Thanksgiving Prep Planning
I’m going to be honest with you, this post is a little (LOT) intimidating to me. There is a ton I’ve brainstormed, and I want there to be as much information as possible, while also being useful to you all. I love doing these Thanksgiving preparations, when I’ve done the homework, so I want this to be as seamless for yourselves as possible. That is why I am making this post. As an anxious person it helps me to have everything planned out as well as possible. This preparation helps me when things don’t work out to know I have done my best and know I don’t have to worry too much because there are other things still going on the table.
So here’s what I’m going to do for you (and me), I’ll separate this post into sections I feel go well together. We’re talking: Turkey, People, What IS a Thanksgiving Meal?, Timing and Nitty Gritty Logistics. If you don’t have time to peruse the entire post skip down to each section heading where I’ll have a description of things discussed within that particular section.
I hope you find this helpful and you find value in what I’ve written. Enjoy!
In this section we’ll discuss size of your party and size of your turkey (and other food elements).
This section is pretty straight forward, how many people are going to be at your Thanksgiving meal? Two? Ten? Something in between? Something more? Whatever size your party is, use the following guides to decide how much food you’ll need to have.
Appetizers –5 per person
Turkey – 1 1/ 2 pounds per person
Gravy – 1/ 4 – 1/ 3 cup per person
Cranberry Sauce – 1/ 3 cup per person
Stuffing – 3/ 4 cup per person
Mashed Potatoes – 3/ 4 cup per person (about one potato per person)
Rolls – 2 per person
Vegetable sides – 4 oz per person
Pie – one pie per every four people
Coffee, Hot Cocoa or Tea – 1 cup per person
Wine – 4 6oz pours (bottles of wine contain 6 glasses)
In this section we’ll discuss specific needs of the people coming to your Thanksgiving meal.
There are a few questions you should ask about the people involved in your meal:
- Do any of my guests have specific dietary needs? (i.e.; lactose intolerant, vegan, nut allergy etc.)
- Will I ask my guests to bring elements of the meal?
- How many of my guests drink alcohol? (if serving it)
- Are there going to be kids at my gathering?
All of these questions are important because they are things you really should prepare for. I think the allergy/diet question is sort of a given, but I’ll go into more detail about the other three.
Will I ask my guests to bring elements of the meal?
Even if you love cooking Thanksgiving meals, and If your guests aren’t traveling extremely far, I would highly recommend you ask guests to bring dishes to share. First of all, it takes some of the burden off you (almost reason enough!).
When asking your guests to bring something I think it is important to be specific about what sort of food you wish they bring. (i.e.; pie, rolls, vegetable side, mashed potatoes, etc.) If you are specific it will make your menu planning much easier because you don’t have to guess what others may bring. If you just say “bring a side” that could be a huge number of things from gravy to a green bean casserole, which could be problematic when you end up having four gallons of gravy show up at your door.
Asking people to bring elements of the meal is also great when you have guests with special dietary needs. These guests are going into the party knowing they have at least one thing, they like, that they can eat. As someone who has attended potlucks where I couldn’t eat much, let me tell you, it is so nice to know you can participate and so disappointing when you can’t.
On a less logistical note, I think people get excited, and feel important when they are able to be involved. They become more invested in how the meal goes, and they get a sense of ownership and pride when the meal is partially theirs.
How many of my guests drink alcohol? (if serving it)
If you’re not serving alcohol don’t worry about this. If you are serving alcohol I suggest making the effort of taking time to think about how many of your guests will be drinking at the party. This helps you with planning how much and what variety to purchase. For those guests who don’t drink I think it would be lovely if you had at least one other drink option for them, besides water. It shows you’re not forgetting those people and that you’re willing to make a special effort for them too.
Are there going to be kids at my gathering?
There are a few things to consider with the addition of kids.
I’m not telling you to “dumb down” your meal for children coming to your party, but making sure there are a few child-friendly items on the table, either that you prepared or asked someone to bring, will help things go a little more smoothly for everyone involved. I would simply ask the parents if they think their children would eat whatever is a part of a Thanksgiving meal, and then go from there.
Do you want to include a “kids table” instead of having everyone at one table?
What will you do to entertain the kids while food preparations happen? You could simply ask one or two of the guests beforehand to come up with some activities for the kids or ask the parents what sorts of things the kids like to do and plan on doing those things.
Depending on the ages of kids coming over you should ask yourself if your house is child-proof. For example, even though I have a toddler I would have to do preparations for someone who has a one-year-old. If you don’t have kids and aren’t sure what to watch out for asking the parents shows you are making a conscious effort and doing a quick google search will help you out as well!
WHAT IS A THANKSGIVING MEAL?
In this section we’ll discuss what preconceived notions you have about what makes a Thanksgiving meal a Thanksgiving meal.
I’m not trying to burst your Thanksgiving bubble, but I sort of am too. Sorry in advance. A few years ago, I hosted Thanksgiving and there were a few elements of a stereotypical Thanksgiving meal I was planning on axing. Once Chris heard my plan he was a little concerned some of my family members would be upset by my being too explorative during this classic holiday. He suggested I ask each person what their top two “must haves” of Thanksgiving were and try to include at least one of those things on the menu. Turned out I was getting rid of all the things they found most important. I’m glad I asked them about it, because it made their Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving.
