If you, my foodie friend, are cooking Thanksgiving dinner (lunch, whatevs) this year, you need to get it in gear this week. I know. So early! But trust me. You’ll be happier.
Hang with me.
Every year, the first week of November, I start getting a little twinkle in my eye. Just call me the Santa of Thanksgiving.
Maybe you don’t get the same level of excitement, and maybe you don’t even do a T-day meal that’s all that fancy. Even so, this is the week you should start putting a few thoughts that direction. Why? Because it will save you lots of stress and probably a lot of money in a few weeks.
This week is the time to work on your menu. Why so early? Well, several reasons. For one, there are elements that you can prep early and freeze (veggies for dressing, stock for gravy, etc.), saving you some time and sanity later on. Also, if you’re like me, you might need to spread your Thanksgiving expenses across two paychecks, and buying some of the items now will help you not be busted come Black Friday. (More on that in a minute.)
Need some inspiration? Time to troll the internets and magazines. My favorites this time of year are Food Network and blogs like Simply Recipes and Gluten Free Girl and the Chef. Last week, I even bought my first Martha Stewart Living magazine in like 15 years. I still haven’t forgiven her for being a heifer and business cheater, but I was recently at a bookstore and got sucked in by the luscious cover. (Martha’s idea I’m lifting this year: brûléed pumpkin pie. Oh yes.)
You might even like my would-be menu from that Thanksgiving I ended up with the flu. Hey, it’s a start. Embellish at will.
Of course, there’s also nothing wrong with making your feast just like your family has done for generations. Just write down the list of every menu item you plan to prepare. Feel free to send reminders this week to family members who typically bring a particular dish.
Once you have all your menu items chosen, write down every.single.ingredient you’ll need to make each dish. If you know you have something in your pantry/freezer, make a note, but write it down anyway. Print out all the recipes to help make lists and to have them handy for prep.
Holiday meals can be expensive, so a little forethought can help with budget planning as well as sanity.
Write on a piece of paper how much money you are going to spend on this meal. Period. No cheating. If you end up adjusting your menu because of it, so be it. Maybe ask relatives to bring some of the items, or even just the ingredients if you want to do it yourself. Just be sure to coordinate with them so you get the items in time to prepare them for the meal.
Next, consider how many people you will be feeding and how many leftovers you want. Carefully take note of your recipes where it says how many it feeds, and multiply/divide as needed. If you’re going by recipe-free tradition, just adjust as necessary based on what you know it makes. This step helps make sure you don’t spend too much on copious quantities you won’t use.
Now check out the specials at your favorite store, or even one or two that you don’t normally frequent. If you don’t wait until the last minute (and sometimes, even if you do), you can find some really great deals on Thanksgiving dinner items. As mentioned earlier, there are things you can prep and freeze early, so catch some sales and get things moving. Use your ingredient list you made earlier and get your groceries in two phases: Stuff that can be done early, and stuff you want to do later.
My family is escaping to the lovely Big Cedar Lodge this Thanksgiving, so I’m planning a small feast that we can prepare in our cabin there.
I just purchased some turkey legs ($3) to make into a stock for gravy and dressing. This can be frozen way ahead of time. I’m also going to make some dressing, gluten-free rolls and a pie (maybe two) to freeze ahead of time and carry with us in a cooler, along with a very small turkey, maybe just a turkey breast. The cooler is a great help and is one of the main reasons we’re going to be able to have such a great dinner away from home. I’ve made sure that we have one of the best coolers for the money so that none of the food spoils and we’re fully prepared for the dinner! We’ll also be able to use it in the summer too when we go on days out or for picnics. I just need to add some bacon-wrapped green beans and a pan of sweet potato casserole and we are SET.
What are you having for Thanksgiving this year? Let me know in the comments. And, as always, if you have any cooking questions as you go, feel free to drop me a line.