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Thanksgiving: Holiday Meal Planning

by | Nov 9, 2008 | Seasonal Decorating & Entertaining

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Thanksgiving: Holiday Meal Planning

Please welcome our inspiring guest today, Brandie from Spoon & Saucer!


For those of us in the states, Thanksgiving is coming up, can you smell the pumpkin pie? Everyone has a favorite holiday, and Thanksgiving is mine.

What’s not to love about a holiday that’s all about family, friends, thankfulness, relaxing (after the dishes are done), hanging out in the kitchen all day and eating what you make? It’s also about the shared tradition and the stories that go along with it. And don’t forget all the food preparation and dishes!

So, how to enjoy this fabulous holiday and find some joy in your kitchen this year? One word…


Here’s some tips on how you can make your holiday meal go a little more smoothly.

Get help.

The Thanksgiving meal isn’t for wimps. It’s a big deal! There’s plenty of pressure, tradition and food to go around. However, it can be a lot of fun if you’re prepared. If this will be your first meal, girlfriend, call in reinforcements! There are a lot of dishes to make, which all need to be hot (or cold) at the right times. Call someone who has done it before to help out. If it’s not your first time, offer to help with someone else’s dinner (she’ll thank you for it!).

Order ahead.

A few years ago I started ordering a fresh local bird, and I will NEVER go back. But, it needs to be ordered ahead of time, and picked up the week of Thanksgiving. Also, if you are thinking of ordering anything (like side dishes) for your meal, get it in asap.

Make a menu and a list.

Know what you are going to make, and when you are going to make it, before the big day. Make your menu and if you’re up to it, do some math and figure out start + prep times. Post this list on the fridge and refer to it as you get closer, making sure you have all supplies ahead of time. (Some local kitchen shops and magazines have great lists, so take advantage of them!)

Prep ahead.

Something you can cook ahead, like pies and cranberry sauce. You can also chop veggies, prepare bread for dressing, etc. Look at your menu and see what can be prepared ahead. You can even set the table the night before if you are feeling ambitious!


If you’re properly prepared and have a game plan, you’ll enjoy the holiday so much more. Take a few minutes and plot out what the day will look like, so you will feel a little better on T-Day. Then, wake up get moving and enjoy the day.

Cheers, and Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

What are YOUR best tips for being prepared to serve holiday meals?

Please share them with us the comments!



  1. Kaye

    I also love Thanksgiving, and I love to cook for Thanksgiving! When our children were small we weren’t able to travel back home to Missouri for the holiday due to work, so we started our own tradition of inviting others without family in town who also couldn’t go home. We shopped, cooked, and prepped all week! I made a master shopping list and planned what could be done in advance each day. My husband and both of our sons got into the act and every night we did something in preparation for the big day, so that by the time our guests arrived we were ready and relaxed and able to enjoy the fabulous food and company! I still use my basic plan from so many years ago. Each year I try one or two new recipes, some we keep, some we toss. Now both our sons are grown and married. Our younger son has not been home for Thanksgiving in several years due to living abroad. He and his wife live here now, but they go to see her family in Pennsylvania for the holiday. So, guess what! He asked to have our family Thanksgiving next weekend so he could enjoy it once again. Oh, yeah, we can! I can hardly wait! One more thing to be Thankful for!

  2. Tara

    This year I’ll be at the Thanksgiving parade in New York! My daughter will be on one of the Macy’s floats, so dinner may be at Carmine’s…they make a great Thanksgiving family style dinner right in Times Square!

    Taras inspiring blog post..Hammock Time!

  3. Jinx

    Excellent advice…especially about getting a fresh turkey! My first ever (for the in-laws no less) was carved still pink…how embarrassing! You don’t ever have that problem with fresh, plus the taste is SO much better!

    One tip I would love to share is to stay focused! Remember, it’s not REALLY about the food. As long as the friends & family are gathered together, there is SO much to be thankful for! You could burn the entire dinner & serve frozen pizza.

    Another would be to decorate, even if it something as simple as a new set of candles & a small bouquet of flowers. You don’t need to own good china & fine crystal. These blogs are filled with wonderful, simple, inexpensive ways to dress up your table for the day. Most are do ahead. So, surf around, get some inspiration, & add a little flair. You’ll be glad you did!

    Jinxs inspiring blog post..Spiced Cafe Mocha Cookies & Dragonlings

  4. krilhustler

    Thanks for the advice. Really appreciate. keep it up.

