Six Secrets to a Stressless Thanksgiving Meal

Count Down to Thanksgiving

Does the thought of creating a Norman Rockwell, picture-perfect Thanksgiving meal make you nervous? Do you worry about getting all the dishes on the table at the same time? Does a trip to a crowded grocery store to get the last can of cranberries make you want to run for cover? You’re not alone.

Sometimes the stress of holiday planning can overshadow the wonderful memories that can be made when getting together with family and friends. Is it possible to host a fabulous meal AND enjoy the day with those that you love? Absolutely. With a little pre-planning, some great recipes and a good sense of humor, you can literally have your cake and eat it too.

Here are some tips to make this year’s Thanksgiving meal what you’ve always dreamed about.

Plan decorations

If you are planning to use a cotton tablecloth and napkins, be sure to iron them in advance. Select your plates, glasses and silverware as well as table decorations three to four weeks before Thanksgiving to give yourself enough time to find and purchase any items you may need. We recommend decorating with as many natural items as possible. You can carve a small indention out of a mini pumpkin to fit an unscented candle in. Or spray medium pumpkins with gold paint and surround them with silver or gold candle holders. Tip: keep scented candles away from your table and food. The delicious scents of your homemade food is scrumptious enough.

Decide on your menu two to three weeks in advance

If you are hosting a traditional Thanksgiving feast, there’s a good chance you’re planning to serve turkey. But what about side dishes and desserts? The sooner you commit to a menu, the easier it will be to gather supplies and prepare them without running to the store at the last minute for a missing ingredient. If you are looking for ideas, we’ve got plenty. Check out our classic and modernized classic selection of Thanksgiving recipes that will please even the most discerning palate.

Take inventory

After you select your recipes, double check to make sure you have a vessel or plate to prepare and serve each dish. We recommend that you read completely through each recipe and write down needed ingredients and the planned serving dish. Many dishes and utensils are non-everyday items, like a roasting pan, gravy boat, serving bowls, sauce ladles, carving utensils, a meat thermometer, etc.  Make sure you have them close at hand so you're not searching frantically at the last minute.

Purchase Non-Perishables

We recommend that you buy items that won’t spoil in advance at least one week before the big day. Beverages, flour, sugar, spices, canned goods, a plastic bag to brine the turkey and table decorations can all be purchased ahead of time. Leave the last minute shopping to the rookies. This is also a good time set your table and make and freeze your liquids, such as homemade stock for gravy and soup. One of our favorites is this delicious roasted butternut squash soup with sweet and spicy pecan pesto.


If your friends and family offer to help, let them bring a side dish. Just be sure to specify what you need. If one certain guest has a history of overcooking the broccoli, request that they make our recipe for mashed chipotle sweet potatoes  instead. If they are great at baking, ask them to prepare their favorite dessert.

Let’s Talk Turkey Brined-Turkey-with-fine-Herb-Butter-dixie.jpg If preparing a frozen turkey, remove it from the freezer three days before Thanksgiving and place it in the refrigerator. For moist, flavorful and succulent meat, we recommend that you brine the turkey (needs to be defrosted when you brine) 24-48 hours before you begin cooking on Thanksgiving as explained in this brined turkey recipe.

Tip: You can prepare side dishes like salad dressing and cranberry sauce one to two days ahead of time.

The turkey will take approximately 2 ½ to 3 hours to bake for a 13-15 pound bird, so place it in the oven according to the time you plan to serve it. While it’s baking and filling your home with a delicious scent, you can put finishing touches on your table settings and finish preparing/reheating the remaining side dishes. Make it a family event and have the kids help. We’ve gathered several of our favorite side dishes to inspire you, but you can find 98 more on our website. Garlic-Mashed-Red-Potatoes-dixie.jpgGarlic Mashed Red Potatoes - Creamy and smooth, these Garlic Mashed Red Potatoes are a savory side dish that compliments beef, fish, chicken, pork and (of course) turkey. onion-bread-pudding-dixie.jpgCaramelized French Onion Bread Pudding - Here's a delicious twist on traditional stuffing - a savory bread pudding that will leave you wanting more with every bite. Think rich, French Onion soup with caramelized onions and Gruyere cheese, filled with French bread cubes. Cranberry-Conserve-Dixie.jpgCranberry Conserve - Jazz up your classic cranberry sauce with this sweet/tart combination of cranberry, orange and pecans. Only four ingredients, but the flavor packs a punch.

Sautéed Butternut Squash and Spinach - The aroma of this dish alone will make you swoon. This dish has loads of fresh, colorful vegetables sautéed with a hint of cinnamon and butter. For a visual countdown to Turkey Day, check out this fun timeline...perfect for posting on the refrigerator. This gives you step-by-step planning advice all month long - so you can relax and have confidence in your planning.