Simplify your Thanksgiving Planning for a Calm and Fun Holiday


While I’ve never made a turkey for Thanksgiving, it’s always been a time for us to enjoy the company of family and friends. Sometimes we’ll have turkey (homemade by someone ambitious, or bought ready-to-heat and serve from someplace local), but we most often have other dishes that we all enjoy more. Fish, biryani, chicken, lamb, and accompanies by many salads and vegetable sides, some bread, and desserts that the kids like to make.

Whether you’re having the traditional turkey, or something you enjoy even more, here are a few way to simplify your Thanksgiving meal prep, so that you can enjoy a calm and fun holiday with those you love.

1. Decide on the type of holiday you want to have

A small, intimate dinner with a few friends and family members? A big family full-day event, culminating with a loaded table for a lengthy meal? Make a note of the people who will be attending, the food and drinks you’d like to serve, and any activities you’d like to do.

2. Plan the seating and dishware

If you don’t own enough dinner plates, salad plates, dessert plates, glasses or flatware, decide if you’re ok with disposables. Otherwise, rather than buy any new items that you then have to find space to store, see if you can borrow dishes from family members, or rent them from a local catering company. Bonus: you won’t have to wash or store any of these after your meal!

You can also borrow chairs and tables from friends or family, but think about the logistics of getting them to your house. Again, check with your local events or catering company. You might be surprised that table and chairs rentals don’t need to break the bank! Plan for a nice tablecloth to coordinate with your own table setting, if you don’t want to rent theirs.

3. Simplify the Meal Prep


First and foremost, create your menu. Include main dishes, appetizers, salads, side dishes, desserts, cocktails and other drinks, and water. This will help you determine the number and type of serving plates, serving spoons and glasses you’ll need. You’ll also see if you’ll need a backup cooler (or 2) with ice to chill drinks that may not fit in your fridge.

If you’ve been eyeing new recipes to try for Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving Day is NOT the time to make them for the first time! Just think of the stress if it doesn’t turn out just right…ugh! Stick to what you know, or delegate to someone who can make whatever dishes you’d like to try.

Choose what you would like to make, but don’t overload yourself! The day should be enjoyable for you and your guests. If you’re frazzled all day long, you’ll feel worn out by the time you’re sitting down to eat, and fatigue can easily lead to irritation. So in your cooking schedule (next step), include a few breaks to sit, take a walk, listen to music, take a shower…

Make sure you have all ingredients you need before the big day. Use a grocery delivery service to free up your time. Pre-chop veggies that can be stored in the fridge.

Whether you ask your guests to bring something, or order some items from a restaurant, grocery, or elsewhere, delegate enough so you have time to enjoy yourself!

4. Create your Cooking Schedule

If there are any dishes that you can make ahead of time and freeze (assuming you have the freezer space), then go ahead. Pies are great to make ahead and freeze, as are stuffing, some soups and casseroles. As you freeze them, write a quick label (a piece of masking or painter’s tape is fine) with when to take it out of the freezer, and how long and at what temperature to reheat them.

If you’re planning on a turkey, your oven is likely to be in highest demand, so think about other appliances that you can put to use for various side dishes: your toaster oven (for rolls and reheating pies), crock pot (keeping soups hot), Instapot, and so on.

On your written menu, write down temperatures and times for everything that has to go in the oven, and which must be served piping hot vs. slightly cooler. Your turkey, for example, can sit covered for a bit while something else finishes baking or reheating.

Now place the dishes in order, working backwards from the time they should be taken out of the oven, so you’ll know when to begin cooking everything.

Schedule break times. Make sure you add in times for showering and getting ready, taking a walk around the block, playing a board game, or whatever else makes you happy, calm, and thankful.

5. Enlist help

It’s always so much more fun to cook with a kitchen full of your best friends, don’t you think? So invite them, your spouse, your kids, and anyone else who makes you happy to help! Kids can set the table, take out drinks, and pass appetizers.

Enjoy all the activities you planned! Don’t be “stuck in the kitchen” while everyone else is having fun! Make and share memories while your friends and family are there.

Bottom Line:

No more stress on Thanksgiving! Use these 5 tips to ensure Thanksgiving is calm and fun for your guests, and for you.

1. Decide the type of gathering you want to have, the number of people who will be there, and the entertainment.

2. Plan the seating and place settings. Borrow from friends and family or rent them from a local catering and event company.

3. Simplify the Meal Prep. Create your menu, determine the service pieces and coolers you may need. Get all your ingredients ahead of time, don’t overload your cooking responsibilities, and delegate as much as possible!

4. Create your cooking schedule, working backwards from serving time. Pre-bake some dishes if you can, and freeze them. Make sure to include their thawing and reheating time in your schedule. Schedule your breaks!

5. Enlist help. Thanksgiving is about gathering, after all, so ask everyone to help out with something. You’ll have a chance to relax and enjoy their company, and they’ll feel grateful to have been asked to be part of the day’s activities!


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Zeenat Siman

Zee Siman is a Professional Organizer and Productivity Consultant eager to help working moms and dads take transform their homes and schedules from chaotic to calm.

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