Having my family together in my home for Thanksgiving is one of my favorite things, but there are a lot of moving parts to keep organized. The key to pulling it off and actually enjoying it is to create a to-do list, and start checking things off that list as soon as possible. To relieve some of the stress that is bound to come with the holiday, it’s best to plan ahead.
Three Weeks Before
Tomorrow, November 5, we are 3 weeks away from Thanksgiving. Can you believe it?! Take a deep breath. Whether you’ve started planning or not, you’re right on time!
- Finalize your guestlist and invite your guests -- There's no need for formal invitations; a phone call, email, or Evite to friends and family is fine.
- Order your turkey -- Ordering a fresh turkey from a local farm or through Community Supported Agriculture is a convenient way to get a delicious and healthy bird and to support your local farming economy. Many gourmet grocery stores in the area take orders for fresh turkeys as well. Assume 2 pounds per adult and 1 pound per child (to guarantee leftovers). Order early because many farms will sell out long before Thanksgiving.
- Plan your menu -- Pick your favorite turkey recipe (I’ll be sharing mine here in a few weeks!), and then plan additional dishes around the bird. If you’re more a fan of side dishes, start with your favorite recipes and build from there. Think about family favorites and Thanksgiving classics to start, then add in a few new dishes. The recipe section of our website (https://bellisaris.com/pages/sides-recipes) has many side dish options that can bring a modern twist to foods like sweet potatoes and pumpkin. Be sure to also think about drink options and simple bites to serve as guests arrive. If guests offer to bring something, let them! Assign them a side dish or dessert if they cook or ice and drinks if they don’t.
- Make your shopping list -- Take a look at each recipe and decide how much of each dish you’ll need. Once you go through each recipe, create a shopping list of all the ingredients you’ll need and compare it against the pantry items you already have on hand.
- Shop for non-perishables -- Divide up your shopping list into perishables and non-perishables and get the latter out of the way now. Non-perishables include equipment, decor, paper goods, and cleaning supplies – but could also include baking ingredients like flour, sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, canned pumpkin, and cranberries. Also make sure each recipe has a serving bowl or platter to be paired with.
- Pull out your decorations -- Be sure to get out your Thanksgiving decorations, centerpieces, and candles well before the holiday, and check to make sure they are in good order.
- Purchase any additional decorations -- If you need to replace some worn-out decorations or add to your decor, be sure to do it early. You have more flexibility and can bargain shop.
- Buy any tools or equipment you need -- Now is the time to shop for tools you’ll need for the big day. Think about what you needed last year that you didn’t have, or upgrade some of your current tools to help ease the cooking process. (Don’t forget a turkey lacer kit if you’re stuffing the bird!)
Two Weeks Before
- Plan your centerpiece and table decor -- Your holiday centerpiece and table decor set the mood for your whole celebration. Spend some time now planning your tablescape, so you don’t have to worry about it the day of. You’ll also have time to hit up the discount and dollar store for elements that can inexpensively complete your look. (Watch for next week’s blog. Hint: It’s all about tablescapes! 😉)
- Clean out your freezer -- Cooking and freezing as much as possible now will save you time on turkey day. Clean out your freezer to make room for everything you’ll be putting in.
- Make pie dough -- Make a few batches of pie dough now and freeze them; wrap the disks tightly in plastic wrap, and thaw in the refrigerator overnight before you’re ready to use them.
- Buy a frozen turkey -- If you are planning to purchase a frozen turkey, you should pick it up as early as possible. You want to leave plenty of time for the bird to defrost. You’ll need to plan for at least 24 hours for every 4 pounds. The best way is to thaw the bird in the coldest area of the fridge with a pan underneath to catch any drips. You can keep a fully thawed turkey in the refrigerator for up to four days before cooking.
- Set your final cooking schedule -- Go over your final cooking plan for Thursday.
One Week Before
- Buy drinks -- It's time to buy wine, beer, and other beverages. You probably won’t want to serve as bartender on the big day, so pick a signature drink that you can make a big batch of before guests arrive or set a bar with all of the basics and let guests help themselves. Plan on each guest drinking two drinks in the first hour, and one drink for every hour thereafter. You know your guests better than we do, so treat that as an estimate.You should also have nonalcoholic options on hand, like apple cider or sparkling water.
- Clean the house -- The weekend before Thanksgiving is the perfect time to thoroughly clean your house for entertaining. If you take care of the deep cleaning now, you will only need to tidy up a bit next week.
- Move furniture -- If you need to move furniture to accommodate your guests, do it over the weekend, before your thorough cleaning.
- Get ready for children -- Thanksgiving goes much more smoothly when the children in the house aren’t spending it in your kitchen. If you don’t have children of your own, but are expecting them for the holiday, be sure to set up an area of the house specifically for them. Set out any games, DVDs, or other activities. If you are expecting toddlers, be sure to remove any fragile or dangerous items that are within reach of tiny hands.
- Tidy up your home’s entrance -- Make a great first impression with your guests by cleaning up the outside entrance and walkway to your home. Cleaning out any fallen leaves or debris and putting out some Fall flowers will make your guests feel welcome before they’ve even entered the front door.
- Finish decorating -- Finish all of your decorating on Monday. You’ve got plenty to do over the next couple days. Hanging wreaths or setting out candles should be the least of your worries.
- Shop For Non-perishables -- Make your trip to buy perishable items. Consider going during off-hours to avoid crowds. I prefer a Tuesday night shopping trip to a Wednesday trip. You should have a better selection, lesser crowds, and you still have an extra day if you get home and realize you forgot something.
- 1 day before: prepare reheatable side dishes, prep ingredients, and bake pies. Prep garnishes, toppings, salad greens, and stuffing ingredients. If your stuffing recipe calls for stale bread, cut the bread now, and set the cubes on a baking sheet to dry out. You can go ahead and make your pies. Your cranberry sauce will actually taste better if you make it ahead of time.
- Set the table -- Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, set your table. Have fun, be creative and take your time. An elegant table will impress your guests and will improve the look of any holiday photos. Once the table is set, we recommend testing a little bit of the wine. You know -- just to make sure the white is cold and the red is delicious!
- Spot cleaning -- Run the vacuum, spot check your tabletops and counters one last time, and check the windows and mirrors for any big smudges. Make room in your front hall closet for guest coats. Make sure your guest bathroom is fully stocked with soap, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, candles, and, of course, fresh towels.
The Big Day
- Thanksgiving Day -- Don’t Stress! Preheat your oven in the morning and get your turkey going. If you premade bread, let it defrost at room temperature. While the turkey roasts, prepare your other side dishes since they can stand at room temperature for an hour or keep in the fridge. When the turkey is done, let it rest while you make the gravy, reheat side dishes, and prep salads.
I know it seems like a lot. And it is! But with planning and a schedule to keep you on track, Thanksgiving -- sharing a delicious meal with close loved ones, spending quality time together, and continuing long-standing family traditions -- can be everything you hoped it would be. Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Bellisari’s!