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Don’t Fear the Turkey: The Ultimate Thanksgiving Planning Guide

Whether you're a seasoned pro or a newbie, turkey day planning can be daunting. Use our guide (verbatim or with your own tweaks) to simplify.

Even for a seasoned pro, Thanksgiving can feel daunting. You’ve got to plan, shop, and cook, all for a dinner that happens on a weekday. And if you’re cooking, you probably have overnight guests, too. Maybe Snoopy had it right with that popcorn-and-toast menu.

 

But never fear. I’ve broken down the big stuff — menu planning and shopping lists — so you can hit the store organized and prepare with confidence. Don’t like my menu? Substitute your own family’s favorites (or try some of our readers’ suggestions), then plug in the ingredients so you’re ready.

 

Let’s get started!

 

What are you cooking?

Appetizers

Cheese and Crackers
Fresh veggies and onion dip
Rye bread bowl and dill dip
Deviled eggs
Grapes and berries
Pickles and olives
Bacon-wrapped jalapenos  

Dinner

Brined and roasted turkey
Cranberry relish
Homemade gravy
Mashed potatoes
Scalloped potatoes
Sweet potato casserole
Baked corn casserole
Green bean casserole
Stuffing or filling (mix or homemade, your choice!)
Dinner rolls (Bought or made; we like Hawaiian)
Cast iron cornbread

Dessert

Chocolate pudding pie
Peanut butter pie
Raspberry rhubarb pie
Shoofly pie
Pecan pie
Lattice-top apple pie
Cranberry apple pie
Pumpkin pie
Raisin pie
Rice Krispie treats

Drinks

Water, juice, milk, soda
Sparkling apple cider
Wine
Coffee and cappuccino

 

Who’s Bringing What?

If you have guest coming, give them a job! Then list what they’re bringing.

 

The Shopping List, By Menu Item

Remember: shop your pantry first! 

 

Appetizers

Cheese and crackers: Sliced or in a spreadable ball, and a box of your favorite crackers
Fresh veggies and onion dip: A bag of carrots, bundle of celery, container of dip
Rye bread bowl and dill dip:  A loaf to carve a bowl or sliced marble rye bread is eye-catching
Dill dip: sour cream, mayo, dried dill, parsley, minced onions
Deviled eggs: Eggs, mayo, mustard, relish
Grapes and berries: Two types of small fruits add vibrant color and easy finger food!
Pickles and olives: A jar of each should do!
Bacon-wrapped jalapenos – A pound of bacon, 8-ounce block cream cheese, and a pound of peppers

 

Dinner

Turkey: Turkey, salt, brown sugar, onion, apple
Cranberry relish: fresh cranberries, sugar, green chiles for fun
Homemade gravy: drippings, flour (Wondra is worth the money)
Mashed Potatoes: red-skinned potatoes, milk, butter
Scalloped potatoes: potatoes, milk, butter, shredded cheddar cheese flour, dried parsley
Sweet potato casserole: sweet potatoes, sugar, milk, butter, eggs, vanilla, corn flakes, brown sugar, mini marshmallows
Sweet potatoes and apples: sweet potatoes, Granny smith apples, butter, brown sugar
Baked corn casserole: whole corn canned, flour, milk, butter, sugar, eggs, baking powder
Green bean casserole: green beans canned, cream of mushroom soup, milk, French fried onions
Stuffing or filling: I use Stovetop!
Dinner rolls: I like Hawaiian from the grocery bakery
Cast iron cornbread: Cornmeal, milk, sugar, eggs, baking powder & soda, salt

Dessert

Chocolate pudding pie: Walnuts, flour, butter, instant chocolate pudding, cream cheese, cool whip, powdered sugar, Hershey bar
Peanut butter pie: Oreos, peanut butter, cream cheese, cool whip, powdered sugar
Raspberry rhubarb: Crust, raspberries, rhubarb, sugar, cornstarch
Shoofly pie: Crust (Crisco + flour), brown sugar, molasses, butter, flour, eggs
Pecan pie: Crust, pecans, light corn syrup, eggs, butter, vanilla
Lattice-top apple pie:  2 crusts, 2 types apples, brown sugar, flour, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg
Cranberry apple pie: 2 crusts, apples, whole cranberry sauce, sugar, flour
Pumpkin pie: Crust, pumpkin or squash, eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, milk
Raisin pie: Raisins, brown sugar, flour, eggs, lemon
Rice Krispie treats: Rice Krispies cereal, butter, mini marshmallows