  5. Lorrie

    Great advice. I do as much as I can ahead of time. Refrigerator space always seems to run out – I use my picnic coolers with ice when that happens.
    I’ve learned to accept offers of help from other people. And since someone usually wanders into the kitchen asking to help, I plan things for them to do ahead of time so I can concentrate on the things I really need to do on my own.
    The BEST topping for pumpkin pie is REAL whipped cream – forget the Cool Whip (oil refinery product :))

  6. Janet

    I was just asking my husband yesterday if there was anything in particular he would like for Thanksgiving.
    With the exception of the turkey, I would like to make dishes that we have never had before, change it up a little.
    I am searching for some new yummy things for this year.

    Janets inspiring blog post..Thanksgiving Projects for the Weekend

  7. Coco

    When planning ahead don’t forget about your table linens…it is nice to have them pressed and ready to go before the mad rush. I like to set my table the night before after everyone is in bed and then just add fresh cut greenery etc… from the yard the next morning. A fresh turkey is a must and I start buying all the non-perishables weeks before. It is always fun to have everyone say or write what they are thankful for and we also play “the name game” while having desert. Everyone writes down the name of a famous person, character etc… and hands it to the reader, he reads each name only twice and then everyone takes a turn trying to figure out who everyone is, if you miss you are out and the last man standing is the winner. I really like to have everything done ahead so that I can enjoy the day with my guests.

    Cocos inspiring blog tutor needed…

  8. Kathy

    I try to get my table ready the day before and since we always have Thanksgiving here (I have often had 20+ around the table!) each family makes a dish to pass. We all have our specialties and we all have a great time:>)

    Kathys inspiring blog post..And the winner is……

  9. Debbie

    Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. To make our celebration simple I plan ahead. I decide on the menu by the first weekend in November. This is also when I do my big clean and my decorating. Then I just have to maintain the house.I like to divide buying the necessary ingredients over the next few weeks to make it more affordable. There are twenty in our immediate family add in the extended family and we near the thirty mark. Each family brings a dish. I usually make the turkey, stuffing , gravy and mashed potatoes. I make pumpkin pie and red velvet cake as well. I also like to make dip to serve with crackers and a veggie tray for folks to nibble on while they wait. Another thing I find helpful is to wash and iron my table linens the week before the big day. Early in the week I make sure my serving dishes are clean and I label what goes into what dish. I cut up all my veggies one or two days ahead. This includes the bread for the stuffing. I make the pies and cake the day before. I also set the table the day before.This is when I download coloring pages for the kids table and hunt up the crayons. I get up early on Thanksgiving Day to roast the turkey ,and cook the giblets for broth.I have a group of gravy lovers so I make broth as well as stock store bought low sodium stock from the grocery store. Chicken stock or broth makes a great substitute if you can’t find turkey broth. I also have learned the hard way that if I clean as I go there’s not as much mess to deal with. Wishing all a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  10. Maven

    Happy impending Thanksgiving to all my American friends! Great advice – planning ahead is the way to go. I do almost everything but the bird the day before.

    Mavens inspiring blog post..Freezer Cooking Make Ahead Chicken and Asparagus Casserole

  11. Darlene

    Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t have to be so time consuming. I make Thanksgiving the Semi-Homemade way and everyone always raves about it.

    Darlenes inspiring blog post..Will you Stand Up?

  12. Miss Janice

    I love the Thanksgiving holiday…it so warm and cozy! I always find inspiration when I visit you.
    Miss Janice

  13. Christi from Charm & Grace

    What a fantastic and oh-so-practical post. We all converge on my house… both my side of the family and my husband’s. Everyone who comes brings a dish or two (or three!), and it makes the load lighter for all. It’s especially helpful to me, as the hostess, in trying to get everything in place for the meal and also for clean-up.

    Thanks for sharing this,

    Christi from Charm & Graces inspiring blog post..Some good news and some artwork

  14. teresa

    Yes, planning ahead is way important- I like to set the table the night before, prepare as much as possible the day before and if we are having guests ask them to bring a part of the meal- or put them to work when they get there. It’s always a lot of fun to work together in the kitchen-
    Great ideas-

    teresas inspiring blog post..Husband tag.

  15. leaca

    Nice list. Thanks.

  16. Susan

    Just one thing, which is as basic as basic can be: PREPARE AS MUCH AHEAD OF TIME AS POSSIBLE!!

