Thanksgiving Meal Ideas:
Prepare a Fabulous Thanksgiving Dinner
It's sorta nuts the way a few great Thanksgiving meal ideas and a lot of planning can make the difference between a scrumptious Thanksgiving meal and a so-so one.
In fact, it never ceases to amaze me that such a simple holiday --no gifts, no entire house to decorate, no carols, no Santa or Menorah-- can be so complicated to plan! The truth is, getting your Thanksgiving celebration put together can be an arduous task. There's a lot to buy and a lot of food to prepare... not to mention readying the house for guests.
With that in mind, let's consider some time-smart Thanksgiving meal ideas to help get everything in order.
Starting Your Thanksgiving Planning Early
Planning and Brainstorming.
Are you an enthusiastic Thanksgiving dinner planner? The sooner you begin to plan your menu and put together your favorite Thanksgiving meal ideas, the better. As far as I'm concerned, it's never too early to start.
Especially if you want to try out a new Thanksgiving recipe (we have tons of great ones here, by the way), it's a good idea to try it out ahead of time to see how you like it. There's really no limit to how early you get started looking, cooking, tasting, and putting together some fun Thanksgiving meal ideas.
Buying Thanksgiving Dinnerware. If presentation is really important to you, you'll want to start with nice dinnerware. If you plan to buy special dinnerware for the holiday, you'll need to do it months in advance. For help planning what kind of Thanksgiving dinnerware you need and how/when/what to buy, check this page.
3-4 Weeks Ahead:
What to Do
Choosing Your Menu
The most important part for any Thanksgiving dinner planner! You should settle on a menu now and review all the recipes for your chosen fare. Why? The biggest reason is saving money. For the next few weeks you can watch the stores for sales on all the components for your feast and stock up accordingly.
Besides saving money, you can also use these weeks to be proactive and save yourself a ton of time and effort later: pre-make any part of the meal that can be frozen or preserved so all you have to do is defrost and reheat it on Thanksgiving morning.
Believe me, the extra time you end up with may just be your savior.
Picking out Thanksgiving Recipes
When putting together your menu, you'll probably have a lot of Thanksgiving meal ideas and recipe ideas you're considering. I have a lot of resources here at Divine Dinner Party to help you plan and choose. Check out Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas
for ideas and help with choosing and planning a menu. Or Traditional Thanksgiving Foods
for a great idea of where to start, food-wise.
I've also got a ton of tasty Thanksgiving Dinner Recipes, ranging from the perfect turkey to sweet potatoes to side dishes.
Buying the Turkey
The most creative Thanksgiving meal ideas in the world won't cover up a sub-par turkey. So the turkey recipe
you choose is very important-- and will affect what kind of turkey you need to buy. Some of your turkey recipe options are:
Remember, you need to buy any frozen turkeys early, especially if you're going to defrost it in the refrigerator (which is the safest way to go). For a whole frozen turkey, you need about 1.5 pounds per person. So 10 guests = a 15 pound turkey. Note that this calculation leaves room for seconds and some leftovers. A 15 pound turkey requires three-to-four days to fully defrost in the fridge, so plan accordingly. (Check here for tips on how to thaw a turkey.)
Testing Out New Dishes
If there you have any fun recipes or Thanksgiving meal ideas that you'd like to try, now would also be the time to try them. It's best to know how a particular recipe will actually work out, how it can change to match your tastes, and how easy it is to execute.
Planning a Guest List
Another task for early November is all about your guests. During this time, you'll want to assemble your Thanksgiving guest list, and develop a good idea of the numbers you'll have.
Looking for some volunteers to help (some might even be able to offer you some great Thanksgiving meal ideas!) is also a good idea. People can either offer to come early for set up, stay late for clean up, or offer to bring a dish to pass around-- it'll save you lots of work in the kitchen. One of the best Thanksgiving meal ideas there are.... because many hands make light work!
Not comfortable with the idea of asking for help, or don't need it? That doesn't mean your guests won't want to bring something. You might want to refer them to my what to bring to Thanksgiving Dinner page for ideas on how best to help you out.
