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Planning your Thanksgiving dinner

One of the big challenges of making a Thanksgiving dinner is the expectation that there will be a lot of side dishes to accompany the turkey. That usually means cooking a lot of things — often simultaneously — and it turns making dinner into a significant project-management effort.

Here is a menu-planning sheet that I use when I’m cooking big meals. It allows me to work backwards from when I want to serve the food, to figure out when I need to start on each dish, while pointing out when there are conflicts such as more than one dish requiring the oven, or too many dishes requiring personal attention. It helps me to stagger the work — and the baking — so everything gets done.

Part of the art of menu planning is managing use of your oven and stovetop, as well as your own time, to get everything done. It can be particularly challenging with Thanksgiving since the roast turkey can tie up the oven for hours.

It helps to pick dishes — or options for preparing dishes — that don’t require an oven. For example, here are recipes for cooked green beans and carrots that can be done completely on the stovetop. Mashed potatoes can also be made without an oven; the potatoes can be boiled instead of baked. Mashed potatoes also reheat easily in the microwave, if you want to make them well in advance of dinner time.

Also keep in mind that when the turkey comes out of the oven, it will need to sit for 10-15 minutes before it can be carved to allow the carryover cooking to finish. That will give you 15-20 minutes of last-minute oven time; enough to bake up some biscuits, or to reheat dishes.

And it’s also important to think about which dishes requiring the oven can be made in advance, such as bread and pie. As well as other work, like food prep, that can also be done in advance so that when you hit “crunch time” you aren’t madly chopping up vegetables or measuring out ingredients; everything is ready to go.

You can also opt for dishes that don’t require cooking at all, such as salad. That frees up burners on your stove, which can also be in high demand at times.

Cooking an amazing Thanksgiving dinner is only as stressful and overwhelming as you make it. Careful planning, including choosing which dishes to serve, will ensure that you are fully prepared and that everything will finish on time.

Regardless of whether you’re the one cooking, I hope that you and your family have a joyous Thanksgiving.

Peace, love, and biscuits,


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