November 29

Here’s How A Chef Preps for Thanksgiving in 4 Steps

Blog, Cooking



Hosting Thanksgiving, or any large dinner, can be a chore, but not if you organize it in an efficient way.

I hosted Thanksgiving for the fourth time this year and had help along the way from family and friends.  I finally have a system for dividing up the prep work for a large family dinner so that I’m not overloaded a day or two before the event.

A Brief History of my Thanksgiving experiences:  The first time I made the dinner was for a client and everything had to be organic or farmers market fresh.  It was a great learning experience, and was demanding on my time and energy.

The next three dinners for my family and friends in my living room and I delegated a lot of the side dishes and desserts.

In the past, I didn’t structure the prep work in an effective way, often leaving things for the last minute.  I.e. shopping the day before and not realizing  my turkey was completely frozen on Thanksgiving morning.  Oops.

After trial and error, here are the four key points of hosting a large dinner including the best, most relaxing ways to divide up the prep work.

1) Write down your ingredient list and go shopping.

Total Time: 2-3 hours
Day:  Sunday
Time of Day:  12pm-2pm

For Thanksgiving, there are two grocery shopping days.  The first is 4-5 days in advance and is the BIG purchase.  There’s also a shorter trip the day before for fresh produce and bread.

I assigned most side dishes and desserts to my family, and had reserved for my girlfriend and I to make the Roast Turkey, Homemade Gravy, Cranberry Sauce, Mashed Potatoes, Mac & Cheese, Appetizer 1:  Veggies with Tzatziki Dip, Appetizer 2: Tomato-Basil Bruschetta, Pumpkin Pie with Whipped Cream.

That’s 8 dishes worth of ingredients.

When you list out your ingredients, you find that you might need multiples of the same items such as lemon, onion, garlic, butter, milk, etc.

With a prepared list it takes about 2-3 hours to drive to the market, shop, drive back, unload the groceries and somehow make room in your soon-to-be-packed refrigerator.  Save a weekend day for this step.

2) Clean and Organize Your Home

Total Time: 2-3 hours
Day:  Tuesday
Time of Day:  6pm-8pm

We all (at least I assume) keep our home fairly tidy and clean on a regular basis, but when guests are expected to come we make sure it looks GOOD.  If you’re having trouble keeping your place clean, invite a friend over and you may have a sudden burst of enthusiasm to tidy up.

This year we did the usual cleanup plus some furniture reorganizing to accommodate 14 guests.

It takes about 2 hours…plus an extra hour if you find yourself going through some old drawer or shelf you’ve let get messy.

3) Prep Your Dishes The Day Before, and Don’t Start In The Evening

Total Time: 4 hours
Day:  Wednesday
Time of Day:  3pm-7pm

I’ve made the mistake in the past of saying I’ll start my Thanksgiving prep after work around 6pm or 7pm.  That was a mistake because my energy was low and I was tired.

Instead, I recommend taking a half day at work and start cooking in the mid-afternoon.  Get SOME work done in the morning and then start cooking while it’s still day light.

80% of Cooking is doing the prep work, while the other 20% is following the recipe.

This year it took from 3:30-7:30pm to make the Mac & Cheese, Veggie & Dip Appetizer, Cranberry Sauce, Gravy and Pie, plus the Turkey Brine.  Cooking the turkey, potatoes and bruschetta were reserved for the next day.

It was a lot of work, but with some good music and focus, it all came together.

4) Day of Cooking – The Home Stretch

Total Time: 4 hours
Day:  Thursday (Thanksgiving)
Time of Day:  9am-1pm (for a lunchtime meal)

The day of,you shouldn’t have much to do except make a few dishes and then heat everything up.

I was serving a lunchtime Thanksgiving at 1pm so everyone could go to their significant others’ dinners in the evening.  It was actually great to have the whole meal completed and everything put away by 5pm.

Plus I was in a relaxed state and able to enjoy the meal and be present with my guests.  This was the most important part for me, because a host sets the tone for a dinner.

Happy Host = Happy Guests

Read More:  5 Tips To Make Thanksgiving Dinner Easy


If you liked this post, your kids would like LIFT Enrichment’s Winter Cooking camp.  We share a TON of culinary tips and teach your campers how to make real food from scratch.

Treat your kids to a fun day of camp.  Discount ends Dec 5th! 

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Eric Horwitz

About LIFT

Eric founded LIFT Enrichment in 2010 because he wanted to help young kids develop their culinary skills so they could make healthy foods for friends and family for the rest of their lives.  He has worked with kids for over 15 years and enjoys their energy and enthusiasm for learning new things.  Eric studied abroad in Italy while at UCLA and discovered a passion for cooking.  

Eric Horwitz, Ceo of Lift

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