Thanksgiving Prep Series, Part 2

I hope everyone’s Thanksgiving plans are coming along nicely.  This was a slow week for me as far as prep tasks are concerned.  With the menu already planned, I just did a couple of minor organizational tasks.  Now is a good time to take stock of what sort of containers you have available for guests to take home leftovers, and replenish the supply if needed.  Everyone knows one of the best parts about Thanksgiving is the leftovers, and guests shouldn’t be left out just because they aren’t hosting.  I have a variety of containers from Garnish which should do nicely.

It is a good idea to give your fridge, pantry and freezer a thorough cleaning and reorganization sooner than later.  If you are hosting a large meal, you will need somewhere for all the ingredients to go and you don’t want to have to worry about reorganizing once you get home and your counters are covered in groceries.  I took the time to do that this past weekend and I am so glad that I did.  It really doesn’t take very long to give each area some attention, and when you are finished there is so much more space and order to things.

Now that all the home and kitchen-related tasks are mostly taken care of, it’s time to focus on the food.  Namely, the timeline.  I make two separate timelines for each and every event or party I host.  One is a general timeline, planning out the specific tasks that can be done in advance to spread the work out over several days, or nights in my case.  The other is the specific day-of timeline, but I’ll discuss that more next week.

The first thing I do to get the advance prep timeline together is analyze my menu and figure out what can be made in advance (fully or at least partially).

The things I can do in advance are:
Make puff pastry, apple compote for baked brie
Make snack mix
Make, freeze spinach artichoke dip
Make, refrigerate stuffing
Chop broccoli, shred cheese for gratin
Cut butternut squash and brussels sprouts
Make, freeze multigrain rolls
Make honey butter, compound herb butter
Make cranberry sauce
Make most desserts (3 pies, 2 cookie varieties)
Make, decorate favor sugar cookies

Then, starting up to one week before Thanksgiving, I divvy up these tasks so that I can do a few things each day and not be too overwhelmed or busy on one day.  Here is how my breakdown ended up:

I will definitely end up entering this into my Google calendar because it keeps me on task, and I love checking off the boxes.

Stay tuned for next week when I’ll share my strategies on creating my day-of timeline.  Thanksgiving will be here before we know it!

Other Thanksgiving-related posts:
Thanksgiving Prep Series, Part 1
Roast Turkey
Our First Thanksgiving

46 Responses

  1. That was a great post.

  2. wow, you are so organized! these are definitely some great tips. hosting such a huge event can be overwhelming, but you seem to have it covered so well!

  3. i do a ton ahead of time also, i didn’t ever think to freeze dip ahead of time (though, i do freeze a ton of desserts ahead of time)

  4. That is a good post…just wondering ..when you bake the sugar cookies one week store it in containers at room temperature? I guess I do now know how long cookies can last at room temperature.

    • I have a tutorial on sugar cookies with royal icing which explains this, but once the cookies are decorated they need to stay at room temperature. If chilled or frozen and then thawed, condensation will form and melt the icing.

  5. Busy, busy, busy! Good luck with all of this. I had my Thanksgiving last month 🙂

  6. I think a time line is a wonderful idea to share. Very much helps save time and helps the cook not be so exhausted. I have done a time line for holidays and entertaining for years. I have fibromyalgia and have to pace myself. If I could I would cook 10 hours a day. I love it but my body says differently. I cook the giblets 2 days ahead, cook the celery, onion and apple ahead of time for the stuffing and combine it all the day ahead. Also make a mashed potato casserole 2 days ahead, bake the day of. Any thing you can do ahead of time is a huge help.
    BTW love your blog 🙂

  7. I am loving this series, it is so helpful! I really like the reminder about the storage containers, that is one I always forget about.

  8. Annie you make this sound like so much fun….I think I’ll follow along with what your doing….I’ve already decided to copy cat your menu…now I’m going to copy your schedule too…can’t wait!

    Jeannette M.

  9. You are soo organized! This post has definitely inspired me to start getting my Thanksgiving plans in gear. 🙂

  10. I do the same planning as you do:) HOWEVER — I fail in the timely execution of everything! I totally let other “stuff” get in the way but I have yet another opportunity to do better this year and follow my finely detailed plans:)!

    One place I do fall short is with the sugar cookies! Too messy & too many kitchen tools to leave them til the last minute! Same with my other baking. I really do need to make them much earlier. When you make yours a week ahead, do you just store them in an airtight container? Or bag them and then an airtight?

    Also, the items where you didn’t specify freezing, do you just store in the fridge for the week? It never occured to me to make some of these so far ahead! Thanks for these posts!

    • Usually I just go ahead and bag the cookies and store them that way, but all in one airtight bag is fine too. As for freezing vs. fridge for other make ahead things, mostly just fridge. Cranberry sauce and flavored butter won’t lose quality in less than a week.

  11. BTW – I love the above containers… I’m big on having to-go containers for guests as well. One thing I started using last year was 8×8 foil pans. They are big enough for several items and deep enough to hold it all in!

  12. You are so organized! I am not hosting holidays yet, but am definitely bookmarking this series for future reference. Thank you!

  13. Wow, you’re a nice host! Our guests bring their own containers if they want to take home leftovers! lol. XD

  14. These are all great tips, Annie. I’m not surprised one bit that you’re so organized – any woman HAS to be to keep her sanity while planning Thanksgiving meals, decorations, guest overnight visits, etc.!

