Thanksgiving Prep: The Menu

For a lot of people hosting a holiday dinner can be an overwhelming feat. And rightfully so. Planning the menu, doing the grocery shopping, preparing the food so it all comes out hot at the same time, making sure everyone is happy and satisfied. It can certainly be stressful. But if you put in some time a few weeks prior and get organized and make lists (I love lists!), breaking down the holiday makes it much more manageable and infinitely less stressful. To kick things off, I have put together a 10-step list for creating your Thanksgiving Day menu. Once that is all done, we’ll talk in another week or so about how to schedule everything to make sure the dishes are done at the same time and stay warm (that’s key!), and most importantly – that there isn’t a fight for the oven. But first, the menu!

Alright, so you’ve decided that you’re going to host Thanksgiving and you’ve made all your phone calls and sent all of your emails to the people you are inviting. So let’s get this menu planned!

Step 1: Finalize your head count. I would recommend asking guests to RSVP no later than 2 weeks before Thanksgiving. That will give you enough of time to finalize your menu and the quantities and get a head start on grocery shopping!

Step 2: Allergies/Food Restrictions. When your guests confirm, ask if anyone attending has any food allergies or restrictions or if someone is vegetarian or vegan, as you’ll want to make sure you have a second main dish if that is the case.

Step 3: The Main Course. For Thanksgiving, this is relatively easy as most people serve a traditional turkey. You will want to decide on the recipe you’ll use and note any advanced preparation that is needed (thawing, brining, etc.) as well as accompaniments (gravy, cranberry sauce, etc.). If you need a vegetarian option at dinner you will want to decide on that as well (perhaps a vegetable lasagna?).

Step 4: Salad. It’s great to include a salad with dinner, so make sure you plug one in. I have a great recipe for a butternut squash salad with dried cranberries and walnuts that I’ll be sharing in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for that! In any case, you’ll want to note the salad you plan on preparing.

Step 5: Vegetables. For larger holiday dinners I would recommend having at least two vegetable dishes. A lot of people enjoy the classic green bean casserole; some other ideas: a twist on brussel sprouts (I’ll be sharing one soon!), marinated or stuffed mushrooms, a gingered carrot and feta salad, roasted broccoli, etc.

Step 6: Potatoes. When it comes to Thanksgiving, nothing goes with turkey quite like potatoes! Most people like serving both traditional white mashed potatoes and some type of sweet potato. If you are having a larger crowd, two types of potatoes is definitely a good idea.

Step 7: Stuffing. Yay stuffing! One of my favorite side dishes. You’ll want to decide if you want a traditional stuffing, a cornbread stuffing, something new and different, etc.

Step 8: Rolls. Because there aren’t enough carbs yet 😉 Make sure you note if you’ll be using your favorite recipe, baking up frozen rolls, buying from your local bakery, etc. I always love a classic dinner roll or cloverleaf roll for the holidays.

Step 9: Appetizers. This may seem backward, but I think it’s better once you have all of the main elements of the meal figured out to go back and decide on appetizers. The general rule of thumb for appetizers is 5 servings per person per hour before a meal is served. So, for instance, if you have 15 people coming to dinner and you tell them to come on by 2 hours before you plan on sitting down to eat, you’ll want to have roughly 150 appetizer pieces at the ready (75 if they’ll only be there an hour before the meal). I like to make sure I don’t duplicate any flavors from the main meal in the appetizers. For example, if you are going to serve cornbread and sausage stuffing, I would not serve an appetizer with sausage in it. And especially for Thanksgiving, I think it’s great to keep appetizers light. Some quick and easy favorites:

– Breadsticks wrapped with prosciutto
– Brie with crackers and apple butter
– A simple dip served with vegetables
– A cheese tray with assorted fruits

Step 10: Dessert. Well, pumpkin pie of course! Maybe. If you want! It is tradition, just make sure you have enough to go around. Most pies only serve 8 people, so if you’re having 8 or more people I would recommend at least one other dessert option. Perhaps a different type of pie (pecan or apple?), or something different altogether (a pumpkin roll, a cake, a trifle, etc.).

