Lists, lists, lists! Start making lists now, and you will save yourself a panic attack down the road. First, plan the menu. Next, make a list of all the kitchen equipment, serving dishes and utensils you'll need for each thing. If you don't have the pans, bowls and platters you need, buy or borrow them now. If you notice that most of your menu needs to be prepared in the oven, consider choosing different recipes that can be prepared on the stovetop, in your slow cooker, that don't need cooking at all, that can be prepared ahead of time, or that you can ask one of your guests to bring. Next comes the shopping list. Keep this one with you at all times for the next several days so every time you remember an additional item you can scribble it down. After the shopping list comes the kitchen timeline and preparation schedule. Work backwards from the time you would like to serve dinner.
Get Everyone Involved! Let each member of the family in on planning the menu. Everyone has favorite dishes they look forward to; you may even be surprised to realize there are some dishes that nobody likes. If people participate in the decisions, they'll be more excited about helping, too. Make lists of what each person can do to prepare. If your invited relatives and friends offer to bring something for the dinner, let them. If they don't offer, ask them. Appetizers, bread, salads, dessert and beverages all make good bring-along dishes.
Take full advantage of the coming weeks to cover all of the Thanksgiving bases. When you think ahead and start planning early, the delicious dishes you serve will be remembered and emulated for years to come! These basic tips will help keep you from suffering those shudders of panic that punctuate the days and weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.
* Guest List! Don’t even consider which dishes to make until you’ve drafted a complete guest list. Once you’ve devised the list and extracted RSVPs, you’ll be ready to start thinking about which delicious dishes you’d like to concoct.
* Bake ahead and freeze! Turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes are really the ONLY dishes that need to be made on the big day. Everything else can be made in advance, refrigerated or frozen and reheated just in time for the meal.
* Say Yes! When people offer to bring a dish, let them! If you want to make sure that the dish brought is one that will jive well with the rest of your menu, supply them with a recipe. Use our “send a recipe to a friend” feature -- that way you can be sure all of the dishes on your Thanksgiving table look and taste perfect.
* Make lists! Attempting to plan any dinner party without a cohesive shopping list, guest list, and planning list is a mistake. Plan and keep track of everything so you don’t forget to bring the cranberry sauce to the table!
Freeze! You can start your cooking now! Here are some things that will freeze beautifully: Bread or bread dough, piecrust dough, unbaked fruit pies, baked pumpkin pies, cooked sweet potato or squash casseroles, cheesecakes, soup, cranberry sauce and turkey stock (made with separately purchased legs and wings). Most frozen items will need a day to thaw in the refrigerator, then all you need to do is heat and serve them as usual.