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Tips for an Easy, Stress-Free Thanksgiving Feast

My family and I love Thanksgiving!

My family and I love Thanksgiving!

The Thanksgiving Tradition

Thanksgiving is as American as apple pie, and I absolutely love it! Next to Christmas Eve, it's my favorite day of the year. I have a large family: a husband, three daughters, two sons-in-law, and ten grandchildren. We also have good friends who often join us. They all love Thanksgiving, too, and always look forward to the big feast. Our family tradition is to have Thanksgiving dinner at my house. While I love to cook, I have health problems that limit just how much physical exertion I can tolerate, so I've had to make adjustments when it comes to serving a big feast. Over the years, I've learned ways to make the holiday easier on myself, which I'll explain in this article. If you want to serve a wonderful Thanksgiving meal without all the stress and work, try some of my tips!

My Thanksgiving menu usually includes smoked pork loin.

My Thanksgiving menu usually includes smoked pork loin.

Our Thanksgiving Menu

We usually have 25-30 guests for Thanksgiving dinner, and we go “all out.” Believe me, no one ever leaves my table hungry! To keep everyone happy, I serve a wide variety of dishes. Below is my Thanksgiving menu for this year:

fried turkeys

roasted turkey breast

smoked ham

pork loin with cherry sauce

cornbread dressing

cranberry sauce


sweet potato souffle

corn casserole

mashed potatoes

sauteed asparagus

broccoli casserole

glazed carrots

rice and mushroom casserole

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squash casserole

macaroni and cheese

sliced tomatoes

green bean casserole

English peas

mandarin orange-cream cheese salad

yeast rolls

blueberry muffins


iced tea

soft drinks

pumpkin pie

pecan pie

12-layer chocolate cake

chocolate pie

cheesecake with strawberries

red velvet cake

Our Thanksgiving menu always includes fried turkey.

Our Thanksgiving menu always includes fried turkey.


Do I make everything myself? Heck no! I couldn't if I wanted to. I've learned to delegate. I'm not shy about asking guests to bring a dish or two, especially if the guest is a family member or close friend. Each of my daughters brings two dishes, my son-in-law fries the turkeys, and friends bring cakes. My husband helps out, too. He cooks the ham and the pork loin outdoors, on the smoker, which frees up much needed room in my small kitchen.

Cooking meats outdoors will free up kitchen space.

Cooking meats outdoors will free up kitchen space.

Cooking Shortcuts

There are many things you can do beforehand to make your holiday experience better and easier. By employing some cooking shortcuts, you can streamline the process. Check out these ideas:

  • Many restaurants offer already prepared hot foods, including casseroles, dressing, turkeys, smoked hams, gravy, and other sides.

  • Local bakeries are a great source for rolls, cakes, pies, and other baked goods.

  • For cold dishes like potato salad, pasta salad, fruit salad, congealed salad, and deviled eggs, check local supermarket delis.

  • You can always buy frozen pies from the grocery store and spruce them up a bit before serving. Add whipped cream and candy pumpkins to pumpkin pie, pastry cut-outs to pecan pie, caramel sauce to apple pie, and ice cream to cherry pie.

  • In a pinch, Stove Top cornbread stuffing makes a pretty darn good dressing! Just add chicken broth, a beaten egg, melted butter, chopped onion, and some seasonings. Bake in a casserole dish.
  • Buy frozen yeast rolls – the kind you allow to rise before baking. They're yummy!
  • Buy a large pan of macaroni and cheese from the freezer section of the grocery store. Bake according to direction, but about 15 minutes before it's done, add shredded Colby-jack cheese to the top. The cheese adds a lot of flavor, and your guests will think it's homemade.

  • Every time you have leftover cooked chicken, dice it and freeze it to add to your dressing and gravy.
  • When you have leftover cornbread or corn muffins, freeze any leftovers in plastic bags. By November, you should have enough to make a big pan of dressing.
  • If you're planning to fry turkeys, you might want to start buying peanut oil. It's expensive, and our fryer takes about 5 gallons.

Order Thanksgivng decor early.

Order Thanksgivng decor early.

4 - 5 Months Before Thanksgiving

I start thinking about Thanksgiving during the summer. I get an idea of what I want to serve, and I start a running list of food items and other supplies I'll need. I clear out a space in my pantry just for Thanksgiving, and I make space in the freezer. When I buy an item, I cross it off the list. Here's what I usually do during the summer:

  • order dinner plates and napkins
  • order dessert plates and napkins
  • order cups
  • order tablecloths
  • order plastic knives/forks/spoons
  • order/shop for fall decor

3 Months Before Thanksgiving

  • start your guest list
  • buy frozen fruits and place in freezer
  • buy frozen vegetables and place in freezer
  • buy frozen yeast rolls
  • buy frozen pies
  • buy canned soups
  • buy canned vegetables and fruits
  • buy sugar and brown sugar
  • buy frozen turkey, ham, pork loin, etc. and place in freezer

Spruce up store-bought pies.

Spruce up store-bought pies.

1 Month Before Turkey Day

  • decorate your house, porch, yard
  • buy herbs and spices
  • buy stuffing mix
  • buy cake mixes and flour
  • buy butter
  • buy aluminum foil, foil pans, paper towels, etc.
  • finalize your guest list
  • ask guests to bring a dish...or two
  • make an appointment with your yardman/landscaper for the week of Thanksgiving
  • order hot dishes from restaurants
  • make your bakery order
  • chop onions and freeze

Save and freeze leftover cornbread for dressing.

Save and freeze leftover cornbread for dressing.

One Week – Four Days Before

  • deep clean your house
  • thaw turkey, pork loin, and ham in fridge
  • make sure yard will be cleaned
  • confirm restaurant and bakery orders
  • confirm guests

The Day Before the Big Feast

  • make casseroles and dressing; cover and refrigerate
  • make cakes and pies, if applicable
  • let rolls rise; bake and cover
  • make cold dishes

    * make tea and refrigerate; include sweet and unsweetened and label

    *cook carrots and add glaze

  • chill soft drinks
  • chill wine, if applicable
  • bake turkey breast and wrap in foil
  • bake pork loin and wrap tightly
  • bake frozen pies
  • place meat on smoker and time it to come off next morning
  • refrigerate cranberry sauce
  • touch up house, yard, porch
  • set up extra tables and chairs; place tablecloths
  • check restrooms for needed supplies
  • pick up items from bakery
  • set tables or buffet
  • place centerpieces
  • place salt and pepper on tables
Everyone loves our smoked ham!

Everyone loves our smoked ham!

Thanksgiving Morning

  • remove meats from smoker and cover
  • make gravy
  • saute asparagus
  • cook peas
  • make mashed potatoes
  • fry turkey
  • set out butter to soften
  • place cooked rolls in slow cooker to stay warm; set on “low”
  • reheat turkey breast and pork loin on smoker; drizzle with butter and wrap tightly
  • brew coffee; set out cream and sugar
  • bake dressing and casseroles
  • light scented candles
  • thaw frozen “thaw and eat” pies
  • send someone for ice
  • pick up any orders from restaurants

    * heat glazed carrots in microwave

If I Can Do It, You Can Do It!

Obviously, what I've provided here is very specific to my Thanksgiving dinner, but I think you'll get a good idea of how I plan and delegate in order to survive the holiday and still be able to function. In fact, I won't be so tired and stressed that I can't enjoy my guests and the day. You should be able to adapt many of these tips and ideas to fit your own plans for Thanksgiving. Remember: plan is the key word here. You have to plan adequately in order for your feast to go smoothly. There's no way around it. In my case, however, planning is part of the fun!

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