Planning Your Thanksgiving Dinner

Herb Roasted Turkey Breast
Herb Roasted Turkey Breast

It’s that time of year again… time for eating, potentially socializing, and definitely more eating. But when is the optimal time to pick up your Thanksgiving groceries? And when should you actually start breaking a sweat (or hopefully keeping your chill) in the kitchen? We can help! Read on to learn how far in advance you can pick up those fresh cranberries and when to start prepping your stuffing.

 

Time to Shop

 

You’re going to want to buy your grocery items as far in advance as possible to:

A) Avoid navigating a super packed store and super long lines… and potentially super stressed, cranky people

B) Avoid forgetting a crucial ingredient when it’s actually too late

C) Avoid facing the fact that a crucial ingredient is sold out

 

So make sure you have all the pantry items, frozen goods, and beverages you’ll be needing a month ahead of time and pick up more ingredients during your routine weekly grocery store stop if necessary.

 

Two weeks out purchase your dairy items and “sturdy” produce along with that evening’s frozen pizza and six pack.

 

Two to three days before Thanksgiving brave the potentially aggressive crowds and grab your protein of choice, delicate produce, and bakery items, then get the heck out of there asap.

 

Buy These Items One Month Ahead:

 

Frozen: Green beans, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, squash, cranberries, turkey, bread, ice cream, pie crust, etc.

Canned: Pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie filling, soup, broth/stock, green beans, cranberries, gravy, etc.

Baking: Flour, sugar, honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, salt, spices, leaveners, cornstarch, oil, dried fruit, dried onions, nuts, vanilla, marshmallows, vinegar, etc.

Beverages: Wine, beer, hard alcohol, soda, juice, etc.

 

Two Weeks Ahead:

 

Dairy: Butter, milk, cream, whipped cream, eggs, cheese, sour cream, etc. (check dates)

Sturdy Produce: Potatoes, sweet potatoes/yams, squash, carrots, turnips, beets, onions, garlic, cranberries if preparing one week in advance, apples, etc.

 

Two to Three Days Ahead:

 

Protein: Turkey, beef, pork, lamb, fish, etc.

Delicate produce: Herbs, greens, fruit (besides apples), mushrooms, green beans, celery, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc.

Bakery: Bread (for stuffing)

 

Let’s Get Cooking!

 

The goal here is to get as much done as possible before Thanksgiving day actually rolls around. That way, you can actually enjoy your meal and company without running around the kitchen like a crazed person… well we can’t really help you with the company bit, but we have the food part down. And if all else fails, just pour yourself a glass or three of wine and spray canned whipped cream straight into your mouth like a real adult. If you own four ovens and eight burners and somehow remain cool as a cucumber during potentially hectic situations, feel free to disregard the below.

 

Begin Preparing One Week Ahead:

 

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry-Maple Sauce
Cranberry-Maple Sauce

You can whip up a batch of cranberry sauce a week ahead of time! Store your cooled, sweet-tart sauce in a sealed glass container in the fridge, then transfer it to a serving dish for your feast.

Keep it super simple: Buy canned sauce. No one will know… unless you leave it in can form.

 

Two to Three Days Ahead:

 

Stuffing

Mom's Stuffing
Mom’s Stuffing

Stuffing has casserole potential (these days health experts are saying to leave your stuffing out of the bird) so go ahead and prepare your stuffing two to three days ahead of time, cool, then cover with foil or spoon into a sealed glass container and store in the fridge. Thanksgiving day, set your stuffing out on the counter 30 minutes prior to reheating. Depending on your recipe, you’ll want to heat your foil covered stuffing in the oven, adding more stock if necessary to prevent dryness, or heat it up on the stove right before serving.

Keep it super simple: Grab a box or five of stove top stuffing from the store and get to it.

 

Green Bean Casserole

Mix up your ingredients (minus the fried onions) and pour into a casserole dish two to three days in advance. Store your foil covered dish in the fridge. Thanksgiving day, set the casserole out on the counter 30 minutes before you bake it, adding the fried onions last minute to reduce the sog factor. Serve hot.

Keep it super simple: There are five ingredients involved in this recipe. Don’t get greedy.

 

Sweet Potatoes

If you’re going the casserole route, you can prepare your dish two to three days in advance. Simply cover your unbaked casserole with foil and store it in the fridge. Thanksgiving day, set the casserole out on the counter 30 minutes before you pop it in the oven. For mashed sweet potatoes, boil or bake your taters one to two days prior to Thanksgiving, store your cooled sweet potatoes in the fridge in a sealed glass container or wrapped in foil, then simply mash them up on the stove with some butter (and milk or cream, if you like) before serving. You can roast sweet potatoes too, similarly to veggies.

Keep it super simple: The easiest methods involve either boiling or baking your sweet potatoes, then drizzling with butter or coconut oil before serving. Want to avoid taking up more oven and stove top space? Make a sweet potato salad one to two days in advance and served chilled or room temp.

