Learned About Thanksgiving Prep.
Start thawing your turkey on Friday. It will easily take three to four days for a large, frozen bird to thaw under refrigeration. Buy it on Thursday. Thaw it on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and all day Monday. On Tuesday, dry brine the bird. And then roast it on Thursday.
Everything can be made ahead of time. Most people make the mistake of thinking side dishes like sweet potatoes or green bean casserole have to be made the day before or the day of. They do not. The only thing I make the day of Thanksgiving is the turkey. The only things I make the day before Thanksgiving are the pies. Other than that, I make it all ahead. Yes, even the gravy.
Prep. Cook. Finish. If you listened to my podcast episode (Episode 22) on my meal planning method, then you will remember that one of my secrets is to follow the prep, cook, finish routine. On one day you prep the ingredients (chopping onions, grating cheese, chopping herbs, etc.). The next day you cook (brown the onions, brown the sausage, assemble the dish, etc.). And the final day (which in this case is Thanksgiving Day) you bake the dish in the oven. This method keeps my daily time spent in the kitchen at a very reasonable level.
To help showcase how this works, I am sharing my real-life Thanksgiving Timeline below.
buy groceries for turkey, cornbread, dressing, snack mix
dry cornbread in oven
prep dressing ingredients
buy groceries for gravy, pie crust, rolls, sweet potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes
bake dressing (Pro Tip: fully make and bake your dressing ahead, then cover and freeze it. Thaw it on Wednesday and reheat it covered with foil on Thursday. It works and saves a ton of time!)
make and freeze rolls
make and freeze pie crust
make snack mix
pull out dishes, linens, and serving pieces
buy groceries for apple pie, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, whipped cream, and beverages
prep sweet potatoes
prep green beans
prep mashed potatoes
make cranberry sauce
fully set table
make sweet potatoes
make green bean casserole
make mashed potatoes
prep apple pie
prep pecan pie
prep pumpkin pie
Make apple pie
Make pecan pie
Make pumpkin tart
final buffet and table set up
take a shower and get fully dressed before anything else happens
heat sweet potatoes
heat green bean casserole
heat mashed potatoes
The point in doing any of this working ahead is so that I can show up and enjoy being with my family. Yes, there will undoubtedly be some degree of last-minute tending, but I won’t be exhausted on Thursday. I will be rested, dressed, and able to actually enjoy my favorite holiday of the year with those I love.
Usually, as an added layer of detail, I create a detailed timeline for Thursday with oven temps and times, broken down into 15-minute increments. It may sound like a bit much, but all I have to do is follow the list and know that everything has been thought through. Again, less stress, more connection. This is the point of hospitality, and any work or effort we exert to make it more possible for us to be whole-hearteded aligned with the ideal of creating space for others.
If you have questions specific to Thanksgiving, I am all ears! Let me know your challenges, and we can figure them out together!