On Thanksgiving, a Little Planning and Preparation Goes a Long Way

Getting prepared and organized early is key to having a successful and stress-free Thanksgiving

On Thanksgiving, a Little Planning and Preparation Goes a Long Way
Image: Pexels
November 10, 2016

The holidays are upon us and Thanksgiving will be here before you know it. If you're already starting to stress, take a deep breath and read on for some tips that we hope will make your Thanksgiving a little easier!

Get Started Now

As with anything that requires a lot of people and planning, getting prepared and organized early is key to having a successful and stress-free Thanksgiving. Make your menu now and start shopping for non-perishable ingredients that can be stored away for a couple of weeks. This will ensure that you have all the pumpkin pie filling or canned cranberry sauce you need well in advance of the crowds. Pick up extra plastic storage bags, aluminum foil, and other storage materials so you have plenty when it comes time to pack up leftovers.

A big holiday dinner isn't the best time to try something new. Stick with what you know to minimize mistakes and the stress that comes with a new dish. If you're dying to try making that side dish you found on Pinterest, give it a test run to see how it works out prior to the big day.

The weekend before Thanksgiving, go through your refrigerator and clear our anything that doesn't need to be there: leftovers, expired salad dressing, that weird pickled vegetable no one has touched in months. Doing so now will keep the fridge clear for all the added dishes you'll be making. It will also make room for leftovers.

If you're using a frozen turkey, practice safe thawing. Doing so in the refrigerator will take the longest, but it's also the safest. Place the turkey in a disposable aluminum pan and begin defrosting it at least three days in advance of cooking. The pan will catch any bacteria-laden drippings.

In the days before Thanksgiving, take some time each day to prep vegetables. Cut carrots, onions, celery, etc. and store the veggies in plastic bags. Potatoes can be cut in advance too, but must be stored in water.

To save time the day of, there are plenty of side dishes that can be cooked the day before Thanksgiving that will just need to be reheated. Mashed potatoes, for example, taste just as great fresh as they do heated up the next day. Making as many dishes as you can the day before will give you more time to spend with friends and family on Thanksgiving Day.

The Big Day

Whether you're cooking the day before or the day of, keep clutter off your counter tops by printing your recipes and taping them to your cabinets or the wall. This will make them easy to read and keep them out of the way. This also minimizes the risk of spilling hot gravy on your iPad!

To minimize the use of burners and your oven, add some cold salads or other cold side dishes to your menu. These can also be prepared the day before—but even if they're done Thanksgiving day, they won't take up additional space on the stove.

Think outside the box when it comes to cooking your turkey. Everyone knows a turkey cooks unevenly, so if you can, consider taking apart your turkey and cooking each part (legs, wings, breast, etc.) separately. Depending on the size of the crowd you're hosting, you may also want to purchase two smaller turkeys or turkey breasts rather than one large turkey. This is especially helpful if you have mostly white-meat fans.

Regardless of how many turkeys you cook, we urge you to follow this rule: Don't wash the turkey. Don't do it. While washing or rinsing the turkey has been common practice for ages, it's the best way to spread potentially dangerous bacteria around your kitchen. It's better to pat down the turkey with a paper towel, which can be immediately discarded.

Remember to use separate knives and cutting boards for meat and vegetables, especially if those vegetables aren't going to be cooked.

Unless you want to serve your guests a side of food poisoning, use a digital meat thermometer to be sure the turkey is cooked to a safe 165 degrees. Don't rely on the popup thermometer that comes with the turkey. As discussed, turkeys cook unevenly so you'll need to be sure that all parts of the turkey are at a safe temperature.

Dessert and Cleanup

Set your desserts aside on a separate table so that they're ready to go when the time arrives. There you should also place any dishes, cups, and utensils that will be needed. Get your coffee pot filled and ready so you just need to turn it on after dinner is over.

Set up tubs, coolers, or large pots as soaking stations. Dishes and utensils can soak while you enjoy dessert and scrubbing won't be necessary later. Keep a separate garbage can ready to go for food scraps so you don't have to pause to empty anything.

While your plates and forks can stay out forever, any leftovers should be put away in airtight containers within two hours to avoid bacteria growth. Since you made room in the fridge a few days earlier, you should have plenty of space.

We know these tips won't eliminate all of your holiday stress, but hopefully you can get through the day in one piece and even enjoy it! Happy Thanksgiving!