Make Ahead

Recipe for Peace of Mind Thanksgiving Week

October 27, 2016
2 Ratings
Photo by AntoniaJames
  • Serves You and everyone around you
Author Notes

"Whatever you would do, begin it. Boldness has courage, genius and magic in it." Goethe For the backstory on this, with more details on my approach, please see the final note in the instructions below. I hope you find this helpful. Love you. AntoniaJames ;o) —AntoniaJames

What You'll Need
  • Notebook, paper, pocket dividers, calendar pages (see more below)
  • These can be digital or analog, or a combination of both
  • An hour or so to think this all through and get the plan onto paper
  • Whatever minimal amount of extra time is needed to make double batches of meals to freeze
  1. The basic idea is to plan your menus in late October or very early in November for the upcoming weeks, and to make double batches of meals, freezing half to serve during the 7 – 10 days before Thanksgiving. It's fall, so soups and stews are perfect for this.
  2. Do you have a written inventory of what's already in your freezer? This is a great time to do it! You'll want to use as much as you can of what's already in there, not just to save time, but also because you'll need room for items you'll be making ahead for Thanksgiving Day, as well as the meals for the week right before it.
  3. Not everything needs to come directly from the freezer. You can also combine holiday prep with week-before dinner prep, e.g., if you are making pie crusts (and freezing them now), make an extra to use in a quiche for dinner one evening when you'll have the oven on for pre-Thanksgiving prep.
  4. To find the article, just type into the search box “Thanksgiving Hike” and it should be the first search result. I cannot link within this recipe, but if you copy and paste you can see what I've planned for October and November. Within that document you can link to my "flightplan" for the wonderful voyage that begins on the Saturday morning before Thanksgiving and ends when dinner is served on Thursday. It shows the tasks to do each day, including many that can be done in just a few minutes, as well as my grocery lists (with dates assigned) and links to the recipes I'll be using. In early November, I'll pull from my notebooks the recipes I've already printed, and will print and drop into sleeves the new ones.
  5. About those supplies in the “ingredient” list above: I use a 1” 3-ring binder with built-in front and back pockets. In it, I put pocket dividers - one for menus, calendars, shopping and to-do lists, etc., and one for recipes. I print out just about all of the recipes on the holiday menu, even for dishes I’ve made frequently, just so I’m sure I won’t overlook something. I keep a supply of plastic sheet covers for recipes I’m using on a particular day. Like I say in the article, I tend to put my lists initially on large sticky notes; I dictate those into a master shopping “Note” on my iPhone. While standing in line, I update it, and then print out the updated Note from my computer, if necessary, and pop that back into the book. (I typically start my December holiday baking plans before Thanksgiving, so notes for that go into another pocket divider. I usually get my baking ingredients during one of my grocery store visits during the week before Thanksgiving. And yes, I go through the same planning process for December, usually over the Thanksgiving weekend.)
  6. Okay, you’re right. This is not a recipe. I hope however that you find it helpful and that you enjoy the peace of mind throughout this lovely month that I will certainly be enjoying.
  7. The backstory, and a few additional words about my approach: A few years ago, I wrote an article for Food52 on how I plan ahead so that I can take a long, demanding hike on Thanksgiving Day, and then come home (usually, exhausted) to put our celebration meal on the table within a few hours. There’s a good idea in that piece that’s worth expanding, especially given the recent interest in planning meals ahead, and also, on preparing and freezing side dishes, rolls, desserts, etc. to serve on Thanksgiving Day. My idea – my practice for many years -- is to plan the dinner menu for the week before Thanksgiving now, in late October, so that meals to be served during the 7 days before Thanksgiving will come mostly from the freezer. There are so many Thanksgiving tasks that can only be handled during that final week. Freezing the primary components of one's dinners for that week will free up valuable time for final advance prep when one would otherwise be cooking the evening meal. If one plans those meals now, and works the preparation of key components into one's cooking schedule over the next few weeks, the result will be the most wonderful peace of mind. With much love and wishing you all good things, AntoniaJames

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • AntoniaJames
  • cookinginvictoria
  • Kimberly Famighetti
    Kimberly Famighetti

Recipe by: AntoniaJames

See problem, solve problem. Ask questions; question answers. Disrupt, with kindness, courtesy and respect. ;o)

7 Reviews

Kimberly F. June 17, 2018
Have you tried using PlanToEat? I think it would work really well for this - I first used it a few years ago to plan my Thanksgiving menu and it was a lifesaver.
AntoniaJames October 13, 2017
I've updated this with links to my 2017 working documents (menu plan document for October and November, which links to my Thanksgiving week "flight plan", grocery lists and links to recipes). ;o)
AntoniaJames November 14, 2016
Holiday prep project plan / schedule updated: . ;o)
AntoniaJames December 2, 2016
December is now in my Drive;
I'll be updating each week with what I'm actually doing that weekend, with notes for mid-week prep, holiday baking, regular breadmaking, etc. on the second page. I've put some preliminary notes for January on page 3. My freezer inventory is at the end of the document. ;o)
AntoniaJames November 8, 2016
Game plan for November final:

I took a sharp right turn last week after playing with the Thanksgiving Menu Genie (and seeing my husband's menu, after he did one on his own).

I completely scrapped for another time my previously decided complete (feeling really relaxed about what lies ahead, especially all the time I have in the evenings over the next few weeks). The new menu is linked from the prep game plan.

I'm going to keep track of actual time spent to compare to my estimates for Monday through Thursday. ;o)
cookinginvictoria October 27, 2016
Love all of these tips for weekday dinners (not just at the holidays but throughout the year). I plan meals and cook ahead but on a much smaller scale, and I am always looking for ways to be more efficient in meal preparation without sacrificing flavor. I especially love your monthly breakdown of such varied dinners from now until Thanksgiving, mostly drawn from your freezer. (Can you provide links to some of the recipes?) All in all, this is masterful . . . you should write a book about meal planning and cooking in advance. I am totally serious!
AntoniaJames October 27, 2016
Thank you so much! I actually recommended, in a Hotline thread in 2011, that Food52 create such a book, and then within a year of that post, actually said, "I could write a book on this." When I saw the news of A & M's new book, I thought, "Well, they beat me to it" (or, they took my advice). I haven't seen the book, but from what I can tell from the excerpts available online and in reviews in various places, that new way to dinner is not the book I'd have written. I'm waiting for the library's copy to be put on the shelf.
So, I just might, after all. I have tons of great resources on which I draw; as you suggest, I don't just do this for Thanksgiving! This level of organization is even more important for me in December, because I negotiate pressure-cooker commercial transactions that must close by year end so my clients' financials look better, and the people I advise can get their bonuses, or get better pricing when they are on the buyer side. I'll follow up on this by New Year's Day. (My deal flow hits like a Tsunami starting in late October, early November and doesn't let up until Christmas, with a lot of scurrying about in the very last days of the calendar year . . . . .) I use the basic process year round, though much less so in the late summer and fall, when happily, we practically live on salad. ;o)