How to Plan Your Thanksgiving Meal Efficiently

I like simplifying holiday meal work. Here are a couple of things I do for Thanksgiving. I have a file on my computer simply titled “Thanksgiving” where I list the year, what we had to eat, who was there, what we had too much of, and what I would do differently next year, if anything. I think I won’t forget by the following year, but the reality is that I do.

Baking for Thanksgiving together

On my computer, I also have a master shopping list for our Thanksgiving meal. Earlier in our marriage, I developed a Thanksgiving menu based on family favorites and traditional Thanksgiving foods. By popular demand we continue using that menu except for adding ham as a second meat, which our boys bake at another house because we don’t have room here, and they love the ham. We can’t take turkey out because Thanksgiving dinner with turkey is my mom’s favorite meal of the year. Plus we love our turkey noodle soup the day after Thanksgiving and all the great leftover turkey meals a turkey provides.

We keep our Thanksgiving meal simple with just one salad and one vegetable. We have expanded to two desserts now that there are so many in our family eating the Thanksgiving meal. We use roasting bags for the meat that turn out perfect turkey and ham every year.

On the day before Thanksgiving, we invite my mom over to sit with us while we work in the kitchen. Then we spend several hours prepping as much of the meal as we possibly can. She usually finds jobs she is capable of doing and would like to do with us. It is a sweet time of generational fellowship.

When guests join us for Thanksgiving and want to bring something for the meal, we ask them to bring one of their favorite side dishes. We don’t normally have sweet potatoes or cranberry sauce, but those have been additions brought by guests.

We hope your Thanksgiving is simple, thankful, and full of joy and loving fellowship.

Trusting in Jesus,

PS: Two of our favorite holiday recipes:
Light and Fluffy Rolls
Teri’s Favorite Salad

Unto thee, O God, do we give thanks, unto thee do we give thanks:
for that thy name is near thy wondrous works declare.”
(Psalm 75:1)

22 thoughts on “How to Plan Your Thanksgiving Meal Efficiently”

  1. That really surprised me that you only do one salad and one vegetable! It does sound easier, but 2 of my favorite things about Thanksgiving are the leftovers and the variety. 🙂 Also, I couldn’t get the link to work to Teri’s favorite salad. I’d love to see what it is!

    1. Yes, it does simplify to only have one of each, and for us, they are favorites that we generally don’t have except for holidays or guests. I believe the link has been fixed.

  2. Do you have any tips for the turkey itself? That’s always what gets me, I’d love some management skills.

    And what are your two desserts? do you stick to pies, or do you do anything different? Would love to know your sweet family’s take on this.

    In Christ,


    1. We buy frozen turkey, let it defrost in the fridge, and then bake in the Reynolds Roasting bags in a turkey roaster pan. We don’t stuff the turkey because we prefer the taste of stuffing cooked on the stovetop. Steve bakes the turkey so he does all the lifting into the bag, checking temperature, and cutting it up afterwards. I think he rubs it with butter, but that’s it for seasoning it. One dessert is always pumpkin pie. The other is something chocolate, and the girls choose that one.

  3. So sweet how you invite your mom over for day-before preparations. This post is so helpful, thank you for sharing your tips!

    1. For many years when we first moved here, my mom did Christmas and Resurrection Dinner all by herself wanting the “all by herself” part to be a blessing to me as a young mom, and it was! My holiday meal was Thanksgiving dinner. As the years advanced, I would offer to do Christmas and Resurrection dinners, and of course by then, I had plenty of helpers. She told me she would know when she couldn’t do it any more and let it go. That day came with my dad’s deteriorating health. Of course she still enjoys being around all the kitchen work, the fellowship that is part of it, and we like having her here with us for that. Our holiday menus are really her menus that our family has loved so much we don’t want to change it.

  4. Wonderful suggestions! I like the idea of simplifying the menu like you do, it will keep the day from being so stressful.

    Question…what program/app do you use for keeping track of all your menus, shopping lists, schedules, etc.? I’ve used Evernote in the past (and find using it rather complicated) and was just curious as to which one you use.


    1. I used to use Word files on my computer so that is where my holiday menus and shopping lists are. However, now I really like using Google Docs. That is where my weekly shopping list and Kansas City shopping lists are. I use Evernote quite a bit, too, but not for menus, recipes, or shopping lists.

