How to Plan the Perfect Thanksgiving, and Have Fun Too (Really!)

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The Family Eats Four Pillars  (Planning, Purchasing, Preparing, and Partaking) are important to follow on a daily basis, but during holiday time, it is even more important.

Thanksgiving Turkey
Image: timsackton via Flickr

Without proper planning, you’ll be running out of patience as you’re racing against the clock to get things prepared.

Without proper purchasing, you may make several short runs to the grocery on the day of because you’ve forgotten items.

Without proper preparation, a recipe may not turn out just right, or the timing of completion may be a bit off.

Finally, partaking. When your harried, stressed and exhausted, how can you truly enjoy the day?

With the Four Pillars in mind, we ready for Thanksgiving this week by taking a look at the first of the Pillars: Planning

Week of November 11: What to Plan

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When you get right down to it, you just can’t avoid spending time in the kitchen if you're preparing a holiday meal. Here are a few thoughts on how to make things go smoothly abd successfully, and even to enjoy yourself in the process. I can assure you, I’ll be putting these into practice.

Get Organized

Whether you’re planning a meal for your immediate family or for 20 guests, it is essential to be organized. When planning a meal, know what you’re planning for, and gear it toward your style of entertaining: potluck, buffet, or sit-down meal.

Set a Budget

Cooking a big meal for the family can be expensive, especially if you don’t plan accordingly. Before you begin planning your menu, take the time to set a realistic budget, taking into account how many guests you will be serving. With at least a ballpark figure in mind, you can make choices that will allow you stay within your budget, yet still create a delicious meal.

Plan the Menu

The all-important menu takes time to finalize. Start planning the menu three weeks ahead of time so that you can then focus on how you can best pull it all together on the big day.

  • Search for Recipes: Sit down and peruse your recipe box, cookbooks and your favorite online sources to create a menu you'll be happy preparing. Remember to keep in mind your budget, number of guests, and your ability to prepare it all - some recipes may be prepared a day or two ahead to alleviate the pressure of cooking it all on Thanksgiving.(Check out Family Eats for some great Thanksgiving Day suggestions.)
  • Choose Recipes You Can Master: To avoid any extra tension in the kitchen, it is a good idea to prepare recipes that you feel comfortable preparing, which you have definitely have tried out before. Why worry on the big day about a complicated sauce you’ve never before prepared?
  • Include Family Favorites: Holidays are definitely the time to include family favorites, but what I like to do is include a menu that is a blend of old family favorites and new recipes. I’m sure Greg would choose the green bean casserole, with the crunchy things on top. My favorite is potato dumplings. My family pumped out pound after pound of potato dumplings every Thanksgiving, just to ensure we’d have extra for the morning -- when we would slice them and fry them up for breakfast. Oh, and I can’t forget to make Grandma Gorman’s mincemeat pie (heavy on the rum!).
  • Can Your Kitchen Handle it all?: One other point that I learned in the past few years is to choose a collection of recipes that my kitchen can handle. In the past, I’ve had a home with two ovens, but right now, we’ve only one -- and that’s where the turkey will be. If I need another, though, Greg can always light up the grill and roast some vegetables.
  • Make Copies of the Recipes: Once the menu is decided upon, I gather all recipes together and make photocopies of each. It makes it so much easier in the kitchen when I don’t have cookbooks and magazines strewn all over the place. On each recipe sheet, I highlight the prep time and make notation to myself if it is a dish that can be prepared early. After all recipes are collected, I read them carefully several times so I know what to expect. Then, I plan out the order of events -- how I will progress through preparing each item.

Remember, the goal of planning is to achieve perfect balance and timing. Things may not always turn out that way, but at least you will have started on the right foot. Here are a few other Planning related items that we will be posting about throughout this week. Stay connected to Family Eats, and we'll take you through the stages of the Four Pillars this Thanksgiving season.

Take Stock of Your Tools (Tuesday)

Sharpen Your Knives (Wednesday)

Clean Your Silver (Friday/Saturday)

Laura Everage

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