Plan a Stress-Free Thanksgiving Meal

Consider these steps the foundation of a Thanksgiving meal - then have fun modifying the menu to suit your tastes and those of your guests, to make up your own memorable Thanksgiving traditions.


  • Vary the menu all you want but remember that if your guests are traditionalists they'll expect the following dishes at Thanksgiving: turkey, turkey gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.
  • Leftovers also are a Thanksgiving tradition - for sandwiches that night and to send home with non-cooks - so cook for about 25 percent more guests than you'll have.


  1. Figure out how many guests to invite. Consider the size of your home; the number of chairs, tables and dishes you'll need; and your ability to cook for that many people.
  2. Plan the menu, keeping in mind your guests? tastes, ethnic backgrounds, allergies and any other factors.
  3. Plan to balance the many heavy, starchy Thanksgiving classics with lighter dishes, emphasizing fresh vegetables.
  4. Decide whether you want to ask people to help you, either by bringing parts of the meal (wine, dessert and appetizers), or by coming early to help out.
  5. Be realistic about what to make from scratch or what you'll try that you never have before; perhaps your efforts should go into a special cranberry sauce or an unusual stuffing, with everything else on the menu an old standby.
  6. Remember the classic Thanksgiving challenge: The turkey will occupy the oven most of the day - a crucial factor if you also plan to bake pies and you have just one oven. This means:
  7. Write out the timing and preparation of each dish - yes, a list! - so you'll know that you really can manage them all in your kitchen.
  8. Keep your eye on the reason you're doing this: To have a special time of togetherness with your family and friends.

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