So, there you have it! You’re on your way to an organized, stress-reduced holiday. Stay tuned because I’ll be talking about organizing your food and putting together a Thanksgiving Day schedule for getting everything cooked and baked on time. I’ll also be featuring some great holiday recipes, so be sure to check back often!


20 Responses to “Thanksgiving Prep: The Menu”

  1. linda on November 5, 2010 at 7:09 am

    organized & efficient…must confess that i scrolled down to see your dessert advice first!!
    look forward to your dessert recipes (pumpkin roll sounds interesting!)…well actually looking forward to all your recipes for thanksgiving!


  2. Penny Wolf on November 5, 2010 at 7:53 am

    I am putting a twist to all of this. It is only my husband and I for Thanksgiving so far this year. As a result I am organizing all of our favorite foods into different days. So there will be several mini menus to enjoy ALL of it!


  3. Left-Brained Creativity on November 5, 2010 at 10:33 am

    This is a great way to plan everything. After I plan the menu, I also start thinking about wine pairings and, with hors d’oeuvres, a nice fall cocktail.

    Also, I think I’m going in a berry direction for the secondary dessert!


  4. Alisa Cooks on November 5, 2010 at 11:18 am

    Ah, I don’t know if I’m ready yet for holiday entertaining! Fortunately, I think our Thanksgiving party will be only two.


  5. Tina from PA on November 5, 2010 at 11:21 am

    I’m happy to see I’m not the only list maker! I even label my serving dishes ,and one year my father in law thought he would be funny and switch labels! I really didn’t think it was funny at all! Cann’t wait to see all your great ideas !!


  6. Lauren at KeepItSweet on November 5, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    great tips! my best advice is make lists and schedules! having a schedule for the day of and week before helps me stay on top of everything


  7. Amanda on November 5, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Thank you for these tips! I definitely need them as I am hosting my first “friends thanksgiving!”



  8. pink_dawn on November 5, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Great advice! I finally caved and allowed others to bring dishes. This is a huge step for me 🙂


  9. the blissful baker on November 5, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    thanks for sharing these tips! i love hosting and planning, but sometimes it can get a bit overwhelming!


  10. Crustabakes on November 5, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    I am so totally adoring the writing on that list. And like what they say, having a good plan is like winning half the battle!


  11. Annie on November 6, 2010 at 8:42 am

    This is some great advice! I am hosting dinner for the first time and am already getting stressed out.


  12. Vicki in GA on November 6, 2010 at 11:38 am

    The menu photo is precious.
    I’m a teacher and commend the perfect spelling.


  13. Vicki @ Wilde inthe Kitchen on November 6, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    Thanks for the helpful advice! I’m looking forward to seeing what you are dishing out this Thanksgiving. I’ve got to get my menu figured out!


  14. Stephanie on November 6, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    Some great advice here! Thanks for sharing – I’m starting to breath again!


  15. Becky on November 6, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    I think that we might only be having 6, but I’m an everyday list maker, so the to do list is the least of my problems.


  16. Jason Phelps on November 6, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    I haven’t gotten to posting my holiday entertaining tips and I almost feel like I’ll be plenty scooped by then!

    Great tips and I’m sure your gatherings are fantastic.



  17. Amanda @ BakingWithoutABox on November 7, 2010 at 12:34 am

    Great tips and so many work for any dinner party! We’ll be moving Thanksgiving so no dinner prep for me!


  18. Rich on November 7, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    Ha – that photo made me laugh; I’ve got a nephew who is five and I got to read his ‘how to cook for Thanksgiving’ homework – priceless.
    Fortunately for me and the fiancee, though, we’ve still got parents doing the major Thanksgiving prep for us – we have yet to graduate to positions of responsibility.


  19. Ro on November 9, 2010 at 1:41 am

    This is wonderful i am going to make the turkey this yr. first time ever. now i have a guideline thanks bb your awesome.


  20. di on November 10, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    Oh, I sure need to start working on my list! Thanks for the great tips! I have to admit though, that my favorite part about your post is the picture of your menu. It’s so precious! But, I’m just an overly, sentimental girl like that…


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