Thanksgiving Prep Series, Part 1

Halloween is over and suddenly, it’s November and Thanksgiving is just weeks away.  Last year was my first year ever hosting turkey day and I had an absolute blast.  For me, hosting has given this holiday new life.  I used to not really look forward to it much, but having family in our home and cooking the meal myself makes it so much more enjoyable.  Keep in mind I work full time right up to the day before Thanksgiving (as well as the day after – booo) so planning and working ahead is what makes this manageable.  I thought I would share a few posts about my strategies and timelines.  I’m going to do this as a three part series over three weeks.  This week I have focused on general planning and home/kitchen preparations.

First things first – make a guest list.  Depending on how formal you want your event to be, you could even mail out invitations.  Our family is definitely not that formal so I just called or spoke to everyone and made sure they were planning on coming.  If possible get RSVPs within the week or so, that way you can have a head count in mind when making all your preparations.

When planning your guest list, be sure to keep in mind how much seating you have available.  If you don’t have enough seats, make arrangements to accommodate everyone.  (Throwing together a couple of card tables with a tablecloth over them never hurt 🙂 )

Make sure you have enough serveware available for all guests to have plates, glasses, silverware, etc.  Now is the time to figure out what is missing so you have plenty of time to obtain extras.  Also think about tablecloths or table runners, place mats, napkins, etc.  Finally, be sure you have enough serving platters, large bowls, bakeware and such for all the dishes you plan to serve.  If you don’t want to purchase new items, borrow what you need from family members.

Table decor can really help set the tone of the meal and pull an event together.  Start thinking about what sort of table decor you might want – vases of flowers, candles, small pumpkins and gourds, greenery, etc.  Place cards are also a really nice touch.

Also consider any other sorts of home preparations that might be necessary.  If any of your guests will be staying overnight, be sure guest bedrooms and bathrooms are clean and put together.  I just had our kitchen tile and grout as well as our carpets professionally cleaned.  This is yearly maintenance that should be done anyway, and just before hosting Thanksgiving is a perfect time to do it.

And of course, since this is a holiday that centers around food, start planning your menu.  If possible finalize it, though that may only be possible after you have a firm head count on guests.

Finally, order your turkey.  I always try to cook with quality ingredients but in the case of a turkey where it is the main course and centerpiece, this is essential.  A fresh turkey that has not been frozen is best – I’ll discuss the turkey in more depth later this week.  I order our turkey from our local butcher shop and we pick it up the day before Thanksgiving.  One perk of speaking with a butcher is that they can recommend the right size bird for your needs (including how much you want for leftovers!)

Here is my menu as of now:

Thanksgiving 2010
Baked Brie en Croûte with Apple Compote
Homemade Party Snack Mix
Baked Spinach Artichoke Dip
Roasted Shrimp with Cocktail Sauce

Main Course:
Roasted Turkey with Cider Shallot Gravy

Side Dishes:
Mashed Potatoes
Sweet Potatoes with Sage Butter Crumb Topping
Broccoli Gratin
Brussels Sprouts and Butternut Squash with Bacon Vinaigrette
Honey Yeast Rolls and Multigrain Rolls
Honey Butter and Compound Herb Butter
Cranberry Sauce

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Pie
Pecan Pie
Pumpkin Pie
Cookie Platter with Chocolate Turtle Cookies, Cinnamon Stars and Cranberry Crumb Bars

*I only post recipes that I have tried before and would recommend, so any of the recipes on the menu that are new to me will not be shared prior to Thanksgiving.  I will be sharing some of the recipes from last Thanksgiving in the upcoming weeks.

Finally, you might want to make some plans for post-turkey day relaxation.  I scheduled myself a massage for the Saturday after Thanksgiving 🙂

45 Responses

  1. great tips- the brussel sprouts and butternut squash dish sounds amazing

  2. Annie, this is our first year hosting. Can you recommend how many appetizers, side dishes and desserts you Need based on the number of guests? We are nly having 9 people so I don’t want t have too much or too little. Thanks!

