Hosting Thanksgiving dinner at your house can be uber-stressful, no matter how many times you've done it.
So, whether this is your first time (eek!) or your 30th time, here are 25 time-saving Thanksgiving dinner hacks that will definitely make your day go easier.
1. Make a menu and stick to it
There are lots of great ideas out in the world that you can add to your menu a few days before the big day, or even as you're cooking. But don't do it. About a month before, write down what you're going to cook, what you're going to ask others to bring (see Delegate, below), and forget the rest. This will be a big stress-reducer and will also help you work through what you have to do to prepare.
2. Make a shopping list
Do not head out shopping until you've got that list in hand. Write out every ingredient for every item on your menu, then split the ingredients up into separate shopping lists for those items you can buy a month out, a week out and those you have to buy a day or two before. This will help reduce (note, I didn't say eliminate) the number of emergency trips you'll be running to the store.
3. Grate the butter
In any of your recipes that call for folding-in the butter (ie. pie crusts, dressing, biscuits, etc.), it's way easier to take the stick of butter and grate that bad boy into the mix!
4. Chop chop
The veggies, always with the veggies. So much chopping and cutting and gah! But I found a Cuisinart Chopper that makes my chopping life less of my life. For Thanksgiving, I like to chop my veggies well in advance (at least a day), before I prepare the specific dish. Then, I float them in a bowl of water until I need them, allowing me to worry only about putting together the dish, not chopping veggies for half of a day.
5. No-roll pie crust
You don't have to roll out the pie crust, which is awesome both for saving time and saving sanity (as well as your arm muscles). You've got enough to worry about getting this meal to come together, you shouldn't have to worry about how to transfer your perfectly rolled crust from the wax paper to the pie plate!
6. Lattice-top pie
To make pies look both traditional and pretty, you need a lattice-top on many of them, especially fruit pies. But that's kinda hard—except when you follow these easy instructions using your cooling rack.
Make your pecan, pumpkin and sweet potato pies a month early, then freeze them. If you buy the little cheapy pie-pans and cook them in that, you won't mess up grandma's heirloom pie plate…yet. After they're cooked, you can take the cheapy pie-pan off, then put them in a gallon-size baggie and put them in the freezer. Done.
8. Stale (or toasted) bread = better dressing (or stuffing)
Always use stale bread for your dressing, unless you have absolutely no options. This means buying a loaf of bread a month in advance and leaving it out. But if you just can't stand that thought or you forget (because I totally do that every year!), you can toast your bread and that will help wick out a lot of the moisture.
Don't be afraid to be too dry with your bread. You can always put more moisture in when you mix prior to baking, but you can never take moisture out. For a really great dressing , you can check out this Texas Cornbread Dressing recipe.
9. Dry cornbread = better(er) dressing (or stuffing)
Make your cornbread like you normally would (or you can try this awesome recipe), but leave out the eggs. Drier cornbread will make the dressing less soggy, just like when using stale bread. So, start dry. But if you do go with this hack and leave out the eggs, be sure to double or triple your recipe as the cornbread won't rise nearly as much as you're expecting.
Make your dressing (or stuffing) a week or more in advance—then, like the pies, freeze it. Depending on your pan size, you might have to cut the sheet of dressing in half, but if you cut carefully, you can fit it in a gallon size bag and just stack on top of the pies.
11. Homemade cranberry sauce
Want to look like a fancy, real chef? Make homemade cranberry sauce a week before (just follow the instructions on the back of the bag of fresh cranberries), then pop it into the fridge. That stuff will save in the fridge for weeks and you'll look like the best gourmand.
12. Smoked turkey
I know everybody wants to cook that perfect turkey, but honestly, there's too much that can go wrong. No way will I take that risk. You can make your own, like this awesome recipe for smoked turkey on a grill, but I always hit my favorite BBQ place to see what kind of smoked turkey deal they're selling or I make my way to Honey Baked Ham—their turkey is reliably wonderful every time.
13. Frozen drinks
Don't stress about drinks. A few days before, brew your tea or make your kool-aid, put it in a gallon-size baggie, then freeze. Then on the big day, just pour into a pitcher!
14. Kids play before, then put someone else in charge
Thanksgiving is an exciting time for kiddos—they want to help and participate! Plus, they're out of school, so they might be a little bored (if they stopped bugging you for two seconds).
Be prepared to have some fun activities to do on Wednesday together. You can make some placemats for the kiddy-table, whip-up some Pumpkin Slime, make Paper-Bag Place Settings for everyone, or (my favorite) put together some Salt-Dough Leaf Ornaments in preparation for putting up the tree on Friday.
If they'd rather make some food, they can help make the biscuits a day ahead (nothing wrong with that) or have them make some Turkey Pretzels for snacks. Then, on the big day, make Dad be in charge (or Mom, if Dad's the chef of the family), or ask Great-Aunt Myrtle to come watch the kids—trust me, it's worth calling in the favor.
15. Thaw overnight
Take everything out of the freezer that you've frozen and put them in the garage or on the counter wherever you can find space. That will give even a huge turkey time to thaw before showtime. Just be sure to calculate about 20 minutes for every pound on that turkey.
16. Pre-made breakfast
You're making dinner for the big day. Why mess around with making something the day-of for breakfast? A few days before, make something unique and fun for the kids like this apple strudel or this cream cheese filled pumpkin bread of goodness. Then just warm it up and get ready to accept the compliments. Or, if you're making breakfast for a huge crowd (because that's what happens here at my house), you can make an awesome fruit salad, a holiday favorite around my family.
17. Simple, light lunch
Keep lunch easy and light-don't fill your kids up before the biggest meal of the year. For lunch, you could make something like this apple squash soup or these blue cheese and pecan-stuffed celery bites.
Anything quick and simple so that you don't have to waste your time making anything or having to clean up a huge mess. If you're preparing lunch for more than just you, your spouse and the kiddos, you can throw together a slow cooker meal.
18. Sides galore
No reason to make all the sides the day of. Mac and cheese casserole can be made a few days prior and refrigerated, so can green-bean casserole and candied yams. Be sure to make sides the kids are going to like (or even eat). If you're having trouble coming up with ideas (because I'm always stumped when the question is presented to me), you can check out this quick list of Side Dishes.
19. Perfectly formed biscuits
Cut your biscuits with a wine glass to make them perfectly shaped. Then turn the glass right-side-up, rinse and have a little bit of wine to ease the day. No stress and less mess. Right?
20. Wash potatoes in bulk
Rather than washing you're 'taters by hand, run them through the dishwasher! No, really, this is a thing—check it out here.
21. Boil potatoes to skin
Instead of spending a half-hour or an entire day peeling potatoes for your party, boil them first, peel and all. Once they've boiled for 15 minutes, the skin will just come right off when you rub them.
22. Fluffier mashed potatoes
Everyone (and their dog) has a recipe for their mom's mashed potatoes. However, not all 'taters are created equal. A recipe for French Mashed Potatoes calls for a little bit of baking soda—when I made this, it made my mashed potatoes so much more fluffy. And that was very nice.
23. Delegate a few sides
Crazy Uncle Charlie really is good at making that green-bean casserole, right? Flatter him a little by asking that he bring it with. It's nice, saves you stress and, frankly, a little bit of pot-luck can bring a family together.
24. Schedule a break
If things are going well, you can actually take that break, but if you're totally running behind, you have a few minutes to catch up.
25. Make reservations
My father-in-law suggested I add this to the list! He's right sometimes, though. I'll be honest, it probably wasn't the best idea for me to host Thanksgiving two months after my daughter was born—we should have made reservations that year at a very nice restaurant.