Now I’m not suggesting that you should go do the same thing I did and ask each person involved what they want specifically from Thanksgiving. What I AM suggesting is you should probably include all the stereotypical elements of a Thanksgiving meal when planning for the big day. (Unless you’re cooking for real boundary-pushing foodies, then it’s probably safe to do something different.) I mean look at Charlie Brown when he served Peppermint Patty something out of the norm for Thanksgiving. It didn’t go great for him. Even in the Bon Appetit YouTube series “Making Perfect” about making the perfect Thanksgiving meal they stick with the basics. When talking about potatoes they all acknowledged crispy roast potatoes were better, but realized the American public demands mashed so they went with that.
I’m not saying you can’t do fun things with your classic elements. YOU CAN! I know I will! But I am suggesting you include them. Start researching, and gathering, different recipes to see what you want to make. Here’s a list of recipes I used last year. (I highly recommend looking at Bon Appetit’s Thanksgiving menu from this year though, because some (ALL) of those things look amazing!)
And don’t be afraid to buy premade elements of your meal! There are great things you can find, and it can take some of the burden off!
In this section we’ll discuss some of the things you need to consider with regards to the timing of your meal.
Okay, timing. This can either be really stressful or really not. If you have a plan for when things are going to be prepped and cooked, I believe it won’t be very stressful. When I’ve had a plan, even if something goes wrong or takes longer than I anticipated, I don’t feel thrown off because I’ve prepared, and I know what’s happening next. I’m not sure if that really makes sense, but basically whenever we prepare it sets us up to not get too flustered because we have done all we can and we know what our next steps are.
Like I mentioned on Instagram, I will be sharing my detailed schedule and grocery list either next Friday or the following week. This will just be based on what I’m making, but it’s a nice framework to shoot off of. Let me know if you have a preference in when you want the schedule and list.
If a detailed list isn’t your thing, I will say making an oven schedule will be a life saver, and you should at least do that. You need to know when you can cook things and how long those things will take, otherwise you’ll tell guests they’re eating at noon and it will actually be five before they get a dinner roll.
Speaking of WHEN you’re eating, the timing of your meal will have an impact on when you start off for the day (or the night before). It also will mean you may need to have snacks or appetizers around for your guests to nibble on. Next week I’ll give you a few ideas for those, but just know that you can’t go wrong with a good old veggie/fruit platter and chips and dip.
My last thing about timing today is regarding your guests. Do you have a guest who will be using your kitchen for their contribution? If so, it might seem awkward or embarrassing to do, but, please ask them at least how long it will take them to have it in the oven or on the stove. This way you can schedule them into your plan, and you won’t be thrown off by their use of your oven. There are already enough conversations that could be tense at a Thanksgiving table, you don’t want to add to the tension by getting annoyed with someone in the kitchen.
NITTY GRITTY LOGISTICS
In this section we’ll discuss some of the random logistical elements involved in a Thanksgiving meal you may not think about including seating, activities, when to go to the grocery store etc.
HOME STRETCH! WOOO!
You need to ask yourself about seating and food placement. Now you know how many people are coming and if you’re having a “kid’s table” or not, so you can start planning for where people are going to sit. There’s the good old, get-your-food-and-pop-yourself-on-the-sofa/floor method, giant-table-with-matching-chairs-and-great-place-settings method, Charlie-Brown-style-mis-matched-everything method and so many more and in between! Last year something that worked well for us was having a card table full of food set up as a buffet and having a long folding table for sitting at. If you’re going to have a big crowd and want some tips on table set-ups for that I suggest looking at the nocrumbsleft Instagram page. Teri Turner makes a giant Thanksgiving meal every year and she always has ace ideas for hosting a crowd.
Next up; activities! You may have some activities for the kids coming to your party now, but what about the adults? It can be hard to entertain if you’re in the kitchen, but you can at least have some things set up for your guests to do. Some initial ideas I have are:
- Have some of them help out in the kitchen if you want
- Go for a walk
- Go to the park and play games
- Play games at home
- Do a craft
- Watch a movie/television show
Lastly for today; think about when you’ll go to the grocery store. Our town has one Walmart that services the towns for at least a forty-five-minute radius and things get wiped out. Do you have a situation like that? Or do you live somewhere where that isn’t really an issue? If not, don’t worry too much about when to buy things. If you do, then you should start thinking about when you’ll be heading to the shops. Many things you’ll make for Thanksgiving will be able to be bought in advance; go for it! The things you can’t buy ahead are usually things like fresh vegetables and they’re the items stores normally have stocked so you should be fine to buy them when you need to, and they most likely won’t be out of it. Think about what you can make ahead of time and base your shopping plans around that.
If you work off a strict budget start buying parts of your meal in weekly increments. Buy the turkey one week, rolls/stuffing/gravy the next, etc.
Well there you have it! Some things to think about, and plan for your Thanksgiving meal! Let me know if you have any questions about Thanksgiving and if you have more ideas to share with everyone! Feel free to share this wherever you want.