Your 4-day prep plan for a stress-free Thanksgiving
By Kristen J. Gough
From Completely You
Thanksgiving Day is supposed to be a time for you to relax with your family and friends, enjoy good food and count your blessings. But sometimes, it can become stressful figuring out how to cram a 10-pound turkey in the oven and make all the fixings -- oh, and a pie or two -- so that everything is ready to devour at the same time.
To cut the stress out of Thanksgiving Day, streamline your meal planning. By prepping your ingredients and even cooking ahead of time, your feast will come together with less work. Now that's something to be grateful for!
Ideally, you've spent this weekend calculating how big a bird to buy. Figure on feeding everyone at the table about one to two pounds of meat per person -- and then add a pound or two depending on your leftover needs. For example, if you're feeding your family of five and next-day turkey sandwiches are a family tradition, buy a 10 to 12 pound bird.
Tip: If you're feeding a large crowd, consider buying two smaller turkeys that will cook more quickly than one large bird. Or buy one small turkey for that show-stopping moment when you bring the cooked bird to the table and then cook a turkey breast in the crockpot to slice and pass around before you begin to carve.
Here's how to ease into the big day.
- Buy the turkey. If it's frozen, thaw it in the fridge. (An 8- to 12-pound turkey takes one to two days; a 12- to 16-pound one takes two to three days.)
- Make your cranberry relish and refrigerate.
- Bake your dinner rolls. Let them cool completely and then freeze them in plastic baggies. Even better: Make a double batch and use some for dinner that night. Mini-sandwiches, anyone?
- Decide on any dinner decorations and seating arrangements.
- Bake a bunch of potatoes. Save some and serve up a potato bar for dinner, along with bacon and chopped-up veggies as toppers. After dinner, remove the skins on the rest of the potatoes and mash them up. Refrigerate them in a 9x13 baking dish. Save any leftover bacon and veggies to toss into your stuffing.
- Pull together tablecloths, napkins, silverware and all the dishes you'll need and make sure they're clean. Set them aside for Thanksgiving Day.
- Bake your stuffing in a 9x13 pan until it's almost done. (Don't forget those vegetables and bacon leftovers from Tuesday!) Store it in the fridge right on top of the mashed potatoes.
- Bake your pies and then cool to room temperature before covering them and sticking them in the fridge.
- Gather any ingredients (flour for gravy, canned greens for casserole) and recipes you'll need for Thursday.
- 7 hours before dinner: Sleep in! It's going to be a busy day.
- 6 hours before dinner: Take your rolls out of the freezer and let them to thaw.
- 5 hours before dinner: Depending on the size of your turkey, season and place it in the oven.
- 4 hours before dinner: Prep the table -- or better yet, have your kids do this!
- 3 hours before dinner: Set the potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pies, and other fixings on the counter until they reach room temperature.
- 2 hours before dinner: Check on your turkey to see if it's cooked through.
- 1 hour before dinner: Remove the cooked turkey from the oven and let it cool.
- 45 minutes before dinner: Put the potatoes and stuffing into the oven. Make your gravy using turkey drippings.
- 25 minutes before dinner: Remove the potatoes and stuffing from the oven. Heat the rolls for about five minutes.
- 15 minutes before dinner: Bring the turkey and all the fixings to the table.
- 10 minutes before dinner: Relax for a minute or two. (Breathe!)
- Dinnertime: Enjoy your feast! Oh, and put the pies in the oven while you eat so they'll be warm when it's time for dessert.
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