I’m all about meal planning and meal prep. It saves not only my sanity but my bank account by carving out time on Sunday to prep for the upcoming week. I’m not quiet about how important meal prep is to my budget and my time, so it’s no surprise that as the holidays loom ahead, people have started asking me questions.
What do you do about Thanksgiving, people ask. Do you prep regular meals for the week leading up to Thanksgiving? Do you meal prep Thanksgiving dinner?
Thanksgiving might be the one time almost every single person who cooks that day, participates in some sort of meal prep. They plan their dishes ahead of time, shop before the day of, and start prepping those dishes before Thanksgiving morning.
Thanksgiving is an excellent time to really stretch those meal prep skills!
And what do I do about the days leading up to Thanksgiving? I use things out of my pantry and freezer. I’m not cooking much from scratch that week, and the night before, we order pizza because I’m usually baking or chopping much of the afternoon and evening.
So, having hosted Thanksgiving for a number of years, and because I am the Lazy Girl when it comes to cooking, I have researched a variety of ways to simplify Thanksgiving. Here are the tools I use to make my life easier.
Since we only have one oven, and it ALWAYS hits a backlog, I was determined to figure out some dishes that didn’t need to go into the oven. Last year, I FINALLY found a winner! The turkey no longer goes in the oven. We grill that big old thing, and it was the best turkey we’ve ever had and the easiest BY AND FAR to ever cook.
But, for those who cook their turkey in the oven, here are some tips to it ready to cook ahead of time:
Brine it 1-3 days ahead of time
Make your flavored butter ahead of time (we love rosmary garlic butter rubbed all over the turkey) and pop it into the freezer.
There’s no rule that says gravy needs to be made on Thanksgiving. You can use chicken broth and pick up giblets from your butcher. Make it and freeze it until the day before, it reheats beautifully.
Cook your potatoes ahead of time and stick them in the fridge and add in all the goodness (Milk, butter, sour cream, etc) on Thanksgiving Day.
I have read that you can make mashed potatoes ahead of time and freeze them (you must add in all the full fat goodness before freezing) and then taking them out 1-2 days before you ready to heat and serve. If they separate and get watery, a little more sour cream can remedy that. I personally haven’t tried this because I haven’t found the need to freeze them yet.
It’s such an easy dish to make then you can put refrigerate or freeze it depending how far in advance you make it. It reheats beautifully.
I make cornbread stuffing and traditional bread stuffing as my husband and I grew up with one of each. So, I make the cornbread and toast the bread a few days before hand. I chop all the vegetables that go into each and measure out all the herbs. That way, the day of, I dump everything together, mix it up and bake it.
Soups can be made several days in advance and then they just need to be reheated. Although I do not make soups for Thanksgiving, I do make several pots of soup for Christmas day, so prepping soup is something I’m very familiar with handling.
Chop all the vegetables ahead of time. Make the dressing ahead of time. If you are laying out crudités, these can be done at the same time.
Make the salad dressing several days in advance if you’re making homemade dressings and dips.
I buy mine now a days, but if you make them from scratch, you can freeze them right before the cooking step and take them out to cook that day. You can also make them the day before and just reheat them in time for dinner.
I make all pies the day before and if I have any frozen (I buy my apple pie from one of the apple farms just up the mountain) pies, I bake them as well. Keeping the oven open on Thanksgiving is my number one priority.
If you make your own crusts, you can make them way ahead of time and put them into the freezer until you need them.
I’m sure that all sounds fine and dandy, but how do you EXECUTE a seamless Thanksgiving dinner?
Sometimes you know the shortcuts to take, but everything still sneaks up on you and then it’s the week of Thanksgiving and you’ve done nothing to prepare. Creating a plan, a timetable to follow along can help ease the stress of the upcoming holiday.
Here’s a rough game plan that I use:
3-4 Weeks out
Figure out how many people will be at my table. A lot of time I don’t know until the last minute, so I always give a 3-4 person window of attendees. Most leftovers freeze well, so having too much food isn’t always a concern.
Finalize your menu. Write out your shopping list. If you are hosting a pot luck Thanksgiving, it’s time to delegate who is in charge of what dish. Make sure you aren’t creating too many dishes that suck up your oven. What can you do on the stove? The grill (like me)? Can be done ahead of time?
I suggest buying your turkey soon unless you plan on buying a fresh one.
If you are cooking dishes ahead of time and freezing, this is a good time to get those done.
5 Days Before (Weekend before Thanksgiving)
If you have a frozen turkey, get it defrosting if it’s a bigger bird (16 pounds and up), especially if you have to brine it. If it a smaller bird, 4 days ahead of time is good, especially if you are brining.
Get your nonperishable shopping done by the end of the weekend at the latest. Yes, you’ll have to return for perishables, but at least you are only getting a few items.
2-3 Days Before
Buy those perishables and get some prepping done. Start getting things ready for salads, soups, and vegetable trays.
Some people like to start brining their turkey at this point.
Bake up any desserts.
Make sure everything that can get made ahead of time is made, allowing you a bit more wiggle room on Thanksgiving.
Send someone out to pick up pies if you are buying them rather than baking.
Thanksgiving is the ultimate meal prep day! I’m an advocate of cutting corners where you can, enlisting the help of other people when you can, and taking as much off your plate leading up to Thanksgiving as possible.
With all that being said, sometimes things don’t quite turn out the right way. Something doesn’t go according to plan. Embrace it, because some day, hopefully you can at least smile at the memory. It’s a good reminder to be thankful for the blessings you have, not about the imperfections gone wrong.
Next year, you can try again! Happy Thanksgiving!