5 Essential Thanksgiving Meal Prep Tips
Here are some things you can do in advance to make holiday meal planning easier.
We can’t believe a year went by so fast, but Thanksgiving is just around the corner … again. We love a good Turkey Day gathering, but if you’re hosting, your stress level will probably hit 100 at least three times in the coming weeks. Don’t worry: We’re here to help! We chatted with Jenna Eden Leder, demonstration chef & culinary coordinator for Chef Central at Bed Bath & Beyond, who gave us some meal prep tips to help execute a winning feast.
Make a List, Check It Twice
“Organization will set you free,” says Leder. “Decide on a menu and make a list of all the ingredients, along with kitchen supplies and gear, you’ll need. Create a designated staging area to store everything and gather up all of your equipment—and don’t forget the thermometer!—before you so much as peel a potato.” If you want to be extra efficient, write out a schedule and assign times to tasks. “If you need to cut Brussels sprouts, you might as well do it while the potatoes are cooking, right?”
You don’t have to do everything yourself, and besides, guests are all too happy to bring something and even help out in the kitchen.. If you’re organized, use this to your advantage! Leder recommends group chats and shared documents online to make things easier. “In my family, the host makes the bird, cranberry sauce, and any favorite dishes (usually mashed potatoes and/or stuffing). Everything else is crowdsourced, especially dessert.”
Get a Jump Start on Prep Work
“There’s a lot of prep work you can do in advance to make the actual cooking a snap,” says Leder. Her tips:
- Blanch greens like Brussels sprouts and string beans up to two days in advance. This ensures a bright green color and cuts down on the final cooking time.
- Store potatoes and vegetables in cold water to prevent browning.
- If roasting, leave vegetables in the water for up to 12 hours.
- If mashing potatoes, they can be left in the water for up to two days!
- Toast nuts and croutons for stuffing up to a week in advance and store them in an airtight container.
- Don’t forget to factor in the time it takes to thaw a frozen turkey! There are lots of methods. Here’s a favorite:
- Keep the turkey in its original wrapping.
- Place it in the sink in a vessel large enough to contain it.
- For small turkeys: Let cold (not cool, not warm, definitely not hot) water run over the turkey. Turn the bird every 30 minutes to avoid uneven defrosting. The bird should defrost at a rate of 30–45 minutes per pound.
- For large turkeys, use this method for no more than four hours. Then, to avoid bacterial growth, put it back in the fridge to allow it to continue to defrost at a rate of five hours per pound. The four hours gives it a good head start.
These Whole Dishes Can Be Made Ahead, Too
“Speaking of making ahead, there are plenty of dishes that can be made several days (or even weeks!) ahead without sacrificing any quality. Soups and sauces can be made and frozen months ahead of time. Whip up and freeze some butternut squash soup in October for an entirely stress-free dish.” Some rules of thumb from Leder:
- “Most fresh baked pies are perfectly safe lightly covered for two days on the counter,” says Leder. Our storage recommendation? The Sweet Creations Pie Carrier. Alternatively, store it in the refrigerator for up to four days.
- “Cranberry sauce is an easy one,” Leder told us. “Depending on how much sugar is in your recipe, it can be made anywhere from five days to two weeks in advance and stored in the refrigerator. If you’ve planned even further in advance, it can be frozen, or better yet, canned, many months or even a year in advance.”
“This is the hardest part to keep in mind,” says Leder. “Remember, hosting the holiday dinner is supposed to be fun, not a sentence! Turn on your favorite music. Keep a bottle of your favorite sipping wine close at hand … Happy chefs make happy food, and happy food makes happy holidays. And really, isn’t that what it’s all about?”
Do you have meal prep secrets of your own? Share them in the comments!