A Thanksgiving dinner can be a real, but time-consuming, labor of love – but it doesn’t have to be. With a bit of planning and preparation, you can serve a killer buffet without spending half the day in the kitchen.
List and Shop Ahead of Time
Shop early to avoid long lines and to make sure you don’t have to run around to multiple grocery stores because things you need have sold out at one store. Don’t shop too early – the week of a holiday is when you’ll find the best deals on staples such as stuffing mix, broth, sweet and mashed potatoes, corn bread, green beans and drinks.
Pre-Prep Your Veggies
Tupperware is your friend. On Wednesday night, fill containers with diced onions, carrots, celery and other veggies you wash, peel and slice. You can make (but not cook) your stuffing in advance.
To stay organized and keep people from bumping into each other in the kitchen, assign counter space and table tops for each dish you’re going to prepare. Place all of the non-perishable ingredients and utensils at each station the night before.
Set the Table on Wednesday
Let children help set the Thanksgiving table – the night before. This chore takes longer than you think, and pre-setting a table can be a real time saver if you do it on Wednesday afternoon or evening.
The Breast is Yet to Come
If you’re just having a small number of people for Thanksgiving dinner, don’t spend half your day roasting a large turkey. Opt instead for a quality, pre-cooked, heat-and-serve turkey breast. These are juicy, tasty all-white meat breasts you can heat in the oven or microwave and serve whole or sliced.
Even generic stuffing can help you create quick, tasty versions of this classic Thanksgiving side dish. Follow the directions on the box and add your own celery, carrots, raisins, apple, sausage or oysters. You can mix it and nuke it in less than five minutes, then stick it under a broiler for a few minutes for a crispy, crunchy top.
Focus on Quality Rather than Quantity
While it’s nice to have turkey, ham and beef, along with lots of favorite side dishes, you can trim your workload by focusing on just the turkey and four high-quality side dishes. Use fresh ingredients or interesting marinades, dressings or mix-ins to kick up your offerings. Choose just two healthy, delicious desserts, rather than creating a dessert station. Take a look at the sides below and choose four you think you can make memorable with some extra effort:
- Mashed potatoes
- Sweet potato casserole
- Hot veggies (corn, squash, greens, carrots, green been casserole)
- Mac and cheese
- Cranberry relish
- Pasta salad
- Baked beans
As you can see, it’s easy to get carried away with lots of sides that often get left over or tossed out.
Send a quick email to co-workers and friends asking if they have any kitchen gadgets they won’t be using on Thanksgiving. If you can score a rotisserie oven, for example, you’ll be able to let a whole turkey cook itself without basting or using precious oven space. Ask if anyone has one of the new air cookers they won’t be using so you can make crispy items with less fat and in less time. An extra microwave or toaster oven can also help you time your service better.
Go Pot Luck
If you’re having a few guests over, ask them to bring their favorite side dish or have each one bring a small dessert. It’s not only less work for you, but gives everyone a chance to showcase their favorite recipes and cooking skills.