So you were informed that you will be hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year at your house because everyone else is too busy, or will be out of town, or just doesn’t have the room. Maybe this is your first Thanksgiving meal you’ve ever prepared. Whatever the reason, here you are, planning for what tends to be a large meal with many people. Where do you begin? How do you make it easier on yourself so that maybe you’re not spending all day in the kitchen and not socializing on the day of the event? How do you keep the budget within your means and make less overall work for you? Here is a list of some of the top ways to achieve a nice family (or friends) Thanksgiving meal that won’t break your bank account as well as ways to keep the meal a little less stressful for you and easier cleanup as well.
#1 – Plan your menu around your budget. Write down the dishes you’d like to make and estimate how much each dish will cost you. If you do the grocery shopping for yourself or your family than you may know more or less what each ingredient will cost you. If you have no qualms about asking for people to bring a side dish, this can save you not only time, but money as well and it can introduce you to some new dishes. A suggestion would be to have everyone bring one favorite side dish, but be sure you know what that is beforehand so you don’t end up with 2 versions of sweet potatoes, unless you don’t mind duplicates. Go through the grocery store circulars and figure out where you want to shop; who has the best deal on a turkey, for example. If you have a discount grocery store, perhaps you’d go there for all your dry and canned foods and pick up whatever else you need at the main grocery store; now’s a good time to clip coupons too.
#2 – Get a head count of guests to be sure you have enough, but not too much, food; this will make choosing recipes and ingredients easier so you know how much bread you need, for example. You’ll also need to know for what size turkey you’ll need to buy. By the way, a turkey tip – if you’re buying frozen, the best way to thaw your bird is in the refrigerator and depending on the size of the bird, it can take 2-5 days; so be sure to plan ahead. (for tips on thawing a turkey, visit the turkey hotline – you don’t have to have butterball to use this website)
#3 – Make dishes a day or more ahead. You can save yourself a lot of stress and time if you choose to make your side dishes the day or few days before the day of your dinner. It really can make things go so much smoother for you. Many things can be made ahead and then just reheat them if need be. Make ahead stuffing, cranberry sauce, veggie dishes, pasta dishes – you can do just about any of it, including the turkey itself the day before.
Rolls or biscuits may be best left to do that day, but if you’re making your own dough for them, surely you can have that all prepared a day or so before. Prep all that you can. If you plan not to stuff your turkey (this is safer, and the turkey cooks faster) then make your stuffing the day before and then just pop in the oven, toaster over, or microwave to warm it up before dinner time. Mashed potatoes can even be made ahead, though they do take a bit of warming coming from fridge to stove, and in my experience are better made the day you use them. Homemade cranberry sauce you’ll need to do a day before anyway to give it time to set up. Pies and cakes can be made 2 days ahead or more and they can even be frozen and thawed. If you are not making them yourself and buying readymade, this saves you lots of time, though it may be more costly for you; but be prepared that most readymade pies you buy that are frozen will need time in the oven.
Go ahead and make that turkey the night before. This can save you not only time but can free up your oven on turkey day. It can also save you lots of stress or potential disasters. We may all have a story about a Thanksgiving dinner with no turkey…due to over-cooking, an oven that decided to not work that day or many other things. If you make your turkey ahead I suggest letting it cool (to re-distribute juices), slice it and store in the fridge. On turkey day, take it out place into pan (or pans) with some stock or broth, or even gravy, cover and put into a pre-heated 350 degree oven and heat through. This should take a lot less time than doing a whole raw bird on that day and you can use the oven for other things at the same time. If your family likes to see the bird and carve it that day, than at least prepare everything you can the day or two before.
#4 – Use heavy duty paper plates for the dinner itself and for dessert. This is a huge time saver. No more spending hours doing dishes or just constantly being in front of the sink while your guests relax. As the host/hostess you deserve time to relax too. If someone offers to help with the cleanup, by all means accept it! Clean-up tends to be the biggest chore and the one you’ll least likely get help with, so make it easy for yourself. You will spend a little extra to get the paper plates, but think of the money you’ll be saving on the water or electric doing the dishes. You can find heavy duty plates just about anywhere and some look really nice. I’ve been using them for years. I would suggest using your regular flatware though as the plastic kind can sometimes be difficult with certain food items. You can use glass cups or some themed plastic or paper cups. Skip the cloth napkins and go right for paper.
#5 – Finally, the least stressful way to have a holiday meal would be to make a reservation at your favorite restaurant. This will save you time for sure, no meal to cook, no cleanup; however, it will be more costly, especially if you are paying for all your guests. If each person pays for themselves, this could actually save you money depending on the meal you would have normally prepared yourself.
If going out to eat isn’t an option, consider a Thanksgiving breakfast or brunch – this would likely be cheaper, though maybe not time friendly as you may need to make most of those types of food that day.
Whatever your holiday plans are, planning is key. Making dishes ahead of time can really make things a lot less chaotic on the day of your dinner. Remember to go through your grocery store circulars and clip coupons to save you money. Enlist family or friends to help you prepare, set up, or clean up. Have people bring a dish or dessert. There’s no reason why you, the host/hostess, can’t enjoy the day as well.