Thanksgiving Dinner: 6 Meal Prep Tips

Thanksgiving Dinner - Freedom from Want by Norman Rockwell, 1943

I have great memories of Thanksgiving dinners I enjoyed in the home of my grandparents. They always spread a bountiful feast I took for granted as a kid. But as an adult, I marvel at all the work that must have gone into what at the time seemed like such a simple celebration.

So, now that I’m the grandma who hosts 30+ people around the Thanksgiving table most years, I’ve found myself scrambling for ways to simplify the process. Here are the steps that keep me sane in the process:

5 Tips for Simplifying your Thanksgiving Meal

  1. Plan your menu now

    Poll your family. Who wants what? If it won’t feel like Thanksgiving without turkey and dressing or green bean casserole and pumpkin pie, then by all means include those favorites in your planning, but don’t feel like you have to serve everything your grandma served. If nobody in your family likes cranberry sauce or sweet potatoes, don’t put those items on the menu. If your loved ones prefer key lime or coconut creme pie to pumpkin, accommodate them. If there are too many special requests to make them all at Thanksgiving, prepare half of them now and save the other half for Christmas.

  2. Get your groceries early

    As you are planning your menu, keep track of which ingredients you’ll need to prepare each item. Make a list and check it twice. The lines at the grocery store are notoriously long the day before Thanksgiving, so avoid shopping at that late hour if you can. Or give Walmart’s Grocery Pickup Service a try if you haven’t already. You’ll avoid crowded aisles altogether by shopping online, then picking your purchases up at the store. The service is free and they’ll load everything for you — you never even have to get out of your car. For more information (and to save $10 off your first order), follow this link.

  3. Enlist a lot of help

    Forget trying to do everything yourself! As my husband’s grandma always said, “Go easy on the cook.” Divide up the tasks and work as a family. Younger kids can chop veggies, peel potatoes, wash dishes, set tables, etc. Older kids can be responsible for preparing a dish start to finish. If extended family or friends will be joining you, make assignments and piece the meal together potluck style. For several Thanksgivings running, we ordered a catered turkey and only made the side dishes at home.

  4. Prepare what you can in advance

    Pre-chop veggies for salads. Mix dressing or casseroles together and cover pans with foil, all ready to pop in the oven. Bake desserts and brew tea a day early, as well. Do ahead of time anything you can do ahead of time, to minimize the hours you’ll spend on your feet in the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day. That way,
    you’ll be able to take a well deserved break and visit with your guests instead of running around like a chicken with its head cut off!

  5. Take a break on Wednesday

    Since you’ll be doing a good part of the food prep on Wednesday, make that day’s meals as simple as possible.
    Warm up a crockpot full of soup, serve cold sandwiches, or — better yet — eat out. I heard word last week that Freebirds will let kids eat free the day before Thanksgiving (November 22), and there are lots of other places that do the same, so you can take the whole crew without breaking the bank. (To check out our national Kids Eat Free list, follow this link. To see the local list, click here.)

  6. Streamline the cleanup

    Unless you’re a Martha Stewart type who takes lots of pleasure in setting an elegant table with fine china and crystal for holiday dinners, invest in disposable dinnerware. The food will taste just as good on Chinette, and cleanup will be so much faster, especially if you’re feeding a very big crowd. If you can’t bring yourself to forego the fine china, then be sure to assign kitchen chores after the meal so that washing things up will be a joint effort. It goes much faster with everyone pitching in than when Mom tries to tackle everything herself.

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