Hosting a holiday meal can be a bit stressful, even if you're a seasoned veteran.
Because most holiday recipes include highly processed ingredients like packets of seasoning, cans of soup (hello, casseroles made with cream of mushroom soup) or canned cranberry sauce, the idea of a real food spread may completely overwhelm you. But, with a little planning and prepping ahead, it’s possible. Today’s post will help you make it happen, without all the added stress and anxiety.
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Here’s how to plan ahead and eliminate unnecessary stress
Planning ahead is key when it comes to a holiday dinner. With the big day not far off, now is a great time to get a game plan in place.
The week before Thanksgiving
- Plan your menu. To keep it simple, be sure to check out our Meal Prep and Planning Cheat Sheets!
- Go grocery shopping and buy all the non-perishable items on your list.
- If you’re making homemade pie crust, roll it out, place it in your pie plate and freeze it until next week. You can also prepare and freeze any freezer-friendly appetizers or side dishes, such as bread balls or corn muffins.
The weekend before Thanksgiving
- Finalize your grocery shopping list.
Depending on how large your turkey is (a larger turkey may take longer to thaw), thaw it in the fridge. Don’t forget to put it in a large pan or on a plate, that way refrigerator cleanup doesn’t get added to the list.
Monday or Tuesday before Thanksgiving
Many of us will be working the week of Thanksgiving. Don’t stress, shoot for a little prep time each evening.
- Prep your table and get out all your serving pieces.
- Go grocery shopping and buy all your perishable items, such as salad and vegetables. We don’t recommend waiting until the day before to do this because it can be a huge undertaking, not to mention the stores will be slammed.
- Prepare your cranberry sauce.
Tuesday or Wednesday
- Defrost your pie crust. Prep and bake your pies so they can be reheated Thursday.
- Peel your potatoes and chill them in cold water overnight.
- Prep your side dishes as much as possible, especially the ones that require baking, such as casseroles and stuffing. You can cover them and put them in the fridge to be baked Thursday OR you can bake them ahead and reheat them on Thursday.
Obviously there will still be cooking to do, but you’re already way ahead of the game. Hopefully, things will seem a bit less stressful and more manageable. Remember, it’s not Halloween so leave your superwoman cape in the closet. Ask for help if you need it!
- Dress and stuff your turkey.
- Finish prepping your side dishes while your turkey is in the oven.
- Prepare and chill any cold beverages you’ll be serving.
- Run and unload your dishwasher, so it’s not filled to the brim before your guests arrive.
- Wash any dirty dishes in the sink.
- Set out your appetizers and get ready to enjoy the day.
- Throw on a pot of coffee and set out the creamer just before your guests arrive.
While your turkey is resting and waiting to be carved, make the gravy.
Have everyone refill their beverages before making their way to the table.
Sit and ENJOY!
Send your guests home with leftovers in a paper take-out box.
Our favorite real food Thanksgiving recipes
Keep things simple by serving dishes that can be prepped ahead. Here are some delicious, less-processed, healthier versions of traditional favorites.
- An assorted cheese plate surrounded by fresh strawberries, grapes and FfL-friendly crackers. Grocery outlets, such as Costco, sell amazing cheese spreads if you’re unsure which cheeses you’d like to serve.
- Olives served in a martini glass with decorative toothpicks close by
- A bowl of mixed nuts with a fun spoon to scoop them out with
Salads and sauces
- Thanksgiving Salad: Toss a big bowl of fresh baby spinach in Dijon Maple Dressing and top it with sliced apples, candied walnuts and goat cheese.
- Homemade Cranberry Sauce with Apples
Breads and starches
- Classic Bread Stuffing (whole grain or gluten-free)
- Parmesan Spinach Bread Balls (freezer-friendly)
- Honey Pumpkin Cornbread (freezer-friendly)
- Goat Cheese and Sweet Potato Mash (freezer-friendly)
- Rustic Root Vegetable Mashed Potatoes (freezer-friendly)
- Herbed Mashed Potatoes
Veggies and toppings
- Cauli-“risotto” with Charred Sweet Corn
- Skinny Creamed Corn Casserole
- Skinny Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Onion Topping
- Roasted Cinnamon Butternut Squash
- Roasted Green Beans Topped with Feta and Toasted Almonds: To keep it simple, we like to make a double batch of the toasted nuts and maple dressing from this recipe and use it to dress our salad.
Turkey and homemade gravy
- Apple Crisp
- Apple Pie topped with a scoop of locally made vanilla ice cream. Our favorite alternative to local ice cream is So Delicious’ Coconut Milk Vanilla Bean Frozen Dessert (which is dairy-free and has no sugar added).
- Pumpkin Custard
- Flourless Fudge Brownies
- French Apple Tart
- Homemade Whipped Cream
Holiday breakfast bakes
With many of us hosting overnight guests this holiday season, it’s nice to have something that can easily be prepped the night before and baked in the morning for breakfast.
Some words of advice from two previous perfectionists…
Sometimes we imagine the holidays are supposed to come together like a Hallmark movie and that’s just not realistic. The biggest piece of advice we can give during the holidays is to take a minute to breathe, remember what’s important and reassure yourself that everything doesn’t have to be perfect.
Try to keep things relatively simple and plan ahead so there’s not much left to tackle on Thanksgiving day. Welcome your guests to bring their favorite side dishes for a little friendly flare and ask for help whenever you can use it.
Embrace all the little imperfections, make memories, relax and, most importantly, enjoy yourself!
Other fun helpful holiday tips
- You may find some inspiration here: 15+ Delicious Recipes to Use Up All Your Thanksgiving Leftovers.
- Check out these Tips For A Healthy Holiday Season.
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