Thinking Out Activities
Sure, great recipes and other Thanksgiving meal ideas are important. But if you're going to be having a lot of guests that will be staying for several hours, you're probably also wondering how to keep them entertained. In the weeks before Thanksgiving, think out some activities that will keep people happy and having fun. Some of the following pages may help you out with that:
Look over Your Supplies
Take a moment to look over all your kitchen equipment. Do you have everything you need for not only cooking but also serving? If not, a wonderful time-saving Thanksgiving meal idea is getting aluminum serving pans with lids in various sizes. Manufacturers have even been coming out with ones that have decorative exteriors so the pan doesn't look dull on the feast table. And the ability to either store the dish in that pan or just toss out the pan when you're done saves a lot of time in clean up.
You can also find a list of the sorts of supplies traditionally needed to cook a turkey here.
Clean Out the Fridge and Freezer
Here's an often-overlooked Thanksgiving meal idea: to make your life a little easier once Thanksgiving Day arrives, make an effort to go through the refrigerator throughout this week and use up as many bits and pieces as you can. You're going to need the space come Thanksgiving Day, and it's always nicer to prepare a feast out of a clean fridge.
Plan Your Decorations
If you want to have an especially decorative table for Thanksgiving this year, now is a good time to make a plan for your Thanksgiving table decorations. If you need to collect leaves or other natural items, or buy flowers, gourds, etc., it's important to have a plan of what to buy and plenty of time to put everything together. Though be sure to buy fresh flowers only a day or two before dinner.
I've got lots of creative ideas for table decorations for Thanksgiving here.
Clean and Inventory your Thanksgiving Dinnerware
Since most people don't use their good china regularly, pull it out of the cabinet and give it a good rinse. See if anything needs to be replaced or repurchased.
You can also check here for some ideas on using Thanksgiving Dinnerware.
Prepare Your Table Linens
After finishing up with your dinnerware, you can also check the table cloth and napkins to make sure they're cleaned and pressed.
A few days before Turkey Day, it's time for housekeeping! Any housecleaning that needs to be done should begin now. And don't be afraid to ask for help. Or even hire a service. You have enough to worry about!
Pre-Prepare Your Dishes
This is one of those Thanksgiving meal ideas that will save you a ton of time. If you have anything that can be pre-prepared, get that started now. That includes things like bread cubes for stuffing, make ahead gravy
, roasting seeds or candying nuts for salads, etc. You get the idea.
Brine Your Bird
If you're using a turkey recipe with a brine, now's the time to get brining (simply follow your recipe for timing). This is also true if you decide to go with my favorite dry-brined Thanksgiving turkey recipe.
24 Hours to
Shop for any highly perishable items today. This includes perishable produce, salad greens, and flowers for the dinner table.
Today is a good day to prepare the stuffing so it can sit overnight to get rich in flavor. You can also prepare pies, cakes etc. so they're all ready to serve. You'll also want to think a little bit about a light but hearty breakfast for the next day (something that doesn't take time away from your ability to stay on schedule with your feast).
Set the Table
This is one of my favorite time-saving Thanksgiving meal ideas. If the table is set the night before the event, you'll have one less thing to worry about on the day. And plenty of time to get your Thanksgiving table looking perfect.
Check here for some ideas on table decorations for Thanksgiving.
Air Dry the Turkey
If you've made brined turkey for a Thanksgiving feast, now is the time to remove it from the brine and let it air-dry in the fridge. If the skin of your turkey is too wet, it won't crisp up properly.
Check Thanksgiving Turkey Tips to get the crispest skin possible on your bird.
Turkey Day is Here!
Cooking the Turkey
Exactly how this day progresses depends a lot on your menu. If you have a classic roasted turkey on your Thanksgiving meal idea list, then it's the first thing that has to go in the oven. If, however, you're making a deep fried turkey recipe
for Thanksgiving, you only need an hour and a half or so of lead time before you get cooking.
Whatever kind of turkey recipe you choose, you'll want to plan your day accordingly. You can find lots of tips on cooking Thanksgiving turkey here.
Cooking Up a Storm
While the turkey's cooking you can begin prep work for potatoes, carrots, salads, and rolls. It's strongly suggested that you also offer your guests a snack or appetizer early in the afternoon-- or the smell of Thanksgiving dinner cooking may drive people to distraction!
You can find some great Thanksgiving recipes for all of these items right here.
Time to Relax
Why is this always one of those Thanksgiving meal ideas that falls to the wayside? You should get to have fun, too!
After dinner concludes and food has been carefully stored away, sit down and put your feet up. You deserve it! Have a nice, big glass of wine or a cup of coffee and good conversation with your family and friends. Play a Thanksgiving party game or watch a game of football. And smile! After all... you'll have leftovers tomorrow so you won't have to cook!
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