There’s nothing I love more than hosting family and friends for festive meals. That said, I also recognize that doing so causes immense amounts of stress as I try to plan every detail. This year, the holidays look different, as we won’t be celebrating with anyone outside of our household, but we still want to make them feel special.
Planning for holiday weeks, not just holidays
Cooking for Thanksgiving is always stressful for me, but one of the things I find even more stressful is cooking for all the other meals that surround it. How do I make sure everyone is well fed and happy in the lead-up, and in the days following, the Thanksgiving meal itself?
I gave some thought to this question this year as I planned out our Thanksgiving menu. By planning in advance, I was able to look out for my future self and enjoy my family, and the delicious food, on Thanksgiving day itself.
My Thanksgiving Timeline
A few years ago, when my husband and I began hosting our families for Thanksgiving, I started a google doc where I planned out the meal. I linked to each recipe and scheduled when I would prepare it or which guest I would assign it to. Later, while the memories of Thanksgiving were still fresh in my mind, I revisited the list and made notes about what went well and what I’d want to do differently the following year. This document serves as a great reference and a fun trip down memory lane each year.
Here’s what my Thanksgiving timeline looks like. It can easily be adapted for other holidays and traditions.
1-2 Weeks Before: Brainstorm, Research, Plan
- Two weeks before:
- Decide what dishes we want and don’t want to prepare.
- This is typically when we would order items that require a long lead-time, like turkey.
- Buy or borrow things like roasting pans, pie dishes, or serving items if needed.
- One week before:
- Finalize recipes and update the google doc mentioned above to plan out which items to make when. Making certain things ahead of time helps avoid stress later.
- Plan out easy to prepare menus for all the other meals of the week. This will help avoid scrambling to find something to eat or accidentally using up key ingredients for the main event.
- Prepare shopping lists, including what to buy or order when.
Week of: Shop and Cook What Can Be Made Ahead
- Sunday: Place orders for groceries and/or conduct shopping trips.
- Monday – Tuesday: Prepare things that can be made in advance (e.g. cranberry sauce, pie dough, etc.).
- Wednesday: Set the table; prepare any dishes that can be made ahead of time.
The Big Day
- Thursday (Thanksgiving!):
- Get some exercise outdoors if possible (a hike, walk, jog, bike ride).
- Prepare other dishes that are best made same day.
- Heat up foods prepared in advance.
- Enjoy quality time with loved ones.
- Feel grateful for reducing some of the stress by planning ahead.
- Take notes to incorporate into next year’s planning!
The holidays this year may look different than in years past, but if nothing else, this year has given us opportunities to reflect, feel grateful for what we have, and find new ways to connect with our loved ones.