Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Simple Thanksgiving Menu Planning

In just over a week, we here in America settle into our annual traditions of giving thanks. Not just with words but also with food and fellowship and FLARE. As I mentioned LAST WEEK, I know many may not have the privilege of their 'usual' Thanksgiving festivities or guest list due to lock-downs this year. I am deeply sorry for each one of you whom this applies to. In my Simple Thankful Celebrations post a week ago, I shared how startling it was for me to celebrate holidays alone when I first moved almost 2000 miles away from my childhood home and family and while lock-downs are not exactly the same, the sentiment still rings true. Holidays outside of the "usual" require some imagination and flexibility which can be difficult when we miss our loved ones oh so much. Rest assured, though, God does have a way of filling those voids with something else just as wonderful.

Perhaps, in the midst of all this chaos, you lost your oomf to make Thanksgiving happen, but I am here to tell you - it is not too late. As a matter of fact, if you have suddenly found yourself at a loss for where to begin and how to re-tool the holiday.... or if you just need some direction and inspiration... pop over and read my Simple Thankful Celebrations post from last week and then visit below to see how I setup all the good eats for a comparatively quiet gathering in my home each year.

Let's get this party started!!!!

1. Plan to Assess 

As my kids got older and our guest list grew shorter through moves and seasons of life, we had to admit that the usual explosive buffet needed some downsizing. So much food seemed to be wasted when other bodies were not around to help consume it all. I wanted to be more efficient and certainly more budget conscious as we cooked up Thanksgiving. 

However, I didn't want to make all the cuts and then have someone complain about their 'favorite' dish missing. So, I decided to poll everyone on what they loved most about our Thanksgiving spread. At first I took oral requests but as the kids grew older I had the wild idea to put a "survey" together. We all gathered around the kitchen table as they each filled out individual "surveys" listed with all food we had enjoyed at Thanksgiving past, present and even a few I was considering for the near future. As they browsed the list I took notes while picking their brains on traditions they were passionate about keeping... and new ones they were interested in trying. I wanted to keep the thread of tradition strong while also intertwining elements uniquely us and our situation.

The results were wonderful, some of which is reflected in last week's article. The evening movie to kick off the Christmas season, dressing up to honor the special day, everyone helping cook... all were rooted in this meeting/survey session and has stepped our Thanksgiving game up a notch from being just another day with a bunch of food.... to a special day we share as a family.

If you would like to try this with your family, a free downloadable pdf can be found here. The "Dish" spots are blank so you can fill your own usuals in, make copies and begin taking note. Directions are included:

 

2. Plan to Get Organized

I'm a binder, clipboard, planner gal. For all big (and especially repetitive) occasions that require planning I keep a well curated binder. 

My Fall binder comes out in September and is not tucked away until after reflective notes are added post-Thanksgiving dinner. It holds recipes, previous autumn celebrations notes, thanksgiving menu plans, craft and table setting ideas, and memories. As Thanksgiving approaches I review notes from previous years and consider what will apply to this year as I begin to implement.

A family fave I got tired of hunting down every November so I pulled it out of the magazine it was in and popped it into my binder.


Inspiration

20 year old menu




This was the November I was pregnant with Brooke, you can see how many weeks along I was on each Friday, and the scheduled Baby Shower. This November was hard though, I lost my mom on October 28th that year and spent the first 2 weeks of this month in Chicago for her funeral. We laid her to rest on the 1st... but she lives on in Heaven and in my heart as she was the one who ignited the fire of holiday passion in me ❤

Notes and tips for the next year on the back of a menu page.

Memories ❤

I know most people don't have a binder packed full of 20+ years of Thanksgiving organization, so lets start from the beginning....you can print out the FREE planner pages at the end of this article and clip the ones you find most useful to a clipboard or hole-punch into a starter binder. You can also simply grab a spiral notebook for making notes in. With big events like a holiday dinner, unless you have a fabulous reliable memory (I don't) you'll want a way to track details. 

If you keep a bullet journal, portion off a section for this cause. Be creative, have fun... think of planning as an expedition! You'll want sections for 

  • Calendar/day tracking (even and especially with only a week to go)
  • Menu planning
  • Grocery list making
  • Recipe collecting
  • Craft and activity idea listing
  • General to-doing and alternate list making

What does all this have to do with Menu prep? Well, a lot actually.  Coordinating cook-ahead dishes with other miscellaneous prep-work will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed or over-scheduled.

3. Menu Plan

Now that you have an idea of what everyone would like/not like to have for Thanksgiving and your supplies are together, it's time for the meat and potatoes.... litterally!

