How can I Save Time While Preparing Thanksgiving Dinner?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Preparing Thanksgiving dinner can be a laborious process, often taking up most of Thanksgiving Day and perhaps several days before to get everything just right. While others are lounging and possibly enjoying parades or football games, you may find yourself in the traditionally phrased pose of “slaving” over a hot stove, basting turkeys, making pies, and preparing stuffing. If you’d like to save time while preparing Thanksgiving dinner, there are many shortcuts and alternatives you can try to help give you a little leisure time too.

Potatoes are often served at Thanksgiving.
Potatoes are often served at Thanksgiving.

First, to save time while preparing Thanksgiving dinner, you may want to shed the idea that preparing this meal is a process for the “chosen one” only. You don’t have to prepare every aspect of this meal yourself, and if you’re serving a lot of guests, asking them to bring something along can reduce the number of tasks you’ll have to do. Remember the first Thanksgiving was a potluck dinner — everybody brought something. In keeping with this tradition, consider asking guests to bring along a favorite dish. Assign such things as salads, sides, appetizers, or desserts to others so you can concentrate on preparing the main dish, usually the turkey and stuffing.

A roast turkey.
A roast turkey.

Sometimes you’re only cooking Thanksgiving dinner for a few folks, so you can’t completely depend upon them to help you share the work of preparing the meal. You may also want to discard the idea that everything on your table must be homemade. Instead you may want to save time while preparing Thanksgiving dinner by purchasing a few standards ready made.

Asking kids to wash dishes may help save time while preparing Thanksgiving dinner.
Asking kids to wash dishes may help save time while preparing Thanksgiving dinner.

Take advantage of all the bakeries and grocery stores that are baking up pumpkin and pecan pies for the holiday. Consider buying stuffing mix instead of preparing your own toasted breadcrumbs. Purchase premade trays of crudités with dip, or use salad in a bag for your main meal. Don’t consider these concessions a failure, but instead rejoice in these modern and time saving conveniences.

Having another person take charge of the side dishes is a huge time saver for Thanksgiving dinner.
Having another person take charge of the side dishes is a huge time saver for Thanksgiving dinner.

If the meal you’re preparing is small, there are a few other shortcuts to try. Instead of cooking a whole turkey, a time consuming process, consider buying a large breast of turkey and cooking it instead. You’ll reduce your cooking time, even if you have to cook a couple of breasts, and it is generally easier to perfectly cook a breast than it is to prepare a whole bird. This time saver helps reduce the worry over defrosting, and spending a whole day watching the turkey cook.

Potatoes can be boiled ahead of time and reheated to make mashed potatoes.
Potatoes can be boiled ahead of time and reheated to make mashed potatoes.

You’ll also save time while preparing Thanksgiving dinner by enlisting the help of others in the home. Kids for instance may be at a loss of what to do on this day. Most of the day may be about waiting for dinner. Put your kids to work, setting the table, washing dishes, cleaning their rooms, or even preparing some of the side dishes. They’re often glad to help and anxious for the chance to get something to do.

Lastly, perhaps the most effective way to save time while preparing Thanksgiving dinner is to purchase the dinner from local grocery stores. Many large stores now offer complete dinners, with all the fixings, for pretty reasonable prices. You may have to spend a few minutes using the microwave to warm potatoes or other sides, but you’ll be able to spend the majority of the day not cooking — a thing for which many cooks are truly thankful.

Pre-made gravy can be bought in cans or jars.
Pre-made gravy can be bought in cans or jars.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

amypollick

I bought a $35 food processor and it has been a godsend for making Thanksgiving dinner! My secret is to do as much ahead of time as possible. Get your disposable containers out and chop your celery and onions for dressing (or stuffing). If it won't turn brown or ruin, then chop it ahead of time.

Buying a pre-cooked turkey from the supermarket is a great idea, I have to say. They're almost always incredibly moist and tasty, and you don't have all the prep work to do for the bird. Just stick it in the oven.

Also, make sure you've got everything on hand that you need. Do your shopping a couple of weeks before the holiday, so you're not so stressed out, and *make a list.* This is key to make sure you don't forget something important.

Another time saver is to prepare dishes you're comfortable with. If you can make that green bean casserole with your eyes closed, that's the one to make. You'll get through it much faster.

Mostly, do all the prep work you can before the big day. That's one of the best ways to make sure you can actually enjoy Thanksgiving Day, and don't spend it all in the kitchen.

anon21475

I cook everything but the turkey (or goose) the weekend before Thanksgiving. The bird goes in the over the night before on about 250 wrapped in Al foil. By the time to get the bird brown for dinner, it's already done, so just remove the Al foil and turn up the heat while warming/thawing the already cooked veggies. Sometime I put a loaf of bread in the bread machine in the early morning and it's ready by dinner. Makes the house smell soooo good. Happy Turkey Day everyone.

aviatrix

I buy a smoked turkey and all of the side dishes and desserts from on-line companies. The food shows up a few days before Thanksgiving, frozen with dry ice in a large styrofoam container. I don't have to shop, and nobody argues about whether or not the turkey is done yet. All we have to do is warm up the food, and then have a nice dinner with happy and relaxed participants.

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