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Thanksgiving Tips and Tricks

As we get older and start having kids, the Thanksgiving reins sometimes shift from our mothers and grandmothers to us. On the one hand, it’s great to have the kids in their own element: sleeping schedules aren’t disrupted, chicken nuggets are at the ready for when they won’t eat anything on the holiday table, no traveling (yeah, let’s revel in that one for a moment). On the other hand, planning and hosting a Thanksgiving meal is a huge undertaking that can be extra stressful when you’ve got little ones to entertain day in and day out.

If you happen to be hosting Thanksgiving this year and you’re starting to feel that panic coming on, fear not! I’ve been there, done that, and learned a few tips and tricks along the way to make Thanksgiving easy and low stress (through trial and error of course, which involved lots of stress and some ruined pan gravy – buy some gravy packets as backup, people!). Allow me to share my enlightened Thanksgiving ways with you:

Tip: Make your pies the day before unless you want to start your Thanksgiving morning crying in the kitchen. 
  • About 1-2 weeks out, you should have a final headcount for how many people will be attending, and whether or not they will be bringing anything. If any family members are bringing signature dishes, make sure to add them in when planning your menu. If they want to pitch in but don’t know what to bring, the answer is always wine. 
  • Once you have a final headcount, it’s time to plan out your menu. I start with making a rough list of what foods I want to make, then I find the exact recipes and organize my menu from start to finish. I like to mark down the cookbook and page number for each recipe to save time when it comes to prep. Here’s a sneak peek at our Thanksgiving Menu: 

  • Once I’ve decided on the menu, I start making my grocery list; making sure to go through each recipe so there are no last minute trips to the grocery store on Thanksgiving morning. I also make sure that my meal planning for the week takes into account the upcoming holiday. I like to plan an easy freezer meal for the day before Thanksgiving, and use more pantry staples than refrigerated foods in the meals leading up to Turkey Day to save fridge space. 
  • Speaking of saving fridge space, now is the time to clean out and reorganize your refrigerator. Make sure that you’ve got a nice open layout before you go grocery shopping for the week to save yourself a game of refrigerator Tetris. 
  • 1+ week before is also a good time to get some other cleaning done. If you’ll be hosting overnight guests, make sure the guest rooms are ready with fresh linens and towels. If you have the time, now is a great time for renting out a carpet cleaner (it’s one of those semiannual chores that needs doing anyway). I also like to give the kitchen some extra cleaning detail the week before Thanksgiving, as well. 
  • 1 week before Thanksgiving, I set up my Pre-Thanksgiving Timeline. When I plan my menu, I make sure to add in lots of make-ahead recipes so I’m not overwhelmed on Thanksgiving Day and can enjoy the time with my family rather than being imprisoned in the kitchen all day. But leave all those make-ahead recipes until the day before, and you’ll be stressed beyond belief! I like to start my prep about a week out, dividing up the tasks so I only have one or two each day. Here’s what mine currently looks like: 

  • Last, but most certainly not least, I create my Thanksgiving Day Timeline. I find it helpful to decide on what time we want to eat dinner, and work backwards from that point. If we want to eat at 4:30 pm, the turkey comes out of the oven at 3:30 pm, and goes into the oven at 11:30 am…you get the idea. Then I work out all the side dishes and appetizers around the bird. You’ll want to make sure you don’t have too many casseroles that need oven time since you’ll only have about an hour of rest time on the turkey to finish off any last minute dishes. Timing is key, and this list is the most important part of Thanksgiving planning for me: 

Some extra tips:

  • Make sure you take into account any dietary restrictions when planning your menu.
  • Stock up on activities for your kiddos. You know how badly they need your undivided attention when you’re up to your elbows in pastry dough? THEY NEEDS YOU SO BAD!
  • Buy gravy packets as back up.
  • Refrigerated rolls,too.
  • Try not to get too caught up in making everything perfect, you’ll ruin it for yourself (not to mention you’ll probably ruin the meal in your stressed out fugue state). It’s going to be fine. Trust me.
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About Gemma Hartley

Gemma Hartley
Gemma Hartley is a stay-at-home mom of two: her wild-boy toddler, Lucas and newborn daughter, Avery. Gemma and her husband are high school sweethearts who moved from Dayton to attend UNR, and soon fell in love with Reno – settling into a cozy house in the Northwest shortly after they were married. In 2010, at 22-years-old, Gemma graduated from UNR with her BA in English Writing, then gave birth to Lucas the next week. Gemma loves being a young mama, especially in Reno where she has plenty of opportunities to explore and play outdoors with her babies. She also loves cooking (especially baking), running (slowly), and crafting (sporadically). You can read more about Gemma and her family’s adventures on her blog Journey of Love.

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