Thanksgiving is less than a month away. But that doesn’t mean there’s time to waste. If you really want to enjoy the holiday, don’t wait until the last minute to get ready. Whether you’re hosting your family’s festivities for the first time or you’re a Thanksgiving Day veteran, it pays to plan ahead.
Here is an outline of things to think about and get done in advance, so that you have everything ready for your festive meal:
Plan the Gathering
What type of gathering do you want? Will it be just for family, or you going to invite friends? If so, how many people can you accommodate? Do you need to take care of out-of-town guests, or will everyone be local? Will there be kids? Will it be a whole day affair or just a meal? Will it be a sit-down dinner or a buffet-style lunch while the football game is on? What time do you expect to eat? These and other questions like it are the first ones you need to address, so that you have the makings of a clear battle plan.
Once you’ve figured out the number of people you’re going to invite, and who they are, you need to start thinking about the menu. Will it be traditional or do you like to think beyond the classics? Do you have to satisfy any vegetarians? If you’re going to get a turkey, how big does it need to be? What recipes will you use? Are you going to do all the cooking yourself, or will Aunt Martha be there to help you? Are you going to ask guests to bring beverages or side dishes, and if so what’s on that list? Don’t shop for anything until you’ve answered these questions and any more like them.
Once you’ve got a head count and your recipes have been chosen, it’s time to shop. Check your pantry and see what you already have on hand. Make sure you have adequate cooking supplies and utensils. Also determine if you have enough chairs, linens, silverware, plates, glasses, etc. Think about anything else you need for your home so that your guests’ requirements are taken care of, i.e. extra towels, toilet paper, special dietary needs, etc.
You don’t need to buy perishable consumables several weeks out, but you should get all of your other shopping out of the way. That includes non-perishable items, such as canned goods, wine and beer, and anything that you can freeze. You should order your turkey, or your ham, or whatever your main dish will be from your grocer as soon as you can, though. You don’t want to show up at the store the day before Thanksgiving and find that it has sold out of precisely what you need.
If you need to rent or borrow things like extra chairs or flatware, do it early. Take care of any projects in your home that need attention. If the banister is loose, fix it now before Uncle Henry falls on the stairs and the day is ruined.
Early Cooking and Preparing
A week or two before the big day, you can start making anything that will store well in your freezer. Things like pie dough, bread, turkey stock, etc., can all be made in advance. While you’re cooking, you can have other family members work on any table decorations you’ve planned. Figure out the seating plan and make place cards for your guests.
Hopefully, you’ve sent out your invitations already. But this is a good time to check with everyone to make sure they’re coming. Barring an unforeseen emergency, such as bad weather, you want to make sure everyone is going to show up. Don’t leave major house cleaning to the last minute. The weekend before Thanksgiving is a good time to clean the house, press the linens and polish the silver.
Last Minute Shopping and Preparing
Buy the rest of your perishables a few days before Thursday. A day or two out, prepare any side dishes that can be made ahead and reheated. Set up your table arrangements, as well, and be ready to chow down in the kitchen or family room for meals on the few days before guests arrive. Defrost your turkey on Wednesday.
On Thursday morning, you’re going to have to move everything into high gear. Prepare your turkey stuffing, defrost anything you’ve previously frozen, and get to work on side dishes and salads. Put the turkey in the oven to roast. Chill any wine and beer. Reheat anything that needs it. When everything is ready to go, you can serve your meal and enjoy the many bounties that life has provided for you and yours.
Be Prepared to Pivot
Hopefully, all this planning will help reduce your stress level. But even with everything in place, things can go wrong. Last year, we had everything worked out to the last detail. And then the power went out. In fact, during the course of the day, the electricity went off and on four times. Instead of eating at two, we finally sat down after five. Luckily, we had enough side dishes and hors d’ oeuvres to keep everyone satisfied.
And while we were inclined to fret and curse the power company, we also remembered to be thankful for all our blessings and the fact that our family was together through it all. It really was a wonderful Thanksgiving. The good news is that, this year, we’ll be going to my wife’s sister’s house. Hope she’s planned it all well.