Planning is the secret to having a fun holiday dinner. If you do it right, no matter how many people will be sitting around table, you should be able to enjoy it as much as everyone else. But that means thinking ahead. Trying to throw things together at the last minute can be fun sometimes. But more often it’s a nightmare.
By now you should have invited your guests and planned your menu. You also should have some idea of how much money you have to spend on dinner. That means a realistic look at how much things cost. If you don’t know, look at local grocery store ads or on the internet. Also, you should be combing the store ads for things you’ll need that go on sale early.
Also by now, you should be buying your frozen turkey and putting things for your table and kitchen together. Get that old roasting pan out of the back of the closet. Polish the silverware (if you have any). Check your linens for stains. This is also the time to finalize any dishes your guests might contribute.
By this coming Wednesday, a week before the big day, you should have taken care of ordering or purchasing non-perishables. That means wine, decorations and seating arrangements. If you’re planning on fresh flowers, order them now for delivery the day before Thanksgiving. Get your grocery shopping list together now and know exactly when you’re going to the stores.
The weekend before Thanksgiving, it’s time to do most of your shopping. Only the most perishable items should wait until Tuesday. Any ingredients or dishes that can be frozen ahead of time should be prepared now. And of course, it’s time to clean the house.
Now we’re in the crunch zone, the final three days before the big event. On Monday, begin defrosting your frozen bird, finish decorating, make your pies and make your cooking schedule.
What? You don’t have a cooking schedule? Shame on you. If you plan ahead, you won’t be running around like a crazy person, making yourself too tired and stressed to enjoy the feast. Sit down with your menu and recipes. Figure out exactly how long each dish and each step in the recipe will take. Also consider where it will be cooked. You don’t want to find out at the last minute your oven won’t hold everything you had planned on putting into it. Also make notes about serving dishes for each dish and whether it goes on the table or the sideboard. You might also think about what comes out of the kitchen in what order.
Like all good project planning, work backwards from your deadline and figure out when each task or dish needs to begin cooking. Think about any conflict for oven or stovetop space. Again, work backwards to know by when your preparations need to be finished for each dish and then figure out when you need to start that item’s preparation.
Tuesday, or T-minus 2, make that last minute shopping trip for perishables and anything else you need. This is also a good time to do most of your vegetable chopping and making dishes that need a little resting time before being served, like homemade cranberry sauce.
T-minus-1 is the day to do any last minute cleaning and setting up tables and furniture. Also, white wines should begin chilling. Any cold dishes should be made on Wednesday so all you have to do is pull them out of the refrigerator on the big day.
Now you can relax, get a good night’s sleep and gird your loins for the cooking marathon we call Thanksgiving Dinner. The more you plan ahead, the easier it will be. Just try not to get too stressed out. It doesn’t have to be perfect.