Talking Turkey: Planning & Timing

Talking Turkey: Planning & Timing

One more week until Thanksgiving and I can’t wait!  I love to cook and can’t wait to host our family again this year, but without two things in particular – planning & timing – I’d be lost.

But that’s the question, isn’t it?  It’s one I’ve heard from many of you when I was planning my Thanksgiving posts this month.  “How can I get everything to be ready at the same time?  There’s just so much; it’s maddening!”

It certainly can be maddening!  But, over the years (and being more Type A than I would like to admit), I have found that adequate planning and timing are what make a meal even as big as a Thanksgiving feast come together with as little stress as possible.  And at the end of this post, look for a special bonus from me to you to make it all make sense!

Here’s how it goes.

1: Lay a strong foundation.

You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint. Nor would you go Christmas shopping without a list of who to buy for (well, I wouldn’t, anyway).  So don’t try to cook a gigantic mean without the proper planning!  Contrary to what we think as children, Mom and Grandma don’t just wiggle their noses Bewitched-style and have a turkey and all the fixings magically appear on the buffet table.  There’s a lot of time and effort that goes into that meal ahead of time to make it work.

Proper planning doesn’t start the day of or even the day before a big event.  For proper scope, I like to start planning about 10 days to 2 weeks ahead of time.  I know, I know.  You think that sounds extreme.  I hear you.  Could I get it all done in a couple days?  Sure.  But would it turn me into a catatonic, over-stressed maniac that no one would want to eat with on Thursday?  Also yes.

2: Determine the details.

When I plan for Thanksgiving, I concentrate on these 4 questions: who, what, how, & when.  Here are the questions I ask my self:

  • Who is coming?
  • What am I going to make and what will others be contributing?
  • What do I need to buy from the store? When do I need to shop?
  • How am I going to get all the work done and when does each task need to be accomplished?

Granted, some of those questions have more straightforward answers than others.  To answer the harder questions (especially that last one, it’s a doozy!), maybe find their answers by thinking backwards.

3: Think backwards.

Here is where planning and timing really start jiving together.  And, for me, this is where my detail-oriented self really starts having fun.

To plan by thinking backwards, you want to start by noting what time you want everyone to gather around and sit down to eat.  Are you going to need to eat at noon and therefore get up at the crack of dawn to deal with the bird?  Or, are you going to eat later and so not have to get up while it’s still dark outside?

Next, look at all of the things you’re making and look at what is going to take the longest.  For most of us, that’s the turkey. For a 20-lb bird, it might take four hours to cook if you go the traditional oven-roasting route.  Then, move on to the next longest, and the next, and so on until you know how long each dish should take.

Lastly, working backwards from dinner time, write down what time each item needs to start cooking.  Remember to take into consideration prep time and/or resting time and make note of those, too.

4: Keep the end in mind.

What is your ultimate goal for Thanksgiving dinner?  Is it to serve the people you love and create an atmosphere of thankfulness and plenty?  Or is it to serve an absolutely perfect meal and impress the heck out of your guests?  While I’m hoping your answer and mine is the former, I totally feel ya if you said the latter.  That said, remember to keep your focus on the big picture, the end goal.  If everything goes picture perfectly, great.  But if everyone leaves your table feeling loved and wanted and welcomed, that’s the bigger grace.

Other Random Tips:

    1. If you really want to be on top of things or are still nervous, take a few moments to place all of the dishes that need to be in the oven at the same time actually into the oven.  If they fit, great! If they don’t, then maybe reconfigure your times a bit.
    2. Make as much ahead as possible!  Pies, cranberries, and even the turkey itself can all be made at least a day ahead of the big meal.
    3. Carving the turkey at the table is something only Norman Rockwell need be concerned with in this day and age.  In my opinion, let the turkey come out of the oven at least 30 minutes ahead of dinner to give it time to rest and be carved.  That 30 minutes can be used to heat up all of those yummy sides!

A Thanksgiving Gift from Me to You!!

We all know I love a good planner.  I lost my Blessed is She planner for about 48 hours last week and could’ve cried.  It felt like I had literally left my brain in that Costco shopping cart and not a spiral bound notebook.  But I digress.

Being a person who needs to write things down to remember them, I always have copious notes  detailing all of those things I mentioned above.  So, here in printable PDF form, are some extra-super-special not-fancy-cuz-I’m-a-writer-not-a-designer Thanksgiving by Number planning sheets just for you!!

Save this file — Thanksgiving by Number — and get busy!  Print it out, write all over it, and save it to use as a reference for next year.  I hope it offers some clarity to your planning and makes timing this beast…er, I mean feast…of a meal just a little bit easier.  Because, remember, with proper planning & timing, you too can have a lower stress and very happy Thanksgiving.

Don’t forget to check out all of my other Thanksgiving posts!

Talking Turkey: Thanksgiving Menu Breakdown

Talking Turkey: Thanksgiving Recipe Roundup

Talking Turkey: The Ultimate Guide to Thanksgiving Sides



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