Thanksgiving Pre-Prep: Your Secret Weapon to Less-Stressful Entertaining

IMG_7580-0Wow, Thanksgiving sort of snuck up on me this year–what the heck?!? I had a brief panic attack late last week, which I tamped down by writing out my menu and then putting together a grocery list. However, while food and cooking are crucial elements of nearly any gathering, I’m going to share my secret weapon (which I’ve learned through a lot of trial and error): pre-prepping your equipment, dinnerware, etc.

I know you might feel rushed and panicky right now, but take a deep breath. You still have a couple days for pre-prep, and while it may take a couple hours up front, it can really save your bacon in the clutch.

It’s happened to everyone: you’re in the middle of cooking or serving a big meal, and suddenly you realize: I don’t know where that casserole pan is, or I don’t have enough platters, or Crap, I’m missing a butter knife. These last-minute snafus can throw a wrench into the works at the worst possible moment, and it can make it difficult for others to help you. Where’s my water pitcher? Uhhh … somewhere? This doesn’t have to happen for you this year!

This is especially important if you don’t entertain often–you may not have all your gear ready to go. But now you will!

Step One: Cooking Gear

First, write down all of the dishes you’re planning to make. Then, assign the bakeware/serveware you’re going to need for each one. Here’s an example:

  • Turkey: roasting pan, meat thermometer, carving board, serrated knife, white platter, large serving fork
  • Stuffing: 9″ x 13″ Pyrex, serving spoon
  • Mashed potatoes: 8 qt pot, potato peeler, hand mixer (find beaters), large white bowl, serving spoon
  • Rolls: basket, nice kitchen towel/cloth napkin to wrap

Your list may vary, of course! Once you’re done, go through your kitchen (or basement, or garage, or wherever your stuff has migrated). Get it all in one place and make sure it’s clean. Realize you’re short on serving spoons or casserole dishes? Make a game plan now: whether it’s to improvise with what you already have, ask to borrow from a guest, etc.

Step Two: The Table

Okay, you’re set to cook! Now make sure you’re not chasing down forks while dinner is cooling on the table. Close your eyes. Envision your table. Pretend you’re eating! And then write it down. My example:

  • Dinner/bread/dessert plates for X number of people
  • Silverware for X number of people
  • Water goblets/wine glasses/coffee cups etc. for X number of people
  • Corkscrew, ice bucket
  • Tablecloth, napkins
  • Butter dish and knife, gravy boat and ladle
  • Water pitcher
  • Chairs (do you have enough? do you have room around the table?)

Again, locate everything, and make sure it’s all clean (lipstick is murder to get off wine glasses, double check). If you have time, I find it’s really nice to lay your tablecloth the night before, after dinner. If, like me, your tablecloth is stored folded, spritz it with water and smooth it out with your hands–no ironing that way, and with everything on the table, no one will notice any stray bumps.

If your tablecloth is dirty, all the better! Wash it, take it fresh out of the dryer, and plop it on the table. Done!

Step Three: Odds and Ends

Take some time to think of anything I’ve missed–you’re bound to have some needs unique to your Thanksgiving. Here’s a few things I do:

  • Make ice the night before–fill those ice trays, you’ll need it
  • Give the bathroom a wipe-down, make sure there’s toilet paper and hand towels
  • Are you going to have some sort of cute arrangement on the table? That is not my forte, but my husband usually buys flowers and makes arrangements, so I get the vases and clippers ready
  • Extra credit: do you have Thanksgiving kitchen towels somewhere, maybe back in the basement, under your Fourth of July gear (. . . crap)? Dig them out, hang them over your oven door. Yeah!

There’s no such thing as a perfect Thanksgiving or a perfect dinner party–stuff’s always going to happen. But if you’re prepared for what you can anticipate, you’ll be ahead of the game.

So what did I miss? What do you do? When can I break out my Christmas china?!?

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