  15. You do it all yourself? Delegate!! Delegate!! Delegate!!!

  16. I am on the cusp of offering to take Thanksgiving this year for the first time. Everytime I start to freak out or question the manageability of it, I look to your site. My grandfather was just diagnosed with extensive emphysema and lung cancer and I know that taking it over would take a lot of stress off of her.

  17. One of my favorite things about hosting is the planning! I have giant notepads where I plan everything – from menu and ingredients to shopping lists and time delegation!

  18. Great post! Even though I’m not hosting this year, I will take this oppurtunity to clean my fridge and pantry 😉

  19. Annie, you have become my go-to food blog for delicious and perfect results every time! Thank you! I had my daughter’s 4th birthday party yesterday and followed your royal icing tutorial for pirate sugar cookies with great success…now I just need more practice piping outlines on circular cookies…those were almost the death of me! 🙂

    For Thanksgiving I’m making your brie in puff pastry with apple compote & caramel apple cheesecake pie, since I’ve been waiting impatiently for a good excuse to make these! Can’t wait!

  20. Having containers at the ready is a great idea! I’m not hosting Thanksgiving, but I am hosting Christmas, so all of your ideas will come in handy:) Thanks!

  21. Annie- you need to get your own TV show. I have tried a few of your recipes and they have been fabulous! You’re pictures are beautiful and I love your tutorials. If this whole “being a MD” thing doesn’t work out, you’ve got a great back up plan! 🙂

  22. hi annie, i don’t know if anyone has asked you before, but where do you get your cute stationary/lined paper/notepads?

  23. Annie, You are one organized gal! I think I’m going to casually place your post on my mother-in-law’s fridge 🙂

    Thanks so much for the Garnish shout out, much appreciated.

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and holiday season!

    Garnish + Enjoy,

    – Suzanne

  24. Wow, you are soo organized! Thanks for sharing all of your tips with us! I didn’t realize so many things could be made ahead of time. You are so helpful 🙂

  25. Annie,

    I love your food blog. You are my new HERO !! I was wondering if there is a way to store royal icing? I need to take sugar cookies to several activities this month. I was planning on making the cookies and freezing them, so I can just decorate them as I need them, but I hate to make the icing every time.
    I love sugar cookies and my 3 monkeys love to help decorate them.


    • You can store royal icing in an airtight container at room temperature, and with a piece of plastic wrap in contact with the icing surface. I’m not sure how long it keeps for but it should keep quite a while.

      For the future, you don’t need to comment twice if I don’t respond right away. Some questions require a little more time than others.

      • Annie,

        I love all your recipes! Question on storing the royal icing – when you say keep a piece of saran wrap in contact with icing surface do you mean put the icing in airtight container, put a piece of saran wrap inside the container touching the icing and the top on the container? Thanks so much!

      • Yes, that’s what I mean. But, I only think the plastic wrap is necessary if you plan on storing it for an extended time. I don’t usually bother with that but that’s because I tend to use my icing within a few days.

  26. I love Garnish! I found the same plastic ‘Ina’ containers at a local party supply places for 1/3 of the cost. It’s worth taking a look around party supply and craft stores for similar things. (I’ve yet to see those awesome straws for less anywhere though!)

    • Yeah, my local stores aren’t so awesome. Plus I don’t have a lot of time for in-store shopping so online is my preference.

  27. Great post! I agree on getting fridge, pantry, freezer in order, it helps alot. One other thing I do (which you probably don’t, since you are way more organized) is run the self clean on the oven the day before! I’ve had the misfortune of having the smoke alarm go off during the worst times due to grease or food burning in there. Add the butter smeared on the bird before and during and all hell breaks loose 😉

  28. Annie,
    I love your recipes. This might be a dumb question but I picked up on the “make snack mix”. I am looking for some sort of snack mix to make for my guests. What type of mix are you talking about making? I would love to see what you have in mind. Thank you.

    • As I mentioned in my first Thanksgiving post, I’m not sharing any recipes I haven’t tried before Thanksgiving. I only post recipes that I have tried and would recommend. Sorry! It will be basically just a chex mix, but homemade.

  29. Thanks to you I spent $50 at the Garnish website! The stuff was to my house within 3 days. I see that by your timeline you are piping and frosting your cookies ahead of time, do they still look and taste good after being in the freezer? I always freeze my undecorated ones but never the decorated. I’m afraid they will lose their shine. Help

    • Oh, I’m not freezing the cookies. They are perfectly fine made and decorated a week in advance, just stored airtight at room temperature. You are correct, you should not freeze the decorated cookies.

  30. Thanks for the helpful timeline- I would like to make the
    Spinach Artichoke Dip for Apps as well but was wondering
    how to make it ahead of time. Do you actually bake it and
    then freeze it? On Thanksgiving- do you defrost it in the morning
    and reheat it prior to guest arriving?

  31. Do you bake then freeze your rolls? How do you reheat? I’m hoping to make homemade rolls this year instead of store bought!

  32. Hi Annie,

    I am planning on baking a pumpkin and pecan pie on Wednesday, too. Can I ask…to you put the pies in the fridge overnight, or is it OK to leave them covered at room temperature? Not sure which is better?

    Thank you for all your helpful tips. Happy Thanksgiving!

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