This post has been edited from the original, which was published on October 27, 2011.  I adore Thanksgiving.  I love the traditions, the food, the Macy’s parade on television while I am making my pies, the football games.   I love moving the family room furniture after the last football game is over to extend the dining room table.   I love hearing everyone share why they’re grateful.  I have cooked every Thanksgiving for the last 18 years, as well as dozens of Thanksgiving-themed cooking classes.   I have made lots of mistakes and in the process learned a thing or two about how to execute and enjoy  a very happy Thanksgiving.  Every Thursday from today until the big day, I will share my best tips, strategies and a few good recipes to set you up for a successful holiday.  Let’s get started!

4 Weeks Before Thanksgiving

  • Guest list  Now is a good time to invite family and friends for the holiday, even if they are regulars.  I send an email out to all our guests with the schedule for the day, especially when we will sit down for dinner.  We live on the West Coast, which means the second football game is over at 4:00.  Anyone that wants to come for the earlier game is welcome to do so.  There’s coffeecake, fruit and coffee in the morning.  A mugful of soup and cornbread around noon; hors d’oeuvres at 3:00 pm and dinner is at 4:00 or whenever the game is over.  You know that I pray for no overtime!
  • Plan your menu Planning the Thanksgiving menu requires a bit of strategy and balance.   Make sure you have a balance of cooked and raw food (one thing I have learned is no matter how big your kitchen or how many ovens you have, it’s never enough on Thanksgiving!); protein, starches and vegetables (I find most Thanksgiving menus to be too starchy;) and ingredients (make sure not every recipe has dried fruit and nuts in it.)  Know what dishes need an oven and when because if you’re making turkey and you have one oven, you won’t be baking too much in the hours before dinner.

Also, know your audience.  I love trying new recipes, but my family looks forward to the same traditional standbys every year.  There was almost a revolution when I took Breaded Cauliflower off the menu in 2007 ( I now serve it as an hors d’oeuvre.)  So I compromise by making the classics (traditional roast turkey with gravy and cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and pumpkin pie), but I also try out a new salad or vegetable side dish every year.

Also, just because you’re cooking overtime for Thanksgiving dinner, doesn’t mean your household won’t be needing dinner the night before and breakfast the morning of.  Instead of ordering takeout pizza on Wednesday night, make and freeze a casserole in the weeks ahead or plan for your easiest 20-minute meal.  The same goes for Thanksgiving day, especially if you have young children in the house.  You can save your appetite and get by on a piece of fruit for the day, but your four-year-old cannot.  I always make a pot of butternut squash soup the day before and a pan of cornbread to be served around noon to tide anyone over until the big meal.

  • Outsource    Do as I say here.  Don’t do as I do.  You don’t have to make everything yourself.  In fact, most people would be delighted to contribute something to the holiday which will alleviate the pressure on you.  But you must be specific otherwise you’ll end up with 4 pumpkin pies and no green vegetables and we all know what I think about that.  “Thank you, Caitlin for your offer to bring something.  I think I’ll take you up on it.  We have neither stuffing nor apple pie yet.  Would you like to tackle one of those?”
  • Write out a schedule Take the time to plan everything that you need to do over the next four weeks and put it on the computer so you have it for future holidays.  By taking a little time now, you will save yourself stress, anxiety and HOURS later.  Trust me on this.  You can see my detailed schedule as an example.
  • Photocopy your recipes from books and magazines I remember my first Thanksgiving with a stack of cookbooks and magazines taking up valuable counter space and my wasting so much time looking up each recipe multiple times.  Ugh!  Put your photocopied recipes in sheet protectors and create a dedicated Thanksgiving or holiday binder organized by category.  This just might be the most useful tip I give you.
Here’s what I am probably making this year:
Coffeecake, fruit, coffee and tea
Butternut Squash or Sweet Potato-Coconut Soup and Cornbread
Hors D’oeuvres:
Breaded Cauliflower with Tomato Dipping Sauce
Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes
Maple-Mustard Roasted Vegetables
Balsamic Roasted Onions
Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
Freshly Whipped Cream
Click here for loads of Thanksgiving recipe ideas!

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  2. Sadly, it’s 1 week before Thanksgiving and I’m just getting around to planning the menu. : / Which yukon gold mashed potato recipe do you like and can it be done the day before (and reheated in oven)?

    • No big deal! I just finished planning my menu yesterday! I do a version of mashed potatoes based on an old W-S recipe. I do not like mashed potatoes reheated. 🙁 You can peel and cut the potatoes the day before and place them, covered with water, in a container or pot in the refrigerator. That way they won’t turn brown. Drain them the next day and then cook in fresh water. You can make the mashed potatoes an hour or an hour and a half ahead of time and keep them in a heat-proof serving bowl set on top of a pot of simmering water. (It’s like making a double boiler.) Just cover the bowl with the potatoes with a lid or a piece of foil. Let me know if that doesn’t make sense!

      • Totally makes sense – thank you!

  3. This is great! Our entire family (that’s extended too!) rents a house at the beach for the week of Thanksgiving and it is so much fun. I love the idea of putting the recipes in a book so they don’t get misplaced! And, I saw somewhere a maple brined turkey of yours? Are you considering posting that recipe? I love to brine my birds and thought it sounded delicious. Thanks for all your great ideas!

    • How fun! I am considering posting the turkey recipe. I am just teaching it for the first time today. I will likely post in a week or two!

  4. Please share the recipe for breaded cauliflower. Lots of great ideas, thank you.

    • See below!

  5. Also frantically googling this cauliflower app…I want to make that immediately!

    • I didn’t post it. Not exactly the most healthful treatment of cauliflower. Steam florets until just crisp tender. Let it cool. Dip each floret in beaten egg then breadcrumbs mixed with salt, pepper, and parm. Fry in olive oil. Eat hot!

  6. A girl after my own heart! I recognize so many of my same planning habits here and some new ideas that make my heart flutter! I never thought of keeping notes on what worked and what could be improved – GENIUS! And I absolutely love the idea of Butternut Squash soup and Corn Bread at lunch – everybody seems to try to hold off on eating, but is then poking in the kitchen and all the food, especially the bread rolls. So smart! And I’m very excited you put all these recipe links up. They sound amazing!! Thanks for such a great post.

    • James, anyone that gets excited about this post is one of my peeps for sure!

  7. What an awesome post! Thank you so much! This will come in handy for years to come. Can’t wait to see what next Thursdays has to say 🙂

    • You’re welcome! This has most definitely come in handy for all my holidays!

  8. You are awesome.

    • Thank you. Believe it or not, I’m a slow learner. I’ve had A LOT of practice!

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