Thanksgiving Planning Tips and Thanksgiving Menu 2011

| November 18, 2011 | 2 Comments


Seven years ago, I hosted my first Thanksgiving dinner. Shawn and I were newly weds, and I couldn’t wait to play hostess. It was practically an obsession for me, and I wasn’t happy until I could do it. I devised an aggressive menu and tried my hardest to make it awe-worthy. In the end, the meal was okay — but I was so stressed about the whole thing that I barely spoke until we sat down to dinner. Back then, I didn’t yet have a tried and true method of preparation or a cache of recipes that I loved. All I had was a vision for this beautiful and epic dinner that reality couldn’t live up to. I’m lucky anyone let me do it again.

Since then I have hosted Thanksgiving every year — even last year when we had two Thanksgivings and in 2007 when I was released from the hospital on Thanksgiving Day after having Paige earlier that week (we actually had two Thanksgivings that year too — the second, where I cooked, was three days later). Over the years, I have changed how I approach the meal dramatically and honed a method that makes cooking for Thanksgiving practically stress-free.

So, what are my best Thanksgiving planning tips?

  • Plan Smartly – The biggest mistake I made when planning my first Thanksgiving was that I selected recipes without paying much attention to how they worked together or how their cooking times differed. Now, when I plan the menu, I pay attention to ingredients and look for ways that I can use ingredients in more than one recipe. I also pay attention to cooking times and methods. I have two ovens and four burners to cook on (plus a hot plate with two more burners) and my turkey is cooked in a rotisserie — so everything needs to work within those cooking spaces.
  • Don’t Overdo It – The first few years, I served a variety of hot appetizers in addition to dinner. Do you know what that meant? I basically cooked the entire time. It wasn’t relaxing or fun — just stressful. So for the past four or five years, I have stuck to cold appetizers that can be prepped ahead of time. This year, I am adding a hot dip in, but I will be preparing it the day before and just sliding it in the oven before it’s time for our guests to arrive. It won’t be a stress. Whether it’s the appetizers or side dishes that stress you out, it’s important that you recognize the problem and back off. You’ll be happier for it.
  • Mix It Up – Traditional Thanksgiving dishes are great — but don’t feel like you have to serve them. Plan your menu around what your family likes instead. If you aren’t a turkey fan, it’s okay to trade in a spiral ham or a chicken. Not a sweet potato casserole lover? Then skip it. Thanksgiving is about honoring family and heritage and the harvest. The dishes you serve should reflect what you like — not about what you think you are supposed to have.
  • Accept Help – Probably the smartest and best decision I ever made was to let Shawn make the turkey. He has his own recipe for creating a juicy, flavorful turkey in our rotisserie and takes care in creating it. Me? I’m happy to hand off the responsibility and focus on my favorite part of the meal: the side dishes. And in the end, we have an awesome turkey that goes really well with all of my sides.

After the jump … Thanksgiving Menu 2011.


This year’s Thanksgiving menu features a mix of my families annual favorites and some new additions.




  • Pecan Pie
  • Pumpkin Pie
  • Fresh Whipped Cream

Tags: ,

Category: Celebrate, Thanksgiving

About the Author ()

Sarah Walker Caron is a writer, editor and recipe developer who loves to create delicious recipes the whole family can enjoy together. Her work has appeared in countless publications including iVillage, BELLA NYC Magazine, Yum for Kids magazine and more. She lives in Maine with her two food-loving kids.

Comments (2)

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  1. Tonia says:

    Great menu Sarah. I cannot wait until Thanksgiving, my absolute favorite holiday. I hope you and your family have a wonderful day!

  2. Kate says:

    These are great tips. I think a lot of people get in over their heads when hosting Thanksgiving

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