 

Roasted Vegetables

Roasted Root Vegetables
Roasted Root Vegetables

Roasted squash, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts are all winners. You can roast your veggies two days in advance, then store the cooled vegetables in a sealed glass container in the fridge. Either bring them up to room temp before serving or pop them in a hot oven for about 10 minutes, until warmed through.

Keep it super simple: Skip the roasted veg and just go for a green salad… or a slightly less healthy (though mouth-watering) green bean casserole.

 

Soup

Soup actually tastes better the day after you make it when all the flavors have had time to meld, so stir up a pot of hot soup a couple days in advance. Store your cooled soup in a sealed glass container in the fridge. Gently heat the soup on the stove before serving.

Keep it super simple: Pick up a few cans (or cartons) of creamy squash soup from the store. There are actually some tasty options out there. You can always get creative with the garnishes. Toasted pumpkin seeds, fresh herbs, and a swirl of plain yogurt are all delicious toppings.

 

Turkey (Or Other Protein)

The main event definitely requires at least a little planning. Did you purchase a frozen bird? Pull that thing out of the freezer and let it thaw in your fridge a few days in advance. If you’re brining or marinading, start preparing your protein the day before (marinade more delicate seafood the day of). Be sure to keep it in the fridge! Once Thanksgiving rolls around, start cooking your protein early enough in the day so you won’t be dining at 11:37 pm (unless that’s what you’re going for). Whether you’re roasting, frying, grilling, or smoking your main dish, be sure to keep an eye on it and test the internal temp. The temp will rise a few degrees after you remove it from heat, so don’t overdo it! If you’re cooking meat, let it rest for 10 to 20 minutes (tented with foil) before carving.

Keep it simple: Roast a turkey breast. Easy. Or skip the main course altogether…. just kidding!

Tip: Need some help choosing which size turkey to purchase, figuring out how long it needs to thaw (if frozen), or how long to cook the thing? Hop on over to our handy turkey calculator.

 

One Day Ahead:

 

Mashed Potatoes

Basic Mashed Potatoes
Basic Mashed Potatoes

There are a few strategies when it comes to mashed taters. You can make some room on your stove by cooking them in a slow cooker the day of, or boil and mash right before serving. If you really want to make them the day before, simply reheat your mashed potatoes on the stove adding a bit of extra butter and cream until they get nice and smooth.

Keep it super simple: No no, don’t even think about buying gluey (or dry) mashed potatoes from the store. Roasted potatoes are an alternative solution, although they do require your oven.

 

Pie

If possible bake your pie (or pies plural for you over-achievers) the morning of Thanksgiving. But no one will complain if you make your dessert the day before. Cool your pie on a wire rack completely, then store at room temp with a piece of parchment or wax paper loosely placed on top.

Keep it super simple: Buy your pie from a grocery store or bakery. Dessert is dessert people. Or skip the pie altogether and just serve (store-bought) fancy schmancy chocolates or pumpkin pie flavored ice cream.

 

Green Salad

You can wash and chop or slice most of your ingredients the day before, then store them in a sealed glass container in the fridge. You’ll want to add produce that browns, like apples, pears, and avocados, last minute, as well as croutons, cheese, nuts, and seeds… items that can get soggy. Toss your salad right before serving, or have your guests dress their own portion.

Keep it super simple: It’s salad. You can’t get much simpler than that. Just choose a recipe that has minimal ingredients and steps.

 

 

Day Of:

 

Homemade Bread

Nothing beats homemade bread. Whether you’re making a loaf or rolls, you’re going to want to bake your carbs the day of so your bread doesn’t dry out.

Keep it super simple: Buy your bread the day before Thanksgiving. Simply sprinkle your bread with a bit of water then pop it in a hot oven for a few minutes to bring that thing back to life, if necessary. You could always purchase premade crescent or biscuit dough, or even skip the bread because turkey and pie deserve as much space in your stomach as possible.

 

Gravy

Gravy is meant to be cooked up last minute, or else the texture tends to get a little funky.

Keep it super simple: We don’t recommend this option, but when desperate times call for desperate measures, buy your gravy from the store. Some options are a lot more appetizing than others… so choose wisely. We recommend going for gravy made in your grocery store’s deli over canned or packet stuff. Simply heat your gravy on the stove before serving.

 

Fresh Whipped Cream

Vanilla Whipped Cream
Vanilla Whipped Cream

The perfect topping for any pie. Whip your cream right before serving dessert, or it will deflate and look a little sad.

Tip: Whip cream in a chilled bowl with chilled beaters. Just do it. Granulated sugar works, but powdered sugar is another tasty option.

Keep it super simple: If you really have to (like really have to) go ahead and buy the can. Or, opt for vanilla ice cream instead.

 

Have some frozen pizzas on hand and lots of booze in case your feast flops… and if you burn the house down while trying to deep fry your turkey, there’s always Chinese food.

 

Looking for more inspiration? See a variety of Thanksgiving recipes over here.

Want to actually plan ahead? Schedule your recipes in Menu Planner.

Time to shop? Add ingredients to your Grocery List.

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