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Quick Thanksgiving Prep: Week-by-Week Steps

It's November, which means you need to start planning for that big (or small) Thanksgiving meal. If you're like most people, planning for the meal will take you more than a week. Avoid the stress and hassle of waiting until the last minute and use these tips to plan a great Thanksgiving celebration.
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It's November, which means you need to start planning for that big (or small) Thanksgiving meal. If you're like most people, planning for the meal will take you more than a week. Avoid the stress and hassle of waiting until the last minute and use these tips to plan a great Thanksgiving celebration:

Beginning of November

  1. Plan your menu. Think about family favorites, Thanksgiving classics (i.e., the turkey) and plan around them.
  2. Figure out how many people will be coming. Decide what kind of ambiance you want to create for dinner. Make a list as you determine what you'll need.
  3. Order a turkey now! This is if you're not going to buy a bird at the grocery store and cook it a week ahead of time.
  4. Walk through your home. Make note of anything that needs maintenance or repair attention prior to the holiday.
  5. Clear the pantry. Check to see if there are ingredients you'll be able to use for the menu.
  6. Consider if you'll rent or buy new items for dinner. This includes all the essentials -- silverware, plates, chairs, etc.
Photo courtesy of Pavarini Design in New York, NY

2 - 3 Weeks before Thanksgiving

  1. Get any cookware you need. This includes supplies like cookware and any heavy duty cooking tools you'll need for the turkey or side dishes.
  2. Make a shopping list. Once you've planned the menu, you'll need to make a shopping list. If someone is helping you cook, divide it up. Otherwise, make sure your list is thorough so you don't have to make a last-minute trip.
  3. Clean your fridge and freezer. Since you'll need to cook a lot of items and will have leftovers after the big day, now is a great time to clean out your fridge and freezer to make room.
  4. Choose your decor. Once you've picked a theme or aesthetic -- buffet or formal dinner -- you can order or buy the essential decor (tablecloths, centerpieces, etc.). Wait to directly purchase table centerpieces including fresh flowers until one to two days before Thanksgiving.
  5. Freeze some cooking supplies. To save yourself some time the day of, start making and freezing some essentials now including pie crusts, rolls and gravy stock.
  6. Create a cooking schedule. Decide what to cook and when to save time on Thanksgiving. It will cut time and stress significantly, especially if you have extra hands helping in the kitchen.

1 Week Before

  1. Buy non-perishable supplies. Since you have a week before Thanksgiving, you can get the non-perishable items now and cut time at the store later. This includes:
    • Equipment
    • Decor
    • Paper goods
    • Cleaning supplies
    • Baking ingredients
  2. Make a seating chart. By now you should have a good idea of who's coming to dinner next week. You can either draw or mock up an idea of who's going to sit where and plan accordingly should you need extra chairs or tables.
  3. Get the turkey. If you ordered the turkey ahead of time, now is the time to pick it up. You can then start prepping it.
  4. Clean the house. While you could wait until the day before to clean your home, it's less stressful to clean a week ahead of time (unless it gets messy quickly). Focus on the high traffic areas -- foyer, bathroom, kitchen and living room. If needed, you can call a cleaning service to do it for you.
Photo courtesy of Pavarini Design in New York, NY

Week of Thanksgiving

  1. Defrost the bird. It will take time to defrost the turkey -- experts say about 4-5 hours per pound in the refrigerator. So put a deep pan underneath the bird in the coldest part of the fridge and let it thaw. Allow yourself enough time to prepare it with a brine if that's your preferred method.
  2. Buy perishables. A day or two ahead of Thanksgiving, go to the grocery store and get any perishable supplies (fruits, vegetables, etc.) and fresh flowers.
  3. Cook sauces and prep pies. The day before, start making the cranberry sauce and pull out the pie crusts to finish the pies.
  4. Make side dishes and bake. Prepare some of the side dishes and bake the pies the night before. To keep the pies warm, leave them out or warm them in the oven on the "warm" setting. There are some types of pies that are best served cool, so keep that in mind when choosing which ones to make. Many side dishes are easily reheated as well.
  5. Set the table. To save a few extra minutes on the day of, set the table now.

On Thanksgiving

  1. Stick to your plan. Use the cooking plan you devised weeks back to keep the process straightforward and stress-free.
  2. Keep cleaning. Keep your sink full of soapy water so you can clean dishes as you go or have someone else do that.
  3. Accept help. If a family member or friend offers to help with cooking or cleaning, let them!
  4. Wrap leftovers. Put leftovers in the fridge or freezer quickly to avoid foodborne illnesses.