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Savor the Flavor: Your Ultimate Thanksgiving Menu Planning Guide

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Planning a Thanksgiving menu can feel like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be! Before you panic, let me help. Together, we will break down the most important elements so that you can create the perfect traditional Thanksgiving menu for your gathering, whether you are hosting for just a couple or for a whole crowd.

A Thanksgiving turkey next to a white gravy boat, with traditional side dishes around the back.

Planning Your Thanksgiving Menu in Advance

Planning in advance for your Thanksgiving dinner is the first step in creating a successful and enjoyable celebration, starting with crafting a tailored menu.

By taking the time to consider dietary restrictions, preferences, and the theme of the day, you’ll create a menu that serves as the foundation of your meal. It will guide your shopping list, allow you to create a cooking timeline, and provide the opportunity to delegate tasks.

It also gives you the opportunity to explore new recipes and innovative culinary trends to surprise and delight your guests without being overwhelmed by it all. When done right, this structured approach ensures everything runs smoothly, making the day less stressful and more enjoyable for the host and guests alike.

A Thanksgiving dinner spread with a place setting in the front, a turkey behind it, and other side dishes around the sides.

1. The main entree

The first thing to consider is your main entree aka the shining star of your Thanksgiving feast: The Thanksgiving Turkey. Here are some things to consider as you make your plan.

Do you want to make a whole turkey, like this buttermilk-brined turkey, or are you looking for options with just white or dark meat, like this hazelnut crusted turkey breast?

How many people do you have to feed and do you want leftovers? Some quick turkey math: A whole turkey is going to yield about 40% meat after it’s cooked. So, a 12 lb bird will give you just under 5 lbs of cooked meat and at about 8 ounces per serving, a 12 lb bird will feed around 10 people.

Figure out how much you need for the big (or small) event and the type of meat most people will want to eat, and plan accordingly.

Don’t forget to allow time for your frozen bird to thaw!!

Chart showing recommended times for thawing a turkey in cold water based on weight.

2. Turkey dressing or stuffing

The turkey dressing is an important one, so it gets a section all it’s own. It’s always been my favorite part of the meal. Loaded with carbs and packed with flavor, what’s not to love?!

First question: are you on team dressing or team stuffing? To be fair, the only difference is how you cook it. Any dressing can be a stuffing if you put it inside the bird and any stuffing can be a dressing if you cook it in a casserole dish.

My personal favorite is this cranberry apple stuffing made with homemade turkey stock and dried bread. You can usually find the stuffing already cut and dried in the bakery department at your local grocery. Bake it in a casserole dish or stuff it in the bird, it’s up to you!

3. Traditional side dishes

It’s not a traditional Thanksgiving unless it has some level of gluttony involved and that means having multiple side dishes. Hit up the produce section and aim for a balance of savory and sweet sides to keep everyone happy. Here are a few of my favorites:

A Thanksgiving dinner plate with turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans with fried onions, cranberry sauce, and herb garnish on a white plate.

4. Bread

At the Thanksgiving table bread is the best way to get those extra drops of gravy from your plate into your mouth.

While these brioche dinner rolls would be a no-brainer, they aren’t your only options. You can also serve cornbread, biscuits, or go really non-traditional with garlic knots.

The best thing about all of these bread options is that they freeze really well, so you could offer them all and keep the rest in the freezer for later.

5. Desserts

When I think Thanksgiving dessert I think of pies and when I think of pies I think of my it-hasn’t-failed-me-yet Millie’s Perfect Pie Crust. It is an all butter crust that makes for the best sweet or savory pies. You can make it into apple pie, pumpkin pie, pecan pie or even a blackerry pie with buttery crumble topping .

If pie from scratch is too intimidating to try this year, try this butterscotch apple crisp instead. It’s kind of like a Dutch apple pie but without the bottom crust.

6. Drinks

No matter how many people are involved in your celebration, you will need drinks! Stock up with the non-alcoholic and alcoholic options. Specialty sodas and juices make for excellent mocktails. Plan for at least 3 drinks per person, and don’t forget you’ll need drinks to go with the leftovers, too!

An overhead view of a Thanksgiving dinner spread with a turkey and traditional side dishes.

7. Ask for help!

Don’t hesitate to ask for help when planning your Thanksgiving dinner. Inviting friends or family members to contribute their favorite dishes or assist with preparations can make the process more enjoyable and foster a sense of togetherness, making the holiday even more special. Sharing the workload ensures a well-rounded menu and allows everyone to participate in creating a memorable Thanksgiving feast.

About Renee N Gardner

I'm the recipe developer, food photographer, and mastermind behind Renee Nicole's Kitchen, where I help create kitchen confidence to inspire home cooks to become home chefs. No fancy fads here, just high-quality, homemade recipes featuring seasonal ingredients.

More about Renee

6 Comments on “Savor the Flavor: Your Ultimate Thanksgiving Menu Planning Guide”

  1. This is incredibly helpful! I’ve hosted the holiday before without something like this and it’s chaotic to say the least. Definitely bookmarking this post for this year!

  2. I really appreciated your tips on planning a Thanksgiving menu in advance. It was helpful to have a step-by-step guide to follow, and I especially liked your advice on considering dietary restrictions and preferences when creating the menu. Thanks for making Thanksgiving planning a little bit easier!

  3. Really nice guide :). Couldn’t agree more about Thanksgiving bread! Absolutely, it is the hero at the Thanksgiving table, especially when it comes to savoring every last drop of that delicious gravy. <3


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