Planning ahead for the perfect Thanksgiving meal

We love Thanksgiving! Not only is it a holiday that is all about food, but it’s also about bringing family and friends together around the table to enjoy each other’s company – eating, sharing and being thankful together. And truly, the actual food part of the day should be secondary, making room for fun, family and togetherness to take the main stage. So with a little planning ahead of time, you can reduce your stress around logistics of the day and focus on actually enjoying it.

Although Thanksgiving is still more than two weeks away, you can start planning now. From plotting the guest list, to planning the menu, to stocking up on tools and pantry basics – there’s a lot you can do today to help make the weeks leading up to the big day more joyful and less stressful. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing tips for planning, shopping and cooking here on our gatheredtable thanksgiving guide. Check back in as we’ll be adding more tips every day…

And next week, we’ll share our Official Thanksgiving Menu (and grocery list) – full of recipes that we’ve hand-tested and full endorse!

Long before you fill your shopping cart or peel your first potato, there’s a lot you can do to start planning out the perfect Thanksgiving day:

Make a guest list
Whether you’ll be hosting a Thanksgiving meal at your place or attending one at the home of a friend or family member, we bet that you’ll be cooking at least a couple dishes. And you’ll want those dishes to be well-received by the crowd! The first thing to think about is who you’ll be cooking for and how they’d enjoy eating that day. Think about the size of the group, their food preferences (vegetarians, allergies, young children, etc), and whether they’d enjoy a meal that is mostly traditional or one with a modern twist.

Picture the day
Think about that fateful Thursday – how do you want the day to go? Will you spend the morning working in the kitchen, or would you rather have everything prepared in advance so you can spend the day relaxing with your family? About what time will the meal be served? Decide whether you’ll need to also serve a nice breakfast, appetizers, or have post-dinner snacks on hand.

Decide on the main dish
Will you make a turkey? If so, how will be it prepared and seasoned? Will you need any special tools for brining or baking? Maybe you’d rather just serve turkey breasts, or possibly you’ll be preparing a vegetarian main dish? The “tone” of the meal will often be set by the main dish, so think about how your preparation and seasoning might be complemented by side dishes…

Then, set the rest of the menu
You don’t need to choose exact recipes just yet. Instead, simplify the process by choosing the “themes” of your appetizers, side dishes and desserts. Your choices should again be based on the number of people you’re cooking for, how much day-of cooking you want to do, and what you’re making as a main dish. Do you really need to serve three types of potatoes? Is cranberry sauce a religion in your house? Do you have a standard cornbread stuffing that you love to make, or would you like to try a new recipe this year? Try to put together a menu that feels complete but doesn’t have too many extras – In addition to a main dish, we suggest limiting yourself to 1-2 appetizers, 3-4 wonderful side dishes, 2-3 desserts and 1 type of fresh bread. But, choose what makes sense for you – if you just MUST have a full buffet of 15 sides, more power to you. But if you only have 1 delicious side dish, that’s perfectly fine too! We’ll be posting ideas in our gatheredtable thanksgiving guide all week.

Make a list of items to order
Most grocery stores and bakeries are already taking orders for Thanksgiving. Check a few things off your list now by placing orders as needed. You should consider pre-ordering basics like turkey, bread, and pies. Or maybe you’ll order a side dish or two (it’s ok, we won’t tell). You might even consider ordering muffins for the morning so you have one less thing to think about on Thanksgiving.

Inventory your pantry
Take a look at your pantry to see what basic ingredients you already have on hand. This will help when it comes time to make a final shopping list. Collect and inventory basics like onions, garlic, butter, eggs, chicken stock, and oil. Take a look at baking ingredients too: flour, sugar, corn starch, baking powder and soda, pecans/walnuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.

Make a schedule
If you want to avoid spending hours in line at the store on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, you should map out a plan now – for the whole week! Start with Thanksgiving and work backwards: What will you cook that day, and what can you do the day before or maybe even earlier in the week? If you’ll be defrosting pie shells or making cranberry sauce from scratch, think about when you’ll start those those tasks. Consider prepping many of your sides in casserole dishes so that they can be made the day before, then reheated just before you serve the meal. Decide what day(s) you’ll do your grocery shopping, or maybe place an order for delivery with Peapod and what day will you pickup the turkey or other specialty items you might have ordered.

Start to look for recipes, and from there you’ll be coasting…
On a big day like Thanksgiving, you want to be sure that the recipes you choose are fool-proof. That’s where we come in. Not only will we be adding suggestions from our favorite bloggers in our gatheredtable thanksgiving guide, but next week we’ll publish our Official Thanksgiving Menu that will include only recipes that we have hand-tested in the gatheredtable kitchen.

All that’s left is to make a grocery list, do your shopping, and start cooking! Ok, that’s still a lot of work but trust us – if you spend the time to pre-plan your Thanksgiving day, the rest will be much easier. (Well, maybe not the dishes – sorry, we can’t help you there.)

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