    • Sara,
      I personally don’t know of any good formula that gives you a realistic estimate for that sort of thing. My own personal strategy is always to just start writing out a menu, visualize it once finished, and then add or remove things based on whether I think there will be enough or too much food. Appetizers depend a lot on how long people will be there watching football, etc. before the actual meal but keep in mind you don’t want them to be too full either. Especially since it is Thanksgiving, I think you can’t really have too much since there are some dishes people just expect to see. I always have containers ready to send leftovers home with everyone. Hope that helps!

  3. Holy cow!!! Your dinner sounds amazing, and sooooo full of food!! FIVE desserts? Can we be friends?

  4. Wow, what a menu! I wish I was coming to your house for Thanksgiving. Thanks for all the tips and I can’t wait to see some recipes.

  5. I want to come to your house for Turkey Day!!!

  6. Yummm! Your menu sounds fantastic. I am hosting my family this year as well and I am interested in trying the fresh turkey. I live in Avon as well and was just wondering if you get yours from Moody’s?

  7. I hosted last year for my in-laws and absolutely loved it! I am not hosting this year and feel a little sad about it. It really does make the holiday more enjoyable!

    What a good idea about the bird…I am actually thinking about cooking a turkey early so I can have extra turkey for myself. Perhaps I will go to our butcher this time!

  8. Halloween is over … and Target already has the Valentine’s Day candy out!

    Love the apple pie cupcakes!


  9. wow, your menu looks fantastic! i would love to come to thanksgiving dinner at your house. it definitely looks like you’ll have a tightly-packed schedule, though! good luck!

  10. great tips! i won’t be hosting thanksgiving for some time yet (at least, i doubt it) but i’ll definitely bookmark this for the future.

  11. How do you make sure everything stays warm? Also, how do you do all of this while still being present among your guests before you sit down?

    • Kyle, I’ll explain all of this in the upcoming Thanksgiving posts. As for being with family while I prepare the meal, my kitchen is totally open to the living room so guests are basically right there with me the whole time.

  12. Is your turkey recipe from Williams Sonoma? If so, that’s my absolute favorite! I’ve made it each year that I’ve hosted the big day and cannot imagine the holiday without it. Great choice for your bird!!

  13. No Halloween pictures of Andrew? Show us the cuteness!

  14. Love this! Though I don’t host official Thanksgiving (we split the day between my fam and husband’s fam), I like to do our own Turkey Day dinner a couple of weeks before so that we can relax and enjoy the day at home without stressing about getting to the next party! Oh, and I love planning!

  15. Oh, I SO wish I was doing anything at all for Thanksgiving this year. But, alas, my husband and I live 3000 miles away from family in a city apartment, and have no plans to travel back for my family’s annual 40 person+ get-together. So, while I think we’ll just do a roasted chicken at home, your menu has got me drooling, Annie, and I will pocket all of your tips for when I get to host my own Thanksgiving one day. Thanks for sharing!

  16. First of all, can I please come of Thanksgiving? Second, how do you make all of this when you’re working right up till the day before Thanksgiving. I live in London where we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving but every single year I say I want to celebrate it but then I think of all the food I have to make and give up so I’m looking forward to your recipes, if I do it this year, it’ll be with the assistance of some of your recipes :p

  17. psh, lets just skip straight to Christmas. Just kidding 😉 Looking forward to the holiday posts as I am toying with the idea of hosting my first ever Thanksgiving this year. Im a tad overwhelmed :/

  18. Annie, as usual getting your latest post on my Blackberry every morning is like getting a favorite magazine in the mail. I love it! I continue to be at amazed at your expertise in the kitchen despite being a mom of a toddler and a full-time doctor. As a working mom of a toddler with another on the way, Sunday is my big cooking day, but the rest of the week is a blur. I’m so inspired by you! Thanks for the reminder on ordering the fresh turkey, too! Looking forward to this series.

