As a kid my family always had a big potluck Thanksgiving meal. Even when we had smaller Thanksgiving meals together at least a few people were contributing dishes.
When I got married that all changed. My husband doesn’t have a huge family like I do and only his parents live nearby. I found myself cooking the whole Thanksgiving meal, in a very small kitchen. Most years I was up extremely early and the turkey always took longer than I planned. It was a stressful time for me to say the least.
All of this did teach me a lot about planning for Thanksgiving and staying organized. You really have no choice when you are cooking the whole meal yourself. Even if you aren’t doing it all it helps to be organized, especially if hosting.
I’ve taken what I’ve learned in these years of cooking full Thanksgiving meals on my own and turned it into this easy to follow guide to help you have less stress and stay organized this Thanksgiving.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned is you have to plan ahead. Having a good plan in place will help keep you on track and keep you from forgetting important things.
For several years now I’ve created a Thanksgiving planner to help keep me on track. I used printables I found online and created some myself. After doing this for awhile I wanted one planner that had everything I needed. I’m very excited to use it this year.
I also wanted to share this planner with you. It’s now available for purchase here on the website. It’s undated so you can use it year after year and it’s sent to your inbox as soon as you buy it so you can use it right away.
Getting my Thanksgiving planner set up is always first on my list of things to do. It becomes my brain during the busy times. I recommend you also keep any recipes you are going to use in plastic sheet protecters in the same binder. Having everything together in one place really helps make things easier.
A potluck style meal is a great way to keep things a bit simpler. Having a guest list in your planner with a place to keep track of dishes they are bringing is very helpful.
You can also use the website Perfect Potluck to create a signup sheet so guests can see what dishes still need to be claimed. It makes it really easy for the host and guests.
If a potluck style meal isn’t possible, keep it simple. This is something I always struggle with. There are so many amazing dishes out there and I grew up in a large family with tons of options at Thanksgiving. That’s great for a potluck but when doing it yourself don’t try to make five different side dishes and a dozen desserts.
Talk to your guests about their favorites and stick to those. For us it’s always turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, rolls, and a dessert. It’s still a ton of food and everyone is always happy with their choices.
It’s important to have a schedule in place. If you are hosting you will need to schedule your time even more. Having a list of what you need to do and when you need to do it will really help you stay on track. I have a host cheat sheet I keep in my Thanksgiving planner that helps me a lot.
It’s also a good idea to schedule when you plan to cook things, hosting or not. This will help you make sure things end up in the oven when they need to in order to be finished in time. This is something I’ve always had in my Thanksgiving planner, it’s far better than the sticky notes I used to use!
Keeping it Simple
I talked about keeping the menu simple but it’s also a good idea to keep the day itself simple. What’s important is that everyone gets to spend time together and enjoy some yummy food. It doesn’t need to be fancy.
Prep what you can in advance
Many dishes can be made ahead of time or at least prepped. I like to my rolls, cranberry sauce, and desserts ahead of time. It frees up a lot of time and they are just as delicious when made ahead.
Many side dishes can also be made ahead. Even if a dish can’t fully be made ahead you can get some prep work out of the way. Chop up veggies, have the dish prepared and ready for the oven. Any steps that can be done ahead will save you precious time on Thanksgiving.
Don’t wait until the day of to try new recipes
Pinterest makes it really tempting to try all of these new fancy dishes but that could equal disaster if you want until Thanksgiving to try them. Have a trial run before the day to make sure you like the dish and you have kinks worked out.
Deep clean your house now
Don’t put off that deep cleaning until the week of. Do it now and just keep up with it by following some daily cleaning habits until Thanksgiving. No one wants to be trying to cook and clean their house at the same time.
Be sure to go get your Thanksgiving planner to get the full benefits of this Thanksgiving planning guide. The reduced stress you will feel this Thanksgiving is well worth it. And don’t lose sight of what’s really important this Thanksgiving, spending time with the ones you love.