8 Thanksgiving time-savers everyone hosting a party should know

Rustic Thanksgiving gather together sign

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If you’re planning to host Thanksgiving at your home, chances are that your plate is already pretty full.

Your “to-do” list is probably already jam packed with planning, shopping, cleaning and cooking. So take a deep breath, and let these eight Thanksgiving time-savers help you enjoy the holiday with less stress.

Adapted from an article by Christi Gillentine

Thanksgiving time-saver 1: Plan ahead to avoid unexpected delays

Since the turkey is pretty essential to the Thanksgiving feast, you will need to make sure it’s ready to cook at the right time.

Whether you purchase a fresh or frozen turkey is a matter of personal preference. Buy a fresh turkey no more than two days ahead of the big meal and make sure you have adequate storage space in the refrigerator. If a frozen turkey is the choice, you will need enough storage space — but you also need to be sure to start defrosting it ahead of time.

You can safely defrost a turkey in the fridge, allowing 24 hours for every 5 pounds. Check that the original bag is not broken, and place the bird in a pan to prevent raw juices from coming in contact with other foods.

Turkey thawing times
Turkey size In the refrigerator (40°F or below)
(Allow ~24 hours per 4-5 lbs.)
In cold water
(Allow ~30 minutes per lb.)
4 to 12 pounds 1 to 3 days 2 to 6 hours
12 to 16 pounds 3 to 4 days 6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 pounds 4 to 5 days 8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 pounds 5 to 6 days 10 to 12 hours

A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.

Also, be sure that your oven can accommodate everything you’re planning to cook. A large turkey takes up lots of oven space, and there may not be room for other food items in your oven during the time the turkey is cooking, says Dianne Hall Lamb of the University of Vermont. She adds that you may even find that two smaller turkeys fit in your oven better than one really huge turkey.

Thanksgiving family dinner table
Photo by by Rawpixel/Envato
Thanksgiving time-saver 2: Carve out a prep day

As your guests arrive, the last thing you want is to be stressing out in the kitchen over chopped onions and missing cranberry sauce. Schedule the Tuesday or Wednesday before Turkey Day to prepare in advance.

Lots more can be done ahead of time than just getting the turkey out of the freezer to thaw — everything from mixing the stuffing to making rolls from scratch to organizing the canned goods you will be using. Pick a few things off your cooking list that you think can be easily accomplished beforehand and give it a try.

Thanksgiving time-saver 3: Start baking pies ahead of time

By baking and freezing your pies in advance, you are guaranteed to cut your time and clean up in the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day.

While much of the traditional holiday fare can be frozen ahead of time, a good place to start is with pies and other desserts. They freeze beautifully and can go straight from your freezer to your table with little effort. Good choices for freezable pies include pumpkin, apple, cherry and pecan.

Other good dessert choices to stock your freezer include cheesecakes, bread puddings and most pre-baked cookies. Cool your pies, then wrap each one in aluminum foil, put them in individual gallon-sized freezer bags, label and freeze.

When you are ready to serve, thaw for about two hours then place in the oven on warm or 200 degrees F to warm up with a “fresh baked” taste.

Note: You should avoid freezing any pies made with a meringue top. These do not hold the same texture once thawed.

Thanksgiving table setting
Photo by annakhomulo/Envato
Thanksgiving time-saver 4: Consider make-ahead Thanksgiving food

Some foods actually taste much better if they’re prepared ahead and all the flavors are allowed enough time to thoroughly blend together, say the authors of Cooking For Crowds For Dummies.

Here are a few foods that won’t just make your holiday prep easier, but might even benefit from being prepared in advance:
  • Vegetable platters
  • Salad dressings
  • Dips
  • Many soups
  • Punch bases
  • Beans and some other side dishes
  • Mini casseroles
  • Some cold desserts
  • Cheesecake
  • Cookies
Thanksgiving time-saver 5: Buy some prepared foods

Not only can buying ready-made foods be easier for you, sometimes it’s less expensive, too.

“With all the food sales around the holidays, buying items like rolls or whipped cream will probably be cheaper than making them from scratch,” says Beverly Glaze, a registered dietician and adult program specialist with WVU Extension Service’s Family Nutrition Program.

Don’t forget the simplicity of things like canned cranberry sauce (with or without whole cranberries), canned sweet potatoes, bottled salad dressings — and semi-prepared foods: stuffing mix, gravy mix, frozen pie shells, etc. You can even dress up something like a store-bought pumpkin pie with baked-on streusel and whipped cream.

Thanksgiving time-saver 6: Make it a potluck holiday meal

Make Thanksgiving a community affair by simply calling upon friends and family to bring traditional side dishes or desserts while you provide the main course, stuffing and gravy. Just be sure that each guest knows specifically which dish to bring. Items such as green bean casseroles, mashed potatoes, yams, rolls, salads and pies are all great options.

If you leave the request for holiday potluck dishes too general, like: ” just bring a side dish enough to feed 12 people,” you may end up with four green bean casseroles and not much else. You may want to make out a list of possible side dishes and write down the name of the guest who will be providing each one.

The potluck method works on a limited scale, too. If you get exhausted by the chore of making pies but love assembling the main course, ask a few people to contribute pies and other desserts.

Thanksgiving time-saver 7: Serve Thanksgiving buffet style

A buffet-style Thanksgiving meal is a great choice if you would like a relaxed atmosphere. Your guests are free to roam around and choose their own seating, instead of you spending hours fretting over table seating arrangements. Another bonus to the buffet is you can easily use disposable tableware in place of your best china and silverware.

After all the cooking and housework you will have done to prepare for the event, spending two or more hours in the kitchen on clean-up duty is just a cruel punishment. You have been a gracious and accommodating host, give yourself a break, your guest won’t mind using a plastic fork, really.

Thanksgiving time-saver 8: Ask for help

According to Pat Pesci, director of Kansas State University’s hotel and restaurant management program, throughout the holiday season, kids should be encouraged to ask if they can do anything to help — whether it’s setting the table, decorating the house or helping in the kitchen.

“While sometimes the adults like taking care of it all, it is good practice for kids to start offering to help — and it also impresses grandma,” Pesci says.

If you don’t have kids or need more assistance, invite a guest who is a close friend or family member to arrive an hour before your other guests to help you get ready for the main event. Make it fun by serving wine (or apple cider) and cheese while you set up the table and other finishing touches. You’ll be glad you did!

Whether you are hosting Thanksgiving for your family of four — or you have friends and your entire family tree on your guest list — these tips are sure bets to cut your time in the kitchen and reduce your stress.

Nancy J Price & Betsy Bailey

Nancy J Price & Betsy Bailey

We're Nancy and Betsy, and we've been adventuring in the digital world since the mid-90s -- truly making us that type of entrepreneurial internet pioneer Gen X is known for! We started Myria.com back in 1998 and later launched SheKnows.com -- among various other online and print projects. Our partnership has spanned decades and crossed state lines (multiple times!). Nancy currently resides Arizona, and Betsy's newest home base is Minnesota. It's been an incredible journey of collaboration and innovation. You can read more about our story here!

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