      I tried a shopping list on my phone for a period of time, but it was difficult for me to keep my phone out, push the cart, and shop without dropping my phone. I do better with a printed list on a clipboard that I can set in the cart and refer to.

  5. Hi, I love seeing how other people celebrate Thanksgiving and what their menu is!!! If you do not mind can I ask a couple questions regarding food? We also have a large family so it’s fun to see other large family meals.
    How big is your Turkey?
    How big is your Ham?
    Is it correct that you only have the Salad and One Vegetable?
    How big is the pan or pans of Salad and Vegetable?
    Sorry if I sound nosy but we were just wondering and comparing to what we have. We so enjoy your Godly blog. It’s so uplifting and encouraging.

    1. We are generally feeding about 25 people, quite a few of them are our grandchildren. I get as big a turkey as I can find – usually 23 or 24 lbs. The ham is around 13 lbs. Yes, only one salad. It is one of those 7-layer salads. We are close to needing to make two 9 by 13s of it, but not quite yet. For Thanksgiving our vegetable is mashed potatoes, which we usually don’t even consider a vegetable. We make about 5 lbs of mashed potatoes. Plus we gave stuffing, gravy, and homemade rolls.

  6. Great tips. My MIL is still our host and we all help out and bring dishes. She does the turkey, dressing and giblet gravy, spinach casserole, broccoli cheese casserole, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and brown gravy, and rolls. The rest of the family brings sweet potato casserole, green beans, a ham, seven layer salad, “angeled” eggs, bacon wrapped asparagus, and the desserts…typically an apple pie, a pumpkin pie, a carrot cake, and a Texas sheet cake. It’s neat to hear about other people’s preparations and traditions.

    1. That sounds like quite a delicious feast, and a great plan with so many pitching in and bringing things. I know my daughters-in-law would bring things, but we like to give them that meal off.

  7. Thanks so much for sharing this post with the two delicious looking recipes and the beautiful Scripture! Hurray for pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. Mary – your apron is absolutely gorgeous! Let me guess: you (or a close family member) sewed it?! Where do you get your creative braid ideas? I would like to try them out too. Long time ago i started parting my hair on the side of my head instead of in the usual middle, because I so much enjoyed the way you did yours..Thanks for sparking the idea :-). “If a man therefore purge himself…he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.” – 2 Timothy 2:21.

    1. Mary bought her apron at Michaels. She had a gift card, and went shopping for art supplies. She saw the apron, and really liked it so used some of her gift card on it. For her braids, she just observes and then tries on her hair.

  8. my family doesn’t celebrate thanksgiving but my in laws do. now i am in charge of cooking except the turkey because i am in charged of cooking the vegetables, bread, making gravy from scratch, setting up the tables and buying some dessetsdoing the dishes. i enjoy making dinner for my families.

  9. My Gramma on my mom’s side has been making Thanksgiving for so long, she’s got the ingredients for every dish memorized, haha! She had 9 children, so we are a big bunch, and Gramma likes to make a lot of food. We have Turkey (sometimes 2!), homemade raviolis (an old Italian recipe, Gramma got from her father), gravy mashed potatoes, cole slaw, cranberry sauce, and candied yams. Sometimes other family members bring stuff like green bean casserole, rolls, stuffed mushrooms, sauteed squash and spinach, an anti pasta platter, and of course, lots of desert. We usually have 3 or 4 pumpkin pies, with lots of whipped cream, apple pie, cheesecake and German chocolate cake. There’s always a ton of leftovers, which we all take home and eat for days. The great part about it is that we end up just kind of eating all day long. The meal is done at 1 pm, and then we are just kind of sitting around for hours, eating and talking, until it’s late in the evening. Our Christmases are the same way, except we end up having ham instead of turkey.

  10. For the past few years, my mom, my siblings, and I have done the cooking the day before Thanksgiving and my dad does the turkey on Thanksgiving morning. This year, I’m excited that my dad will have a four day vacation and be able to cook with us the day before Thanksgiving because of his new job. We have fried turkey (last year and probably this year again 8 pounds), cranberry sauce (from scratch), sweet potato casserole, corn pudding, green bean casserole, baked macaroni and cheese, salad (which my dad wants to have one piece of lettuce 🙂 ), and store bought stuffing. We have either punkin pie, Apple pie, or pecan pie for dessert. We tried punkin cheese cake one year but didn’t like it. We have a bonfire that night. 🙂

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