When I first started learning to cook, Thanksgiving seemed an insurmountable task. To cook so much food for so many people all in one day (it’s not really one day but I’ll explain later). Half the battle is planning. I have used menus from Martha Stewart, Half Baked Harvest, and Buzzfeed. I highly recommend the Buzzfeed menu for first-timers.
- Ham is Easier than Turkey
Ham is pre-cooked. There is no brining or trussing, removing organs, etc. If you want a centerpiece that isn’t likely to get messed up for your first home-cooked Thanksgiving, ham is the way to go.
2. Divide Your Prep
I spend at least one week prepping for the big day. I usually plan the menu a few weeks ahead. I’ll write out all of the recipes, then count up all of the ingredients I need for my shopping. I shop the Sunday before. Mondays are usually for pie crusts and chopping/slicing/shredding. The Tuesday before is usually for assembling dishes to an extent (without cooking). On the Wednesday before I assemble or prep whatever I can and bake my pies. Thanksgiving is for cooking the assembled dishes.
3. No One Will Know If You “Cheat“
No one will be able to tell if you use store bought cornbread for the dressing. Not everything has to be 100% from scratch. No one can tell a store bought pie crust from homemade.
4. Make it a Potluck
The very first Thanksgiving after I started cooking, I wanted to make one dish. I made roasted brussel sprouts with bacon, which were very undercooked due to time constraints. The next year I tried to make cranberry sauce, which didn’t set. I started baking pies to bring to other people’s Thanksgivings. After several years I make the whole meal by myself. If you’re only just getting started, ask people to bring dishes to cut down on your work!
5. Take Short Cuts
To save on time, take out some of the prep work. If you need shredded cheese, buy a pre-shredded package instead of doing it yourself. Pre-cut vegetables and fruits are options (though you should make sure to wash these well before use). If you would rather focus on dinner, get some pies from a local bakery to take dessert out of the equation.
I’ve made Thanksgiving several years in a row now. I learn something every year, and my menu becomes more complicated. Start early, divide up tasks throughout the week, and don’t be afraid to ask for help!