10 Steps to a Stress-Free Thanksgiving

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The Thanksgiving countdown is officially on! Whether you are hosting Thanksgiving for the first time or you’re a turkey day veteran, preparing and serving this major holiday meal can be daunting.

The key to being able to relax is getting as much done as you can ahead of time. There are a number of tasks you can knock off days in advance, freeing you up to actually celebrate with loved ones instead of working away in the kitchen.

All Thanksgiving dishes can be prepped in some way, or even entirely prepared, in advance (Well, with the exception of the turkey!). There is no way around roasting that bird on the day of, but we can still help you out with 10 things you can do today:

1. Finish your menu: Write down your menu, assemble your recipes, and if you are having guests bring dishes, assign and/or confirm with everyone.

Pro Tip: Make 2014 easier by putting all of your favorite Thanksgiving recipes in a folder, binder, Pinterest board, etc. so you can easily access your holiday favorites from year to year.

2. Talk turkey: In determining how big of a turkey to purchase, a good rule of thumb is to figure about one pound of meat per person.

You may want to roast a few smaller turkeys, rather than one huge bird. This cuts down on roasting time and frees your oven – critical!

Other questions to answer: Do you need to order your turkey(s) in advance? When is pickup? Fresh or frozen? How long will thawing take? Are you brining, and what’s the timeframe there?

Photo by Aminho-Paper/Flickr

3. Make your shopping lists by store: Rather than one long list, separate out into all of your different stops, like the grocery store, liquor store, and any specialty stores you’ll need to visit.

4.Set the table: This may sound crazy, but my mom always used to have our table set days in advance of a major holiday.

Most families save the dining room for special occasions, so you are free to prep the holiday table ahead of time. If you do use your dining room table daily, save this task for two days before. Then your family will just have to lap it for a few days. And if you use silver pieces, polish them now.

5.Plan your decorations: If you like to do a Thanksgiving wreath or special centerpieces, determine your needs. This is a good time to browse Pinterest for inspiration – not the day before Thanksgiving when you’re down to the wire.

6. Assign tasks to family members: Enlist your daughter to take coats, your brother-in-law to bartend, and your sisters to clear the table so your mother won’t insist. Ask ahead of time so you know you’re covered and everyone has advanced notice.

7.Start prepping: Now’s the time to address dishes you can make well in advance and freeze or refrigerate. Foods like pie crusts; doughs for homemade crackers, bread or rolls; and cheesecakes can be made and frozen up to a month in advance. Cranberry sauces and soups can be prepared and refrigerated for up to a week.

Photo by Flickr/wickenden

8. Set up the bar: This includes running special occasion glasses through the dishwasher, stocking up on cocktail napkins, and finding your ice bucket.

9. Make a schedule: This is the key to a relaxed and orderly Thanksgiving. If you are really organized, you can get up to 75 percent of the food done before the big day. Here’s how:

Three days prior: Tackle major cleaning tasks like floors, bathrooms, and the kitchen. Finish any shopping that you haven’t take care of yet.

One to two days prior: Make appetizer dips, vegetable purees, and roasted veggies that can be reheated for the meal. Assemble casseroles like gratins, stuffing, and even mashed potatoes that can be refrigerated and simply baked or reheated (Note: Be sure to account for extra baking time if you are cooking or reheating refrigerated items). Wash and dry salad greens, make vinaigrettes, and prep and even blanch veggies that need to be cooked at the last minute, like green beans or Brussels sprouts. Make and refrigerate pies.

Day of: Make a chronological schedule for Thanksgiving Day that includes each dish you are preparing and what time it needs to go into, and come out of, the oven. You can even assign dishes or tasks to different family members to make it easier!

10. Stage your serving pieces: Take a look at your menu and determine what platters, bowls, and serving utensils you need. Pull items out of your cupboards and clean if necessary. At this point, you will know if you need to borrow anything – and can plan accordingly.

Good luck!

[Top photo by Dinner Series/Flickr]

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