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  • Writer's pictureShannon Crocker, RD PHEc

4 Tips for a Stress-Free Thanksgiving Dinner

Updated: Oct 4, 2021

Fall is my second favourite season (summer is the best, right?!) and this fall I’m so happy to be able to enjoy a small gathering with my family for our favourite holiday: Thanksgiving!

Like millions of other Canadians, we skipped the traditional feast last year, so I’m excited to bring back the classics we love so much: whole roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans with toasted walnuts, and of course, apple pie!

Sometimes I love spending the entire day slowly getting ready in the kitchen creating a festive meal. This year, I’m not feeling it. You with me?

I have some tried and true strategies I’m planning to use to make it a delicious day without being stressed out or tied to the kitchen. I’m sharing them here in case you’d like to make the most of your day too and have lots of time to relax with your family or friends.

4 Make-it-Easy Thanksgiving Dinner Prep Tips

1. Roast a turkey. Seriously. Roasting a turkey might seem daunting if you haven’t done it, but trust me, it’s easier than you think! And, if you add some veggies part-way through, you can have almost your entire meal in one pan, which is superb for clean up!

Sure, you can get totally fancy and brine your turkey or add rubs and glazes, but you don’t need to do that to create a delicious roast turkey. Here are the simple steps:

  • Pat the turkey dry with paper towels

  • Rub it with oil (inside and out)

  • Sprinkle generously with salt, pepper and garlic powder

  • Add to the cavity: cut lemons, onions, a few garlic cloves and sprigs of fresh thyme (skip that thyme if you can’t find it or that’s too fancy for you)

  • Place the turkey into a roasting pan (on a rack inside the pan if you have one) and add a couple cups of broth (and a splash of white wine if you have an open bottle)

  • Cook in a pre-heated 350F oven (uncovered) for about 3 to 4 hours (for a 12 -14 pound turkey) until an instant read thermometer reads 180F in the thickest part of the thigh.*

  • Remove from the oven and let it rest for about 15 minutes before carving for the most deliciously juicy results.

* check what size turkey to buy and turkey cooking times at Canadian Turkey.

Make it a one-roasting pan meal: when there's about 2 hours of cooking time left, toss a few cups of large-chopped root vegetables (e.g. carrots, sweet potatoes, onions, beets) with oil, salt and pepper and add to the roasting pan around the turkey. Cook for the remaining time (depending on turkey size) until an instant read thermometer reads 180F in the thickest part of the thigh.

2. Make some sides ahead.

Choose simple side dishes you can prep a day or two in advance, keep in the fridge and warm up easily. Mashed potatoes are always popular. Tip: When reheating mashed potatoes, add a little more milk or butter for moisture.

Here are a few make ahead ideas:

Spicy mashed sweet potatoes. Bake sweet potatoes until soft, scoop out of the skins and mash with a splash of your favourite hot sauce, a sprinkle of salt and some butter. Add to a shallow baking dish and refrigerate. When you’re ready to warm them up, top with toasted pecans and warm in a 400F oven. Finish with a drizzle of maple syrup if desired.

  • Roasted vegetables: Root veggies, like sweet potatoes, carrots and onions as well as, squash, peppers and brussels sprouts are terrific roasted ahead of time and heated up quickly just before eating.

  • Cold side dishes: tangy cabbage slaw or beet salad are tasty additions to your holiday table (if cooking beets isn’t your thing, you can buy them pre-cooked now too – but beware, they are more expensive!)

  • Green beans with toasted walnuts: blanch the green beans a couple days ahead (add beans to boiling water for about 1 minute, then drain and add to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking). Refrigerate until just before you’re ready to eat. Then heat them up in a pan with some butter until just warm. Top with toasted walnuts and a sprinkle of salt. (Super tasty with a drizzle of walnut oil too if you desire).

3. Buy one or two pre-made items.

Give yourself a break and buy one or two of your menu items (the ones you don’t like to make). Love pumpkin pie but not a big baker? Pick one up from a local bakery. Want a squash soup but have no inclination to make it? Your local grocery store may have delicious options. Love gravy but yours never quite works out? Buy some from a local shop or butcher.

I’m not a fan of making stuffing, so I order a tray of our family’s favourite ready-to-heat stuffing from a shop in my neighbourhood. Buying it saves me tons of time trying to make something similar.

4. Make it a family (or friend) affair.

Here’s another great time-saver: share the cooking! Invite your family members or friends to make their favourite side dishes so you can focus on the turkey. Assign a salad, one or two vegetable sides and a dessert. Team Thanksgiving for the win!

One final’s been a tough couple of years and so if you want aren’t into making a big dinner, give yourself a break. Let someone else cook for you. Order your Thanksgiving Dinner from a local restaurant or grocery store. Or, skip the big meal and make a grazing board with a variety of cheeses, crackers, fruit, veggies, cured meats, nuts and condiments. Do whatever works for you so you make the most of your day. There are no rules here, so do what feels good for you.

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