  19. I can’t wait for the day that I get to host my first Thanksgiving.. I love hosting! It’s so much fun and if you prep as early as you do its not as stressful either! Your menu sounds delicious!

  20. Oh yay, I was hoping you’d post this soon! Those sweet potatoes sound incredible, I’ve never really liked them before but tried them last year and kind of liked them. I’ll have to hunt for a recipe for them. Thanks for the idea.

  21. Looks like a delicious recipe and I can’t wait to watch and learn from you! Just wanted to pass along that the Cook’s Illustrated Grilled Roasted Turkey on a Charcoal Grill (and the gas version) is delicious and has become our family’s go-to Thanksgiving turkey recipe. It’s so nice to have the oven space free for everything else. I’m sure your file of ‘things to try later’ is huge, but this would be a worthwhile addition!

  22. we get to spend Thanksgiving with my husband’s 96 year old grandma and a couple of his aunts and cousins. The food is always wonderful. I will contribute with my mashed potatoes. I’m a complete mash potato snob. I’m the only one who puts enough heavy cream.

  23. Fantastic! We’re having my mother-in-law and her friend for Thanksgiving this year and I’ve been worried about the whole ordeal! Great tips! I can’t wait to see what you have to show us! Thanks!!!

  24. What time is dinner?!? 🙂


  25. I’m cooking for the first time this Thanksgiving and I’m super excited about it – great tips! I need to order a turkey! Super cute Halloween treats last week too Annie 🙂

  26. Thats a very well planned, detailed thanksgiving dinner! And the menu sounds fabulous. I am sure ur guests will enjoy the feasts very much!

  27. I am adding the honey yeast rolls to my menu plan now–thanks!

  28. Ohh I’m praying you’ll post your pumpkin pie recipe!

  29. Annie,
    I don’t know how you do it. You make it look so simple!

  30. Your Thanksgiving sounds an awful lot like mine! I started thinking about it already about 2 weeks ago. It is my favorite. I have “hosted” since I was 16 and now that I’m an adult, it’s nice to do it for real in my own home with my own things. I just started collecting mismatched ceramic serveware this year and it is really exciting!

  31. What are you serving to drink?

  32. Your Cider Shallot Gravy sounds intriguing, I hope you post the recipe!
    Also what kind stuffing do you like to make?

    • I haven’t found “the” stuffing recipe yet so I’ve been experimenting with different kinds. I still haven’t decided what kind I’m making for this year.

  33. We will also be having the Caramel Apple Cheesecake Pie this year! Every year my family has a pie-making contest, and the past few years I’ve created my own. When I saw this recipe, though, I couldn’t pass it up! I’ve already tried it out, and it’s as good as it sounds. I think I have a winner!!

  34. Annie,
    I don’t know if I missed this, but could you a recipe for stuffing. I’m hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year, and would love something that comes recommended from you. Much thanks!! Your recipes are always amazing.

  35. Hi, Annie,
    I have enjoyed your website for quite awhile now, thanks to my daughter and daughter-in-law! I’m doing prelim prep for our Thanksgiving , when we’ll have about 24 here to celebrate. This is not a food question, you do great in that dept, of course, but I have been searching for placemats/napkins exactly like the ones shown in your photo (on Prep Series Part I). Can you divulge where you found those?
    Thanks for great recipes and ideas!

  36. Thank you SO MUCH for posting these tips.. My husband is in the army, and we are stationed in Ft Bragg while both of our families are spread out through AZ and TX.. Since we don’t have any immediate family around my husband decided to invite a bunch of his army family. Right now we are up to 17 adults (2 pregnant, and 10 grown men) and 8 children.. So I am going to need a strategy going into this, I am just hoping that we make enough of everything to feed everyone!! Your tips are much appreciated!!

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