An 8-step guide to a stress-free Thanksgiving

It’s hard to believe Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away.

If that realization strikes panic in your core, take a breath. We’ve got you covered with a step-by-step and day-by-day plan to make sure your Thanksgiving goes off without a hitch.

#1: Saturday, Nov. 16: 12 days to Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving 12 days away, now is the time to begin planning — starting with invitations to dinner, if you have not done so already. It’s probably too late for mailed invitations, but online stationary sites, such as Evite and Paperless Post, offer tons of free and festive options — from elegant to creative designs.

If your Thanksgiving dinner is a less formal occasion and invitations are not necessary, check-in with your guests via phone to make sure everyone still plans on attending.

It’s also the time to start thinking about your Thanksgiving dinner menu, which according to WTOP’s food expert Mary Beth Albright is something that should be done as soon as possible.

“The earlier you have a menu, the better you will feel,” Albright says.

Most everyone has some sort of favorite, traditional Thanksgiving dish or recipe, but don’t be afraid to add some variety to your spread with new dishes or variations on the classics.

Check out Pinterest or other social media sharing sites for some inspiration. Publications like Food & Wine and Real Simple have boards, solely dedicated to Thanksgiving meals: we’re talking numerous turkey recipes, sides, desserts and cocktails, like a cider-glazed turkey with lager gravy and a pumpkin pie bread pudding with bourbon-pecan hard sauce.

Start thinking about what you want to serve throughout the day:

Appetizers: Do you want to serve something when the guests arrive? Maybe you want a more filling appetizer, or maybe you just want to put out some spiced nuts and olives. Regardless, pick a few things to nibble on and add them to your menu.

Cocktails: This is an area of the menu that can be either really involved, or really simple, based on the ambiance of your event. Do you want to start out with champagne or a cocktail during appetizers and then move to wine at dinner? Or maybe you just want to stick with wine throughout?


When picking wines for dinner, keep it simple. Stick to a pinot noir for red wine and an unoaked chardonnay for white wine. (Thinkstock)

And what types of wines will you serve? Do you want to offer liquors for your guests? Don’t forget about coffee to serve with dessert.

Albright has some suggestions when it comes to thinking about the drink menu.

“The question of doing liquor or wine or both is a difficult one, because here’s the thing: You want to be a good host, and a good host is serving liquor and wine, because you don’t know what people are going to prefer,” Albright says.

However, she says you absolutely do not need a full bar. When it comes to holiday dinners, Albright prefers to serve one cocktail, which she makes ahead of time and keeps in the fridge.

“You can just pour it so you’re not making individual cocktails,” she says, adding that she likes to put a champagne float on the top of the glass. “Pretty much any cocktail, you can put a little bit of champagne or sparkling wine on top.”

As for the wine list, Albright says to keep it simple. Thanksgiving is not the time to become a wine connoisseur.

“If you’re buying a red, pinot noir. If you’re buying white, unoaked chardonnay,” Albright says.

The main spread: Sure, the turkey is the star of many Thanksgiving dinner tables, but time and time again, the side dishes are the most anticipated items of the holiday. So now is the time to plan the starches, stuffings and vegetables you want to serve.


When it comes to planning the sides, don’t go crazy. Take a new spin on a classic dish, and don’t make too much. (AP Images)

When it comes to fleshing out the sides, Albright says don’t go crazy. Chances are, what you are picturing in your head is already more than enough.

“You have a lot going on on (your typical) Thanksgiving plate already, even if you just add one vegetable to it, you’re done.”

Albright recommends roasted Brussels sprouts with olive oil, seedless red grapes and balsamic vinegar.

Another tasty and easy side dish is red cabbage, apples and bacon with balsamic vinegar.

“You cook it for an hour together, and it’s the first thing that goes,” Albright says.

Dessert: No Thanksgiving dinner is complete without a seasonal sweet — whether it’s pumpkin pie, apple pie or something completely different. Depending on the size of your party, plan out two to three desserts for your Thanksgiving dinner.

Plan out Thanksgiving dinner


Mary Beth Albright, WTOP food contributor

#2: Sunday, Nov. 17: 11 days to Thanksgiving

Now that you’ve sketched out your Thanksgiving menu, you can plan the shopping lists. There are two main reasons why it’s great to do this ahead of time.

For starters, there is nothing worse than writing out a list the day before turkey day, only to realize a key ingredient was left off. And the last place you want to be the day before Thanksgiving is the grocery store

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