Believe it or not now is the time to start organizing your holiday meal. It does not matter whether your planning for 4 or 40, there are a few things you can do now to make it a whole lot easier on yourself on the big day.
First, plan out how many you will have to feed and whether they will all be bringing a dish or whether you will be making the whole meal. If having friends in, this would be the time to start looking for the best invitations or making your own. Hand print turkey invites are something your children could even help with and Grandma and Grandpa would love to get. Fall leaves laminated to a simple card with a ribbon always makes an elegant invitation. Here in Colorado, the aspens are turning colors; reds and gold and oranges. You can buy plain invitations at Walmart, a few leaves sprinkled on a card and then clear contact paper cut to size and laid over makes a beautiful card. A beautiful Maple leaf with "Happy Thanksgiving" written in gold pen also is beautiful. If you are having a buffet or a potluck, remember to include on the invitation what you expect each guest to bring. This leaves nothing to chance and gives you an opportunity to ask each guest to bring their favorite dish. OK, now you have your invitations. Thanksgiving this year falls on Thursday, November 22 (for the United States) so you will need to send these out at least by the 22 of October, if planning a buffet and by Nov 1 if you are doing all the cooking.
Plan out your menus now and make your shopping list. This way you can take advantage of grocery store sales and the last of the farmer's markets in your areas. Also planning your menu ahead of time lets you make some of your dishes ahead and freeze them. Then you can just pop them in the oven with your turkey to reheat. Most casserole type dishes can even be made up to a month ahead of time. Here is a craft for your older kids: Buy a piece of foam core board and cut it in half and have your kids make a menu board that can be propped up in your living room. Decorate it with stickers and their best handwriting, it will be fun for them and your guests. While you're at it, when you buy your kids their Halloween pumpkins, get one for yourself and make some homemade pumpkin for your pies. An average size pumpkin will make between 2-3 pies and the canned pumpkin sold in stores usually is not even real pumpkin, but squash. Cut your pumpkin in halves or quarters and cook cut side down for 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Turn cut side up and cook until the pumpkin is tender and easily pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and cool and then scoop out cooked pumpkin. Measure it according to your favorite recipe for pie and freeze in individual containers.
Let's talk table: While you are buying those pumpkins also look for the small decorative gourds and Indian corn.. These, sprayed with clear spray paint, can be used for years as a centerpiece on your table in a pretty basket or, with some ribbons and wire, you can wire them together and make little wreaths to hang on the backs of your dining room chairs, which is all the rage now for parties. Now is the time to pull out your table linens and make sure that you have enough for your tables. Quick decoration for table cloths: you can buy pre-cut leaves that are made out of felt or, if using plastic, you can also buy foamy leaves to glue to the corners and center of your cloth using fabric or craft glue. Quick and easy fun while you are watching TV with the kids. Felt leaves could also be blanket stitched to the cloth table cloths. Quick napkin rings can be made from toilet paper rolls and some silk leaves. Cut the leaves off of each stem and hot glue them to your toilet paper rolls. If you live in an area of the country where you can collect small pine cones and acorns, you could also glue these to the top of the leaves or add a small card with your guests names on them. Make a thankful tree for a decoration in your living room. Find an old branch with many arms to it. Find a pot or a basket that it will stand in, Pour in some Plaster of Paris. When that is dry, cover it with some moss. Cut slips of paper. In the corners of the slips, punch a hole and add a ribbon hanger. Invite your guest to write what they are thankful for and then hang them on the tree, Kids really get a kick out of this. Check and make sure that you have enough tables and, if not, put in your reservations early to rent or borrow those extra tables and chairs.
Now on to your serving pieces, nothing is more frustrating than pulling out your serving pieces to find that your turkey platter is cracked. Doing this ahead of time leaves you room to replace any pieces that need replacing. Remember that your local thrift store will be putting out platters and serving dishes usually with a thanksgiving theme or fall theme right before Thanksgiving so this is the time to make additions or replacements. I love silver-plate and I pick it up all year long in thrift stores for a song, but if you don't like to polish silver (I find it relaxing), you can always pick up green or clear glass serving pieces. Green can also be used for Christmas. Check out the silverware box or bucket, you can also find most of the big spoons you will need for serving for around a dollar or less. Also remember that you can make your own fancy serving pieces by stacking glass pieces on top of one another. A platter on top of glass bowl or vase suddenly has presence on the table. With a little clear silicone, you can even make these selections permanent.
Having done all of these in the weeks before your big day can greatly cut down on your stress level. Cooking and freezing dishes that you plan to serve on weekends when you are not working will save you time and stress. I hope these ideas give you some motivation to start planning your celebration now so that like me you can be watching the parades and games while just having to put the finishing touches on your dinner.
Celebrate and know that I am grateful for all of you readers this Thanksgiving day!
By Debra Frick