After years of navigating Thanksgiving dinner, we’ve picked up a few sanity-saving secrets. Read on for our favorites.

By Betty Gold
November 04, 2019

1
Print Out a Blank November Calendar

As you plan your meal, fill in each week with when you plan to do the shopping, when you'll be cooking make-ahead dishes, and any deliveries that may need to come to the house.

2
Make Your Grocery List on November 1.

Don’t wait until the week before Thanksgiving to figure out what you’re making—and resist feeling pressure to experiment with fancy recipes. Find a few recipes you can trust and put every ingredient on a shopping list. Divide the list into perishables and non-perishables, so you know what you can buy immediately (like spices) and what you’ll need to buy later (like milk). You can use ours as a guide.

3
Set the Table the Night Before.

It’s a simple task, but it's one thing you can cross off of your to-do list on the day of.

4
Empty All Dishwashers and Trash Cans the Night Before. 

Go the extra mile by lining your bins with extra garbage bags. That way, you won’t have to hunt down a fresh bag when the garbage starts to overflow. 

5
Prepare as Many Dishes as You Can in Advance. 

Gravy bases can be frozen and vegetables can be cooked and refrigerated for up to two days. For dishes that can’t be made ahead of time, consider the prep work that you can do in advance, like washing and peeling vegetables so they’re ready for roasting.

6
Establish a "Make-Your-Own-Breakfast" Policy. 

If you have a house full of overnight guests, let them take care of the morning meal themselves. Stash ready-to-go foods—muffins, granola bars, and cereal—in open spaces and let everyone know where milk, spoons, bowls, and napkins are in the kitchen. Establishing the “every man for himself” rule first thing in the morning lets you focus on cooking the feast (just make sure someone's in charge of brewing coffee).

7
Make Edible Napkin Rings for the Kids’ Table.

That way, they won’t complain about being hungry before dinner. The secret? Use pre-made crescent or pizza dough baked into 4-inch rings. Get the full how-to here.

8
When in Doubt, Ask Guests to Bring Ice. 

You can never have enough. And when the refrigerator is full of highly perishable foods, ice buckets are a great way to keep drinks cold.

9
Use Square and Rectangular Pans. 

This way, you’ll be able to fit more dishes in the oven—whether you’re cooking or just keeping things warm.

10
Save Easy Jobs for Early Birds. 

Chances are, at least one of your guests will arrive 30 minutes early. Rather than stressing about having everything ready, reserve a few simple tasks that people can help with, such as filling the breadbasket or pouring water. 

11
Stock Up on Stain Busters.

Yes, someone will spill red wine on a white shirt. For that, plus other guaranteed messes, stock cotton cloths, dish soap, white vinegar (for coffee stains), and pretreat sticks (like Tide to Go). See our complete stain removal guide here—you might even want to print it out!

12
Use Dried Herbs. 

Just realized that you have store-bought dried basil in your pantry, but you’re lacking the “fresh sprigs of basil” your recipe requests? Don’t fret—and don’t run to the store. Instead, just use this substitution: 1 teaspoon of dried herbs for one tablespoon of fresh herbs.

13
Print Out This Turkey Timer Chart.

You’ll never have to do turkey math again. Our handy chart uses the USDA recommendations to figure out exactly how long to cook turkeys of every size. Another helpful bit of math to remember: You should plan to serve 3/4 to 1 pound of turkey per person.

14
Take Temperatures Like a Pro.

Always, always use a meat thermometer to test your turkey's doneness. Don't place your thermometer too close to the bone—it won’t read correctly. Instead, slide it into the thigh horizontally until it taps the bone and look for the magic number: 165° F. 

15
Chill Wine Quickly.

If guests arrive way too early (or you just need a glass after a long afternoon in the kitchen) try this trick for cooling your bottle fast: wrap it in a damp dishtowel or paper towel and stick it in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes. You can also submerge your bottle in an ice bath with salt

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