How To Plan A Successful Turkey Dinner ~ Step-by-step tips and ideas that help reduce stress and keep you organized when cooking a complete turkey dinner.
Are you about to prepare your first turkey dinner? Or do you have all kinds of experience and have cooked many turkey dinners over many years? Or are you somewhere in between having cooked a few but are looking for new ways to be more organized and take away some of the stress?
I fall in the category of having cooked many turkey dinners over many years. If you have been following me for a while you will know that I love to be organized and part of being well organized is being well planned. I cannot stress enough that more you are planned on the front end the more successful your turkey dinner will be on the back end and that is the end that really counts. When you are sitting down to enjoy a special turkey dinner with the special people in your life.
Notice that I did not title the post ‘How to Plan A Perfect Turkey Dinner’. I am pretty sure that I have flubbed something almost every time I cooked a turkey dinner. I have had overcooked turkeys, too dry stuffing and a beautiful English Trifle that I made the day before drop to the floor as I was taking it out of the fridge just as I was about to serve it for dessert. But for the most part every turkey dinner has been successful because despite being a lot of work it was a lot less stressful thanks to being well planned ahead of time.
There are several challenges when it comes to preparing a turkey dinner….
~ There are a lot of different dishes to prepare and a lot of different ingredients to work with.
~ The meal usually requires several different cooking methods including roasting, baking, boiling, simmering and heating up just before serving.
~ Some of the dishes are cooked in the oven, some on top of the stove and some in the microwave.
~ It is hard to coordinate dishes being finished cooking at the same time. You don’t want something cooked too long so it becomes rubbery or mushy. It is not fun to have something finished cooked too early so it is cold when served. It also gets frustrating waiting for something to get cooked when all of the dishes are ready.
~ A turkey dinner is usually served for a larger group so it requires preparing and cooking a larger quantity of food.
All of these challenges can be quite stressful trying to coordinate everything. Thankfully, there are ways to help make preparing a turkey dinner less stressful. Here are my tips that have I have figured out through trial and error over the years…
~ I just serve two courses. I serve the main course including the turkey and the side dishes as well as the dessert course. I don’t bother serving a soup or a salad. Between these two courses there is still plenty of food. Besides, the turkey is the main event.
~ I don’t bother with cooking the food in one dish and then transferring it to a serving dish that goes on the table. This creates too many dishes and I find the food gets a lot colder more quickly when it is transferred to another dish. Food like the dinner rolls, butter, beverages and condiments are placed on the dinner table. I set up a buffet style on the kitchen island where the dinner guests can serve themselves and take their plate back to the dining room. When everyone is served I just cover the food up to keep it a bit warmer in case somebody would like a second serving.
~ Another thing I like to do is prepare what I call a ‘Practice Turkey Dinner’. When turkeys are on sale at the grocery store I like to buy one and cook it when it is not a celebration dinner. I will cook a turkey in June and serve it with salads rather than cooked vegetables. When my daughters were in school and I was working full time I always cooked a ‘Back To School Turkey Dinner’ in September. My daughters were the only ones who started the school year off with turkey sandwiches for lunch and I had lots of planned leftover turkey meat for soup and casseroles to start the busy school year off.
~ If someone offers to bring a dish or to come early and help say yes. Solicit any kind of useful help with both the preparation and the clean up.
Most importantly, be well planned. You might be asking exactly how to plan a successful turkey dinner? I would like to take you through my step-by-step planning process that is really easy to do. I should also add I don’t work with store bought planners or pre-designed printables. How To Organize Your Day Planner and Tips For Using Your Day Planner detail how I design my own useful planner.
When planning a turkey dinner I just use:
- a few blank white sheets of paper
- index cards for each dish
- large Post-It™
Very simple but very effective. Here is…
How To Plan A Successful Turkey Dinner
Step 1 – Plan The Menu
One or two weeks before the main event take time to plan the menu. Gather your recipes and bookmark them if they are in a cookbook or make a hard copy if it is from an online source.
Plan your menu using a mind map. I find mind maps are a fabulous graphic organizer to help keep me organized and planned. They are also really easy to develop. On a blank piece of paper record ‘Turkey Dinner’ in the middle and draw a cloud around it. Scattered around the centre title record the following categories:
- Main Course
- Side Dishes
Underline the category titles and connect each one to the middle cloud with a straight line. Record the specific dishes that you plan on preparing and serving underneath each category like you see in the photograph.