 

Drinks

Cold: Water, Juice, Milk, Soda, Sparkling Apple Cider and Wine
Hot: Coffee and Cappuccino

When and How to Buy What

Purchase well before the week of Thanksgiving and store in Pantry or *Freezer

All-Purpose Flour
Canned Corn
Granulated Sugar
Canned Beans
Powdered Sugar
Cream of Mushroom Soup
Brown Sugar
Assortment of Crackers
Cornmeal Instant Stuffing
Baking Powder and Soda
Pickles and Olives
Pecans and Walnuts
Dried Raisins
Condensed Milk
Molasses
Corn Syrup
Rice Krispie and Corn Flakes cereal
Corn Starch
Mini Marshmallows
Vanilla Relish
Instant Chocolate Pudding
Instant Jello (Cherry and Raspberry)
Mayonnaise
Salt and Pepper
French fried onions
Sparkling Cider & Wine
Butter flavor Crisco (for 10 pie crusts – I use ⅓ cup for each crust)
Dried Spices: Dill weed, parsley flakes, minced onion, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger
*Frozen Turkey (if using)
*Butter (toss it in the freezer!)
*Ice cream
*Cool Whip
*Thick sliced Bacon
*Rhubarb + Raspberries

 

Don’t forget the paper products that make life easier! Paper plates, cups, utensils, napkins, storage containers for leftovers, trash bags, aluminum foil, saran wrap, press and seal, paper towels, tissues, dishwasher soap, and toilet paper!

 

Purchase Sunday or Monday before Thanksgiving

Fresh turkey (if using)
Fresh Produce: Bag of carrots,  bundle of celery, seedless grapes, blueberries, raspberries, Granny Smith apples, Gala apples,  yellow onions, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, red-skinned potatoes, pumpkin, cranberries, jalapenos, Anaheim chile peppers
Bread: Dinner rolls, sweet Hawaiian rolls, rye loaf and sliced regular white sandwich bread (for backup PB and J!)
Dairy / Cold: Cheese ball,  sliced cheese, sour cream, milk, eggs, Cheddar cheese, cream cheese
Fresh Flowers: These are YOU because you are going to ROCK this meal!

 

The Schedule

Monday

• Clean out your refrigerator
• Shop for remaining groceries
• Cook down pumpkins
• Clean bathrooms and vacuum

 

Tuesday

• Bake and create “icebox” pies (anything that stays cold)
• Broil anaheim green chile peppers and cook cranberry relish
• Start turkey in the brine (you can start it Monday if it’s frozen!)
• Declutter counters and coffee table

 

Wednesday

• Bake pies and bread
• Make dill dip
• Slice vegetables, arrange on platters
• Make onion dip
• Boil, peel, and devil the eggs
• Make Rice Krispies treats
• Roast turkey and arrange on platters, cover with foil (Yes, we cook it a day early so we can clean the bones and spend our time with people instead of cleaning bones! It sounds crazy, but it really works well for groups larger than 10!)

 

Thursday

• Simmer drippings to gravy
• Peel, quarter, and boil potatoes, bake the sweet potatoes
• Slice jalapenos, fill with cream cheese, wrap with bacon, broil on low
• Slice boiled eggs, mash yolks and fill with deviled center, garnish with paprika
• Make sweet potato, green bean, and baked corn casserole (in the oven by 10 am)  
• Mash the potatoes, make the instant stuffing, the corn glaze, and get them in the oven on warm by 11 am with the turkey platters 
• Arrange pickled foods in serving bowls

 

Spouse and children chores

• Help out with Table and chair wipe down and setup
• Table cloth and centerpiece art creation (butcher paper is a great canvas!)
• Make sure the bathrooms are clean and extra toilet paper accessible

Serve and enjoy!

Don’t forget to: 
• Count Blessings
• Smile a lot
• Tell Stories
• Share traditions
• Taste all the pies
• Light candles

 

Photograph by Ann Marie Detavernier.

Ann Marie is a military spouse, gardener, oreo addict, and vintage trailer enthusiast. Born and raised in beautiful Lancaster and Berks County, she is a world-traveler, entrepreneur, and community volunteer; but considers being a parent to her three children her greatest accomplishment of all. Loving all things creative and adventurous, Ann Marie considers her life’s motto to be “bloom where you are planted.”

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