What foods have you determined as "musts" for your special day? Begin to list out your menu plan. I've always divided mine into Appetizers, Main/Meat, Sides, Desserts, Beverages. It makes it easier to see and process lest I end up shorting one category or another! The Planner Packet included in this post includes a page like the one below:

Once you determine dishes, check recipes and consider each ingredient. What do you have and what do you need from the store? Make a list as you go so you don't forget anything. Again, the printable menu worksheet in my packet has an area for listing out groceries needed. If multiple dishes need the same ingredient (like butter or cream cheese, etc) write it once and tally mark next to it for each additional requirement.

4. Plan to Cook

Word to the wise: DO NOT cook EVERYTHING ON Thanksgiving. You won't be a happy camper... nor will anyone you live with!!! My packet has a page for this as well, but seeing how we are down to the wire, I will share a special extra with you:

This one is great for a clipboard and keeping track. Here is how mine looks so far (I just started filling it out today!!)

I usually start getting this page together at the beginning of November. Now that there are less of us and less food, I'm Ok funneling everything into the last 2 weeks. I use this alongside my Thanksgiving menu and begin to ask, What can I make ahead. If you check Pinterest or many homemaking and cooking magazines you will find a treasure trove of tips and tricks to spread the cooking out. I'm not a big fan of pre-made rolls, gravy or turkey (that's just me) but I do make ahead certain baked goods that will keep.

We usually do an assortment of sweet bread for Thanksgiving morning breakfast. I'm working on that every-other-day this week. I make a BUNCH and froze because some of it will be shared with neighbors at Christmastime as well!

I like to make my pies the day before. While I have pie crust going I just knock them all out, cooking the cooler baking one first and the warmer one last. With just us, we usually have pumpkin and a crisp. (this year I am doing Apple Cranberry Crisp)

Jellos and cheese balls are also a day-before task requiring a process which includes setting up overnight. 

We opted for a new tradition a few years ago: Christmas Fudge! Like Santa capping off the Macy's parade and ushering in our favorite season, fudge is the special treat and hail to Christmastime now officially arrived. It can be made anytime before Thanksgiving, we are going to work on it Monday.

Veggies (not potatoes) are usually cut the day before as well along with cheese and sausage. Bagged up it will keep just fine in the fridge until we are ready to serve on Thanksgiving.

Biggest tip: BE REALISTIC. Consider the amount of time and prep-work each dish will take and don't over-schedule. Invite all hands on deck with certain tasks as well! 

In the schedule you see above, I break Thanksgiving down into time blocks. I'm buying my turkey today and once I see how big the bird is, I can begin filling this spot in. (Size of turkey x minutes per pound to cook = total cook time). I will consider what time we want to eat and walk roasting back, planning to pull old Tom out about 45 minutes before we are ready to serve him. This leaves ample time to bake up things like the Green Bean Casserole.

As you consider prep time for day-of, work the side dishes into your schedule as well. Think prep and cooking and how to maintain dish warmth so the whole meal is toasty warm when plated. Some examples:

  • Casserole takes about 10 minutes to prep and 30 minutes to bake. Turkey comes out at 1pm, start working on casserole at 12:30, set aside and pop in as soon as turkey exits oven.
  • Potatoes take about 30 minutes to prep, 15-20 minutes to boil, 5 minutes to mash. To serve hot, begin around 12:45. (incidentally, 2 tips I have learned: peal potatoes early and soak in water so they don't brown. It saves a last-minute potato peeling craze when dinner is on approach. When ready to cook, drain and rinse and place in pot of fresh water to cook. Alternately, make mashed potatoes earlier in the day and placed finished product in a slow cooker on low to stay warm until dinner. No last minute hassle at all!

I could continue with examples but, for now, I hope this makes sense. The last hour before dinner IS a juggling act but it is one you can manage quite confidently with a clear plan (and especially if you have a little help) and multi-tasking.

5. Plan To Be Ready and Have Fun!

Inside of my planning I begin to fit other tasks around the food. 

  • Getting tablecloths out and ironed
  • Managing place settings
  • Plotting buffet arrangement
  • Collecting serving platters and making sure they are clean
  • Tidying the house, even if it's just us
  • Having supplies gathered for games or crafts

I will take each of these tasks and others, including regular daily to-dos, and filter them in where they can work and, again, not be overwhelming.

***

Just because Thanksgiving may be different this year, doesn't mean it should be forgotten. Keep it special, however small or big your feast is. This celebration is a bright light preparing our hearts with gratitude and a deeper appreciation of our Heavenly Father. This preparation makes those twinkling lights brighter as the Christmas season approaches and we shift our focus to the greatest blessing of all ❤

***

If you have any questions or tips to add, drop me a message in the comments section below! Here is the printable planner packet, click image to open the FREE pdf:

And a little something extra:

 

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Blessings for this Thanksgiving season!




 







 
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