Step 2 ~ List All Ingredients
After planning your menu the next step is to list all of the ingredients in each dish. This is different than a grocery list. That step will come up later. The purpose of the ingredient list is to do an inventory of what you have on hand and what you will need to buy. There is nothing worse than thinking you have plenty of something only to find out that you forgot that you ran out of it a long time ago. That happened to me one turkey dinner. I thought I had lots of dried sage to use in the stuffing and in the rub to go on the turkey but there was none to be found. Sage is kind of essential to a fragrant and fabulous tasting turkey so my husband had to do a quick dash to the grocery store delaying when I go the turkey into the oven.
Get another blank piece of paper and create a table with two columns. List all of the ingredients that you have ‘On Hand’ in one column and all of the ingredients that you ‘Need To Buy’ in the second column. I highly recommend listing everything that is listed in all of your recipes. The photograph shows you what mine looked like this past Thanksgiving turkey dinner.
Step 3 ~ Make A Timeline
Now take the time to plan ahead when you are going to prepare and cook each dish. I like to keep my timeline simple by using times like:
- day before
- morning of
- one hour before
- just before
If you want, you can also give specific times to be even more planned in your timeline.
Get another blank piece of paper and create two columns. Make one column narrower because it will list the general times and the wider second column will be where you record what is being prepared and cooked at what time.
Step 4 ~ Prepare Index Cards For Each Dish
I like to record the name of the dish on one side and information about the dish on the other side including:
- Recipe: name and location of the recipe
- Cooking Dish:
- Serving Dish: if applicable
This is an important step for several reasons. They will come in very handy during the actual cooking day. I like to arrange the completed index cards in the order that I am going to prepare the dish. It is also great to hand over an index card to whom ever is helping you with the meal preparation. They have the information in front of them and do not have to ask you what to do next. It is also a great way to track what has been completed and what still needs to be completed.
Another great way I like to use the index cards is to place them with the dish ahead of time that they will be served in.
For my last turkey dinner I used a couple of recipes from the October 1015, issue of the magazine Canadian Living. The Herb Rubbed Roast Turkey With Fresh Sage Gravy stuffed with Sausage, Apple and Sage Stuffing plus the Smooth And Creamy Mashed Potatoes all came from this issue and they were all very tasty. They are definitely recipes I will make again.
Step 5 ~ Develop The Grocery List
Now using your ingredient list chart develop your grocery list of ingredients you need to buy. Again, I love to create a grocery list using a mind map. A Brilliant Method For Recording A Grocery List gives more instructions and details for how to make one. As you can see I created grocery store categories and listed the foods needed underneath each category. I also like to record it on a large Post-It Note™.
When I go to the grocery store I just stick the note on the grocery store handle. It is so easy to work with and shopping becomes a breeze.
The question then becomes when to go grocery shopping? You don’t want to go too early because your fresh items will not be too fresh and you don’t want to go too late when everyone else is shopping too. I tend to buy as much as I can that is not perishable or will not expire too soon at least a week before the big event. Then a couple of days before, I will buy everything else that I have not picked up yet. So save your grocery list for the second shopping trip to save some time.
That is it! That is how to plan a successful turkey dinner.
Final Comments: The planning that you do ahead of time will significantly help keep things more organized. It will still be a lot of work but the workflow will go more smoothly. Your turkey dinner preparations will also be a lot less stressful so you can truly take time to enjoy rather than panic about the day.
I have one more super useful tip! Don’t throw out your meal plan mind map, ingredient list, timeline and index cards for each dish. Put them in a file folder or a plastic sheet protector and save them for the next time you have to plan and prepare a turkey dinner. A celebration turkey dinner usually consists of favourite dishes that are served year after year. Use what you have already planned to help you plan future successful turkey dinners!
Your Turn: First of all, thanks so much for stopping by and hope my system and tips are helpful! Can you estimate how many turkey dinners you have cooked? How do you plan for a successful turkey dinner? Do you have any planning tips that work for you?
Here is a delicious condiment that goes beautifully with turkey and even ham that you might like to try. It also makes a great hostess gift if by chance you are a guest and someone else is preparing and cooking the turkey dinner!