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Don’t Fear the Turkey: The Ultimate Thanksgiving Planning Guide

Whether you're a seasoned pro or a newbie, turkey day planning can be daunting. Use our guide (verbatim or with your own tweaks) to simplify.

Even for a seasoned pro, Thanksgiving can feel daunting. You’ve got to plan, shop, and cook, all for a dinner that happens on a weekday. And if you’re cooking, you probably have overnight guests, too. Maybe Snoopy had it right with that popcorn-and-toast menu.

 

But never fear. I’ve broken down the big stuff — menu planning and shopping lists — so you can hit the store organized and prepare with confidence. Don’t like my menu? Substitute your own family’s favorites (or try some of our readers’ suggestions), then plug in the ingredients so you’re ready.

 

Let’s get started!

What are you cooking?

Appetizers

Cheese and Crackers

Fresh veggies and onion dip

Rye bread bowl and dill dip

Deviled eggs

Grapes and berries

Pickles and olives

Bacon-wrapped jalapenos  

Dinner

Brined and roasted turkey

Cranberry relish

Homemade gravy

Mashed potatoes

Scalloped potatoes

Sweet potato casserole

Baked corn casserole

Green bean casserole

Stuffing or filling (mix or homemade, your choice!)

Dinner rolls (Bought or made; we like Hawaiian)

Cast iron cornbread

Dessert

Chocolate pudding pie

Peanut butter pie

Raspberry rhubarb pie

Shoofly pie

Pecan pie

Lattice-top apple pie

Cranberry apple pie

Pumpkin pie

Raisin pie

Rice Krispie treats

Drinks

Water, juice, milk, soda

Sparkling apple cider

Wine

Coffee and cappuccino

Who’s Bringing What?

If you have guest coming, give them a job! Then list what they’re bringing.

The Shopping List, By Menu Item

Remember: shop your pantry first! 

Appetizers

Cheese and crackers: Sliced or in a spreadable ball, and a box of your favorite crackers

Fresh veggies and onion dip: A bag of carrots, bundle of celery, container of dip

Rye bread bowl and dill dip:  A loaf to carve a bowl or sliced marble rye bread is eye-catching

Dill dip: sour cream, mayo, dried dill, parsley, minced onions

Deviled eggs: Eggs, mayo, mustard, relish

Grapes and berries: Two types of small fruits add vibrant color and easy finger food!

Pickles and olives: A jar of each should do!

Bacon-wrapped jalapenos – A pound of bacon, 8-ounce block cream cheese, and a pound of peppers

Dinner

Turkey: Turkey, salt, brown sugar, onion, apple

Cranberry relish: fresh cranberries, sugar, green chiles for fun

Homemade gravy: drippings, flour (Wondra is worth the money)

Mashed Potatoes: red-skinned potatoes, milk, butter

Scalloped potatoes: potatoes, milk, butter, shredded cheddar cheese flour, dried parsley

Sweet potato casserole: sweet potatoes, sugar, milk, butter, eggs, vanilla, corn flakes, brown sugar, mini marshmallows

Sweet potatoes and apples: sweet potatoes, Granny smith apples, butter, brown sugar

Baked corn casserole: whole corn canned, flour, milk, butter, sugar, eggs, baking powder

Green bean casserole: green beans canned, cream of mushroom soup, milk, French fried onions

Stuffing or filling: I use Stovetop!

Dinner rolls: I like Hawaiian from the grocery bakery

Cast iron cornbread: Cornmeal, milk, sugar, eggs, baking powder & soda, salt

Dessert

Chocolate pudding pie: Walnuts, flour, butter, instant chocolate pudding, cream cheese, cool whip, powdered sugar, Hershey bar

Peanut butter pie: Oreos, peanut butter, cream cheese, cool whip, powdered sugar

Raspberry rhubarb: Crust, raspberries, rhubarb, sugar, cornstarch

Shoofly pie: Crust (Crisco + flour), brown sugar, molasses, butter, flour, eggs

Pecan pie: Crust, pecans, light corn syrup, eggs, butter, vanilla

Lattice-top apple pie:  2 crusts, 2 types apples, brown sugar, flour, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg

Cranberry apple pie: 2 crusts, apples, whole cranberry sauce, sugar, flour

Pumpkin pie: Crust, pumpkin or squash, eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, milk

Raisin pie: Raisins, brown sugar, flour, eggs, lemon

Rice Krispie treats: Rice Krispies cereal, butter, mini marshmallows

Drinks

Cold: Water, Juice, Milk, Soda, Sparkling Apple Cider and Wine

Hot: Coffee and Cappuccino

When and How to Buy What

Purchase well before the week of Thanksgiving and store in Pantry or *Freezer

All-Purpose Flour

Canned Corn

Granulated Sugar

Canned Beans

Powdered Sugar

Cream of Mushroom Soup

Brown Sugar

Assortment of Crackers

Cornmeal Instant Stuffing

Baking Powder and Soda

Pickles and Olives

Pecans and Walnuts

Dried Raisins

Condensed Milk

Molasses

Corn Syrup

Rice Krispie and Corn Flakes cereal

Corn Starch

Mini Marshmallows

Vanilla Relish

Instant Chocolate Pudding

Instant Jello (Cherry and Raspberry)

Mayonnaise

Salt and Pepper

French fried onions

Sparkling Cider & Wine

Butter flavor Crisco (for 10 pie crusts – I use ⅓ cup for each crust)

Dried Spices: Dill weed, parsley flakes, minced onion, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger

*Frozen Turkey (if using)

*Butter (toss it in the freezer!)

*Ice cream

*Cool Whip

*Thick sliced Bacon

*Rhubarb + Raspberries

 

Don’t forget the paper products that make life easier! Paper plates, cups, utensils, napkins, storage containers for leftovers, trash bags, aluminum foil, saran wrap, press and seal, paper towels, tissues, dishwasher soap, and toilet paper!

Purchase Sunday or Monday before Thanksgiving

Fresh turkey (if using)

Fresh Produce: Bag of carrots,  bundle of celery, seedless grapes, blueberries, raspberries, Granny Smith apples, Gala apples,  yellow onions, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, red-skinned potatoes, pumpkin, cranberries, jalapenos, Anaheim chile peppers

Bread: Dinner rolls, sweet Hawaiian rolls, rye loaf and sliced regular white sandwich bread (for backup PB and J!)

Dairy / Cold: Cheese ball,  sliced cheese, sour cream, milk, eggs, Cheddar cheese, cream cheese

Fresh Flowers: These are YOU because you are going to ROCK this meal!

The Schedule

Monday

• Clean out your refrigerator

• Shop for remaining groceries

• Cook down pumpkins

• Clean bathrooms and vacuum

Tuesday

• Bake and create “icebox” pies (anything that stays cold)

• Broil anaheim green chile peppers and cook cranberry relish

• Start turkey in the brine (you can start it Monday if it’s frozen!)

• Declutter counters and coffee table

Wednesday

• Bake pies and bread

• Make dill dip

• Slice vegetables, arrange on platters

• Make onion dip

• Boil, peel, and devil the eggs

• Make Rice Krispies treats

• Roast turkey and arrange on platters, cover with foil (Yes, we cook it a day early so we can clean the bones and spend our time with people instead of cleaning bones! It sounds crazy, but it really works well for groups larger than 10!)

Thursday

• Simmer drippings to gravy

• Peel, quarter, and boil potatoes, bake the sweet potatoes

• Slice jalapenos, fill with cream cheese, wrap with bacon, broil on low

• Slice boiled eggs, mash yolks and fill with deviled center, garnish with paprika

• Make sweet potato, green bean, and baked corn casserole (in the oven by 10 am)  

• Mash the potatoes, make the instant stuffing, the corn glaze, and get them in the oven on warm by 11 am with the turkey platters 

• Arrange pickled foods in serving bowls

Spouse and children chores

• Help out with Table and chair wipe down and setup

• Table cloth and centerpiece art creation (butcher paper is a great canvas!)

• Make sure the bathrooms are clean and extra toilet paper accessible

Serve and enjoy!

Don’t forget to: 

• Count Blessings

• Smile a lot

• Tell Stories

• Share traditions

• Taste all the pies

• Light candles

 

Photograph by Ann Marie Detavernier.

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