Last Minute Ideas for a Seamless Thanksgiving Day

To-do list: shop, prep, make easy appetizers, think now about what to do with leftovers.

Your guest list is done, the menu is planned – now the fun part begins. Whether it’s vegan tofurky, a traditional elaborate menu, or the potluck path, here are some tips and ideas for making the day as easy on the host as possible.

How to shop:

There is nothing more frustrating than pushing through crowds of shoppers while you crisscross the store. You want to hit each aisle precisely one time. Here’s how:

  •  Now is not the time to shop in an unfamiliar store—plan to go where you know.
  • Write your list according to the grocery store layout putting all dairy items together, all produce items together, and so on.
  • Make two shopping trips, if possible. Visit the store early in the morning or late at night as early in the week as possible for the non-perishable goods, and then swoop in at the last minute for the turkey and salad fixin’s the day before Thanksgiving. Bike if you can or bring a friend to circle the parking lot if parking is an issue.

 What to make now:

You want to prep as much ahead as possible so that your day of cooking is as relaxing and easy as possible

  • Cranberry sauce, salad dressing, and homemade broth can all be made up to five days in advance.
  • Make the pie crust ahead and the filling too and put them together the morning of Thanksgiving.
  • Cut the bread in cubes for the stuffing and leave out to dry two days ahead. If making cornbread stuffing, bake the cornbread ahead of time.
  • The day before: prep the celery, onions, herbs, and other aromatics for the stuffing, make herbed butter to baste the turkey, make soup (if serving), wash and prep the vegetables and salad greens.

Restorative snacks for the cook:

Here are a few ideas to help you stay light on your feet, but energized:

  • A hard boiled egg and avocado on toast
  • Apples and nut butter
  • A handful of dried fruit
  • A bowl of yogurt and fruit
  • A pile of lettuce tossed with some canned salmon or sustainable tuna and a simple vinaigrette

Simple Appetizers:

Thanksgiving is not the time to roll out the fried chips and cheese platters. Light, healthy, palate awakening appetizers are key in advance of this decadent meal:

  • A selection of interesting artisanal pickles
  • Radishes and salt
  • Olives and a few spiced nuts
  • A yogurt based vegetable dip with vegetable sticks
  • Ceviche

Wine Pairings:

Turkey pairs well with red, white, or bubbly. But big fruit and alcohol bombs won’t do, so drink what you like best, making sure to choose lighter, food friendly varietals with plenty of acid to cut the heaviness of the meal.

  • Reds: California Pinot Noir, Beaujolais Nouveau, Dolcetto, Montepulciano
  • Whites: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Arneis, Verdicchio, Muscadet
  • Roses and sparkling wines—light, not too fruity, or sweet is the way to go

Non-Alcoholic Drinks:

Provide plenty of refreshing, non-alcoholic drinks to keep guests hydrated and sober enough to drive home.

 What to do with leftovers:

Once you’ve had your fill of turkey and cranberry sauce sandwiches, what to do? Don’t waste food! Here are some unusual ideas to make sure you eat it all up:

Images: Vanessa Barrington, davidmarcel, shankbone, derek gavey



Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.