  17. bj

    Oh, you do have the neatest blog, sister friend. I just love to come over and I learn something almost every time I do. You do such a great job.
    love , bj

    bjs inspiring blog post..2 games to play today……

  18. Karol Harrison

    Besides all the great tips you have listed out, the thing I have really learned when I have hosted Thanksgiving is to just realize that everything may not go perfectly. Learn to relax and not expect everything to be perfect. Life is not perfect. Don’t over extend yourself in the pursuit of perefection and miss out on enjoying the holiday. Don’t use movies, tv, or even Martha Stewart (although I do love her) as the example of how a Thanksgiving meal should be. Just enjoy family time and have a meal together. Be thankful for the simplest of things. Karol :0)

    Karol Harrisons inspiring blog post..Holiday Curb Appeal

  19. Aunt Bea

    I had to laugh when I read Karol’s remark about things not going perfectly! Last year I prepped a 24# turkey…left it in the fridge overnight…got up at 6 a.m. to put it in the oven…went back to bed since everyone else was still asleep (or so I thought)…slept in until 9 a.m…got up and wandered towards the kitchen to check on dear “Tom” and realized that I didn’t smell turkey…not even a small whiff of the bird could I detect…the stove was stone cold and so was the bird! It seems that DD who was 15 y.o. managed to get past her door alarm and went into the kitchen in search of crackers and when she saw that mom had left the oven on…she turned it off!! (Did I mention that DD is autistic and likes to turn off buttons and switchs?!!) Needless to say, dinner was two hours late and we went through a lot of carrots and dip before the turkey was finished. I was so desperate that I called a friend (on Thanksgiving day no less) and asked her if there was some unwritten law that a turkey had to be roasted at 325 degrees (directions on package) neither of us could come up with a good reason…so…I cranked the oven up to 400 degrees and watched over the turkey so it didn’t burn! It’s anybody’s guess as to what will transpire this year!!! As for traditions I bake each child his/her own pie…sometimes there are 10-12 pies…thankfully most of them freeze well. Always, Always, Always…plan ahead and do as much of the food preparations as you can…it really does help when Thanksgiving Day arrives. I buy all my relish tray fixings a week or so ahead and put everything in my extra fridge in the basement. The cookies, brownies, (pumpkin, banana, poppy seed breads) are in the freezer and can be taken out and placed on trays the day before…pies are made a day or so before the festive day begins. And always…be thankful and enjoy your family and friends…Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!
    Hugs, Aunt Bea

  20. Dlea

    When it comes to Thanksgiving, I like to honor traditions. In my book, it’s not the time to try new things but to celebrate those customs our family and nation hold dear.

    We read the true account of the Pilgrims, which is not what kids are taught these days (you can find a great narrative to read at your Thanksgiving table at; we also watch football. I mean what would Thanksgiving be without the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys?

    We also eat green bean casserole. I’ve read blogs by “foodies” who eschew this dish, I mean ” how common!” We fry our dressing/stuffing into patties in a frying pan. That’s how my grandma and mom have always done it. We always have deviled eggs too.

    This year, we are having the entire family to our house for the dinner. The one twist on tradition that I’ve done the past couple of years is to order at least some of the dinner from Cracker Barrel! They have a great package that includes all the fixins and it makes the day more enjoyable and less of a chore.

    The one challenge we always seem to have at the holidays is room in the fridge for everything. At our new house we have a screened porch right off the kitchen. I use it as a second fridge and it’s amazing how much that has helped!

  21. Joy Cronin

    I didn’t read all the comments, so I apologize in advance if someone shared a make ahead mash potato recipe. It is my all time favorite thing to prepare in advance. Yes, mashed potatoes. I make a 5 lb bag of potatoes (usually Yukon Gold) and mash them with 2 sticks of butter, 8 ounces of cream cheese, 1/2 container of sour cream, and onion salt. When I reheat them the next day, I add milk until the potatoes are to my desired consistency. For anyone who doesn’t like cream cheese or sour cream, you can’t even taste it! My brother-in-law and father-in-law both despise cream cheese and sour cream, yet they have never said anything about the potatoes. I always watch closely and generally they go back for seconds. This saves SO much time when preparing dinner! I usually do it the day before, but my friend who gave me the recipe said you can make them up to 3 days in advance!

  22. Lisa

    I definitely make a list way ahead – I already posted my Thanksgiving menu. I also list out which days & times to make everything. I like the idea of getting the tables ready the night before and I also have appetizers out to keep people busy and out of my way – LOL!

    One great thing I discovered a few years ago was Slowcooker Stuffing – it’s fantastic and gives you more room in the oven for other things.

    Lisa @ Stop and Smell the Chocolatess inspiring blog post..Favorite Fall Recipes

  23. Brandie

    What a great group of comments! Aunt Bea, I too have a stone cold oven story (which I’ll probably post on my blog soon). Nothing says Thanksgiving dinner like 8:30pm at night! ;)
    Happy Thanksgiving to you all, and may yours be fun and filled with your DH in the kitchen afterward. Now THAT’s something to be thankful for (I know I am!). :)

  24. Erma Kelso

    The getting ready for Thanksgiving is fun and easy but what about afterward the meal? I had to quit having my family over because
    none of them would help me clean up———-
    And it is a lot of work–very tiring.


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