Stress Less With These 5 Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Tips and Tricks

Yes, you really can meal prep nearly everything on your Turkey Day menu!

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Though putting together a Thanksgiving feast may seem daunting on paper, a lot of your dishes can actually be meal prepped and made ahead of time. Just ask culinary producer Ali Clarke. In her new Make-Ahead Guide to Thanksgiving Dinner class on the Food Network Kitchen app, Ali walks fans through her foolproof guide for making Thanksgiving Day a little less stressful, while simultaneously answering all their questions about everything from making turkey brine to meal prepping green bean casserole. Keep reading to learn all about Ali's tips and tricks for making your own Thanksgiving feast the easiest one yet!

First, Map Out Your Menu

“When I think about Thanksgiving dinner, the first thing that kind of guides where I’m going is I get on the phone with my mom and we discuss what’s on the menu,” Ali notes as the very first and most important — step when it comes to making her Thanksgiving stress-free. Calling it a timeline of sorts, Ali then goes on to express the importance of figuring out just how many people will be attending your Thanksgiving celebration and ensuring that all of the recipes you’re planning on making will be enough to feed that amount of people.

Many will be downsizing their Thanksgiving celebration this year, so if you only need stuffing for four instead of the usual eight or 10, you may want to halve the recipe you're using. That said, stuffing for eight is still a great way to ensure you'll have more than enough leftovers a few days after Turkey Day this year! Planning ahead not only ensures that you’ll have enough food for everyone at your table, it’ll also save you from needing to make any frantic, last minute trips to the grocery store on Thanksgiving morning or afternoon.

Next, Make a Shopping List

If you’re anything like us, you make shopping lists all the time. Not only do they help you stay on track as you go up and down all those grocery store aisles, shopping lists also give you a clear blueprint of all the ingredients you’ll need to make all those delicious appetizers, mains, sides and desserts you’re including on your own Turkey Day menu. "This little bit of work you put into making a shopping list can, kind of, come back to you in dividends because it’s organization that gets put in place,” Ali shares.

To make your shopping list even more efficient, Ali suggests separating it into categories that correspond to the layout of your local grocery store or your go-to grocery ordering website: "I always do ‘dry goods.’ I make myself a ‘baking section’ especially during Thanksgiving because I bake a lot. I do ‘produce,’ ‘frozen,’ ‘meat department,’ ‘diary...’"

This targeted way of creating a shopping list also ensures that you only go down each aisle once, which will save you time, especially if you’re sending another person to do the grocery shopping for you or you can't order your groceries online! Ali also suggests getting all your Thanksgiving groceries a week in advance to avoid expiration dates that go beyond Thanksgiving and going at the very end of the day to avoid major crowds, if you choose to go in person to get them.

Now, Clean Out Your Fridge and Pantry

After you’ve done the shopping for all your Thanksgiving fixings, you’ll want to make sure you have an adequate amount of space and room to store them in both your refrigerator and your pantry. Though Ali suggests doing this a week in advance, the actual week of Thanksgiving is totally fine, too. “This is a great time to get rid of anything that you don’t need to make room for all this food coming into your house, Ali states.

To make sure the herbs and veggies you bought stay extra fresh, Ali suggests cleaning them right after bringing them home, then wrapping them in paper towels and placing them in a sealed storage bag before placing them into your vegetable crisper: “If you do this for your herbs or your leafy greens, they will last so much longer than if you just take them from the bag from the grocery store and put them right in the fridge you will be amazed! It’s a great tip for any time of the year, but especially for Thanksgiving.”

Prep Anything You Can Two Days Before Thanksgiving

Chances are pretty high that you’ve chopped and stored vegetables or made cookie dough and frozen it to save yourself some time during a hectic work week or jam-packed weekend. Relying and utilizing meal prep techniques like these and others two days before Thanksgiving are a surefire way of making your holiday as stress-free as can be. Whether you follow Ali’s lead and chop and store all your veggies in labeled containers or bags, or you begin brining your turkey or defrosting the pie dough you made a day or two in advance, little tricks like these make all the difference later on. “I love cooking Thanksgiving. I love sharing that with my family, but I also like to relax too. You know, you want to enjoy the day and you don’t necessarily have to be in the kitchen the whole time,” Ali says.

Make Your Turkey and Gravy on Thanksgiving Day

While Ali suggests using meal prepping techniques wherever possible, there are two things you’re better off making on Thanksgiving Day. “The only things that I don’t cook in advance the only two things is I cook the turkey fresh the day of and I make the gravy, because I want the drippings in the pan...Those two things are kind of my 'you have to do those the day of Thanksgiving,'” Ali shares.

Ali also suggests taking every single ingredient that you have stored in your refrigerator out on Thanksgiving morning, so they can come back to room temperature, noting that doing so will help you stick with the accurate baking times that are listed on the recipes you’re utilizing. “I want to make sure that I bring things to room temperature before I start cooking them in the oven...You might find that, if you had a recipe that says that your stuffing and the casserole are supposed to bake for an hour or something, and you might find that yours goes a little longer, if it had just come out of the refrigerator, because it’s going in cold, so that’s why taking things out of the fridge and letting the chill come off really helps you to pick up where the recipe left off,” Ali advises.

For even more ways to meal prep your Thanksgiving feast, check out our Meal Planning feature on the Food Network Kitchen app and be sure to read Ali Clarke’s Thanksgiving To-Do List.

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