Menifee Foodie: Planning Your Turkey Dinner is the Key

By Malissa Meeks

As the main Thanksgiving cook at my house for over 30 years, I have often thought that the best part of Thanksgiving is that it’s over. I get very excited to plan our Thanksgiving Dinner, but by the time it’s served, I am totally exhausted. I actually have rarely eaten the entire meal.

Our family has gotten really large and I love to put on an impressive meal. A few years ago, I decided that I was losing sight of what this day should be about and not enjoying being with family and friends as much as I should. I would feel like hibernating for days after Thanksgiving was over. That being said, I decided that I needed to find ways to make this process simpler.

Here are a few things that I have done that really have helped make holiday meals more enjoyable for me.

1. Plan your table ahead of time. You can choose your centerpiece, dishes, serving dishes, linens, everything weeks ahead of time. Set your table three days before the big day.

2. Get out all of the serving dishes a couple of days before Thanksgiving. Put a sticky note saying what goes inside of each serving dish on the dish. Put the serving utensil in the dish also. I always have so many helpers in the kitchen. Doing this makes it so much easier to get the dinner on the table. If you have room, set up a folding table to put your serving dishes on.

3. Do as much cutting and chopping ahead of time as possible. Celery, onion, grating cheese, cutting some fruits, chopping nuts, etc. These are things that can be done in advance. Put them in Ziploc bags and mark on each bag what dish that item is to be used in.

4. I always make the day before Thanksgiving my baking day. It’s a fun time to invite my daughters to come and bake with me. I prepare all of the desserts and put together dips or any casseroles that I can on that prep day. Casseroles can be made days ahead of time. I just put them in a Ziploc bag and bake them on the big day. (Can you tell I love Ziploc bags?)

5. Assign out as many dishes as you can. Most guests really enjoy helping out by bringing a side dish. It is a fun thing to ask them to bring a favorite traditional dish from their family that your family may not be familiar with.

6. Write out a schedule for the big day. This will help you with the flow of things. I know exactly what time I need to start cooking the turkey, making the rolls, baking casseroles, etc.

7. If you have one oven, you really need to pace yourself. Actually, I do not even cook my turkey in an oven. Years ago, I invested $40 in a roaster oven. I can set that in any room and bake my turkey. This gives you more room to work with in your kitchen and frees up your oven. The turkey also seems to cook a little faster in the roaster oven.

Hopefully, these tips will make it so that the thing you are most grateful for is not that Thanksgiving is over!

Malissa Meeks is a mother of seven who knows her way around the kitchen. By her estimate, she has prepared more than 42,000 meals over the years. She also knows what she likes in a good restaurant. Her column appears here every Tuesday. Leave comments here or email them to


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