For years I have helped my mom prepare for Thanksgiving and we’ve come up with a great method of planning. Now it takes us only a few days to get Thanksgiving dinner planned out. So I figure I’d share our method with all of you to help make your Thanksgiving planning a little less stressful. Before you begin, I will tell you this; make sure you are writing down everything!
First you must create a guest list and even if it’s the same from year to year make sure to ask who’s coming. If there are any singles that you typically invite make sure to account for one extra, just in case they bring a new partner to meet the family. You must have a rough head count before you can truly begin because this number is key for everything. If you need to estimate the number of attendees then shoot a little higher just to make sure you cover all possibilities.
Next you have to create a menu and try to estimate how much everyone will eat. Besides turkey what else do your guests like? My father is a notoriously picky eater and chances are that someone on your list will be one too. If you’re unsure of what they like don’t guess just ask. Another good rule is to cook things that you know how to make; don’t try something out for the first time at Thanksgiving. The general rule of thumb, when it comes to turkeys is one pound for each person. So 15 people equals a 15 pound bird, easy right?
So now that you’ve figured out a rough head count, what to make, and how much to make you need to plan your prep. Write down every dish on your menu, list how long it will take to cook and how it is to be cooked. Figure out what can be made ahead of time and find ways to utilize all of your available space. If you’re having a large dinner with lots of sides then try to use every burner on your stove, the oven, the toaster oven; get creative with it. Usually my mom and I have potatoes, veggies, soup, and gravy on the stove while the rolls are baking in the toaster oven. Think of every cooking option available to you stovetop, toaster ovens, crock pots, etc. Don’t forget that if you have something that takes less than 20 minutes to bake you can bake it while the turkey is resting. Thanksgiving should not be overly stressful so try to do some of the work ahead of time or find ways to make the day easier. I’ve started using Grandma Maud’s Pie Fixin’s for my pumpkin pie; it’s so much easier and I just throw it in the oven a few minutes after the turkey comes out. After dinner, I’ve got pumpkin pie that’s ready to come out of the oven. Don’t be shy about using packaged options, especially if it’s high quality.
Whew, now the hardest part is over and it’s time to figure out the decorations and the ambiance. Setting the mood will help determine how dinner will be served and how seating will be arranged. When I was a child we had a kid’s table and an adult table and it was a little formal. We dressed up and were on our best behavior but now the youngest person at Thanksgiving is 17 so we’ve gotten more casual. If you’ve got a small party (10 or less) then you can easily serve everything family style or buffet style but if you’ve got upwards of 10 then I highly recommend doing a combination of the two. My family usually has about 15 and we put the salad, bread, veggies, and other small serving dishes on the tables and the meats and other large dishes on the counter. I’ve notice that my in-laws tend to do strictly buffet style for over 25 people and it’s just a long line with no one really eating together. So think about the size of your group and where everyone is going to be seated to help you decide.
Finally execute your plan and share your success stories. And if you’re still unsure if it will work walk through it with someone else and see what they think.
~Chef Lindsay Sebion