Thanksgiving Cooking Planning: Start at Your Desk, NOT Your Stove.

Are you anticipating holiday cooking stress already? Is Thanksgiving cooking planning getting you down? I fully understand, because even as a professional chef who has prepared food for thousands, I still feel the anxiety of cooking for family in my own home.

Planning, shopping, preparing, cooking, serving, wrapping leftovers, not to mention straightening your house are worthy of your worry when you don’t have a good plan. While I can’t help you with house cleaning, I can help turn holidays cooking stress into Thanksgiving cooking success this year with a few simple tips.

First, have a written plan for your menu, grocery shopping, and preparation. Don’t just “eye-ball” it at the grocery store, checking to see if that “looks” like enough potatoes. You’ll wind up at the end of the meal forcing people to eat more for fear of it “going to waste”. If it’s not consumed, then you’ve got more time in wrapping leftovers, only to discard them a few days later anyway.

Thanksgiving cooking should start with a calculator and multiply a standard portion of 5 ounces of protein, 4 ounces of starch, 3 ounces of vegetables, by the number of people you’re serving, your shopping and cooking will be more cost effective, efficient, and less wasteful. Use any number for your portion estimates, but adhere to your plan when you start shopping.

Next, have a plan for your oven space, refrigerator space, and serving vessels and utensils. You’ll have more food stored, prepared, cooked, and served than you do the rest of the year, so proper prior planning will again save last minute indecision, wasting time and increasing your stress.

“Potatoes in Grandma’s china flower dish”, “green beans in glass casserole with serving tongs” are notes you can make next to your menu plan. Estimate what can be purchased, prepared or cooked before other items. Not all Thanksgiving cooking needs to take place on Thanksgiving. You can buy things like onions or potatoes well in advance of salad greens. Buy them and cook them ahead of time for simple re-heating.

You may also want to keep an iced-down large drink cooler in your garage for the overflow that your refrigerator may not handle. Certainly, bottles and cans can go in the cooler. Ziplock or vacuum bags of mashed potatoes or butternut squash soup can be kept on ice to save fridge space for the turkey.

Lastly, consider doing “plate-up” this year. Instead of a large buffet where people’s eyes are much larger than their plates, present everyone’s first plate to them, like a restaurant. This way, you can control the initial portion, eliminating much waste, and keeping to your original portion plan. You can still have a buffet set for those that want second portions, but preparing the first plate will save time, food, and money. Perhaps you’ll do less Thanksgiving cooking this way.

There are many more methods I’ve developed to turn holidays cooking stress into holidays cooking success, but proper prior planning is the most valuable of them all for a stress-free holiday dinner.

Do you have any tricks for planning your Thanksgiving Cooking? Please leave a comment and share with everyone else. Thank You.


Leave A Reply (19 comments so far)

  1. Over the years I've made turkey "the" way described annually by the big cooking magazines but a few years ago I invented something that works pretty good. I purchased a length of 3/8 inch diameter steel roundstock and cut it into 17 inch long lengths then ground one end of both parts to a sharp bullet shape and then sanded all of the surfaces smooth by putting the stock in a drill and running it over progressively finer sand paper. I washed them off and when cooking a turkey I insert one through the thighs and one behind the wings. What protrudes out on each side hangs on the edge of my standard black enameled roasting pan. This allows me to cook the bird breast side down then easily flip it over onto its' back for the second half of the cooking without any of the skin sticking to the pan. It's a keeper.

    • cheftodd

      Thanks for the contribution, Mark.
      Using metal rods also enables them to cook from the inside as well when they heat up. This is like skewered food. Many people make the mistake of using wooden or bamboo skewers instead of seeking out metal ones. Metal works much better.

      Cool idea!

  2. Ken Roberts

    Happy belated birthday Web Cooking Classes! Congratulations on your revolution of the cooking industry! You're my hero!

Members Login:

Comments from Students

"Chef Todd's style of teaching is great. It's funny and entertaining, while sharing a wealth of knowledge - knowledge that I haven't found anywhere else."
Ken Roberts,


French Onion Soup