It can seem like quite a feat to take on cooking Thanksgiving dinner for your friends and/or family as a twenty-something. Even if you’re just plotting your first Friendsgiving, the list of items on your To Do list can seem unending and nigh impossible to complete.
I’ve hosted a few Thanksgivings in my time, both for my family and for various groups of friends. Each year things get a little easier and you learn what works well for you and what doesn’t. What I can definitely offer you is some tried and true wisdom for how you can get organized before the big day and not feel super stressed. If you follow these tips, you’ll be sipping wine with your family while your turkey roasts in the oven and your mom helps you finish off the gravy.
Plan Your Menu
Off-the-cuff cooking is a lot of fun… every other day of the year EXCEPT Thanksgiving. Between how long the turkey will be occupying space in your oven and the ridiculous number of sides that everyone wants, your time will be at a premium. You can get a lot of cooking accomplished the week before Thanksgiving so you can save the big day for truly last minute items. When you have your menu all planned out, following the next tip will be a lot easier.
Write Your Shopping List By Hand
“By hand?” You exclaim, wondering if you can still read your own handwriting.
I know, it sounds crazy, but I promise you can put this list into your phone AFTER you’ve written it out once by hand. You’re going to thank me for this.
When you have your menu planned out in advance, you can sit down with all your recipes and make a shopping list. Writing things out by hand will help you think more closely about your ingredients and you’ll be more likely to notice if you’ve left something out or if something about a particular recipe seems odd (typos do happen!).
I like to get really intense about this list and break it down into sections of the grocery store. Then I can start listing ingredients recipe by recipe and jot down how much I will need for each. My list would look something like this, with each number representing an amount from each recipe:
- Onions – 2 whole, 1/2 cup, 2 large, 1 cup
- Garlic – 2 heads
- Turkey – 1
- Mushrooms – 2 lbs, 1 cup
From this list, I can add up all of my multiple ingredients and create one master list that I plug into my iPhone for easy grocery store access.
Plan Your Make-Ahead Schedule
While you’re writing out your grocery list, you can plan out what you can cook ahead of time and when. Those potatoes for mashing? They can definitely get boiled the night before and hang out in the fridge to be whipped up into mashed potatoes ten minutes before dinner. The Brussels sprouts? Save those for the day-of so they taste their freshest.
Many recipes will tell you how far in advance you can make something for optimal taste. Take note of all those times and create a cooking schedule that works best with your life schedule. Do you want to make four different pies for dessert? Chances are, the filling for at least three of them can be made a full month ahead of time and all you need to do is defrost it and pop it into a crust Wednesday night.
In the same vein, on the day of Thanksgiving you will probably find you have several things that need to be in the oven but your oven is filled with a giant turkey. Many casseroles can be made ahead of time and warmed while your turkey is resting. Sometimes, when you review your recipes, you may realize that it’s just not feasible to both cook your turkey and make that slow-cooked au gratin dish you’d set your heart on. And that’s OK, because your guests will be so happy with everything else you’ve made, they won’t know what they’re missing.
Or, do like I did one year, and barbecue your turkey. (OK, I did not personally barbecue a turkey, but my ex’s dad did while I made most of the other sides.)
Don’t Over Do It
The best piece of advice I can give is to not over do it. It can be tempting to plan a five course luxury meal that will leave your guests satisfied and Instagramming their plates with really flattering hashtags. But at what cost to you? If you trap yourself in the kitchen the whole time not only will you miss out on enjoying your meal, but you’ll miss out on spending quality time with the people you love.
Be realistic about what you can actually accomplish both leading up to Thanksgiving and on the big day. Do you have family or friends who love to help in the kitchen? Will other guests be willing to pitch in appetizers, desserts, or sides? What can your oven really handle? Answering these questions honestly will save you a lot of heartache when you’re finally putting your meal together.
Your family will love you for hosting and planning a delicious dinner, they will not hold it against you if you leave out a course or two.
Enjoy the Day
Last, but not least, remember this is a day to remember all of the good things we have. Remember to have a sense of humor when something burns. Try to laugh instead of cry if the wine is not quite the right pairing with your cranberry sauce. And remember to enjoy the time you get to spend with your family and friends.