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Thanksgiving perfection: Steps to plan the perfect holiday

Written By | Nov 16, 2014

LOS ANGELES, November 16, 2014  ―  As they say, the “Devil is in the Details” and around this time every year, we need to start start thinking about the massive family Thanksgiving feast and everything we need to do in order to plan it.

The first thing to do is to think about the previous year and figure out what worked and what didn’t. What dish did not make it to the table because it never got cooked, or it burned. Are you going traditional foods that the family expects or do you want to create some new culinary memories?

There are so many areas to consider: menu planning, grocery shopping and the cooking and timing of the food.  Now is the time to get your self a spiral bound notebook and start taking notes. I also find having an envelope file folder that I can place recipes, coupons and my notebook

Menu Planning: If you were going on a trip, you would plan your wardrobe, your mode of transportation and your accommodations. If you were running a marathon, you would plan a workout schedule, the perfect running outfit and your diet.

Thanksgiving is also an event that needs to be planned for. Important things to consider are:

  • What are you cooking?
  • When can you grocery shop?
  • How much room do you have in your refrigerator?
  • Do all of your appliances work?
  • How many people are you cooking for?
  • Do you have enough plates, utensils, glasses and serving pieces?
  • What time do you want to eat?
  • Who will be helping you?
  • Do you need to buy any storage containers for after the meal, or to store items you premake?

Shopping for groceries. Photo by: Mary P. Moran

Grocery Shopping: The best time to grocery shop is early in the morning on the Monday or Tuesday before Thanksgiving.  However, canned and boxed items can be purchased a week or two in advance.

Sturdy perishable items like uncut fruits, squash, wrapped cheeses can be purchased early in the week. Unfortunately, there are some things that should be bought at least two days or less before Thanksgiving, like milk products, fresh vegetables, herbs and breads, but in all honesty, most of us will forget something and have to make a quick trip to the store.

So this year, go ahead and add that Wednesday shopping trip into the plan.  If you don’t need it, or can get someone else to run to the store for you, you will appreciate that extra hour or so you will get to put back into your schedule.

Things to do the one to two weeks before include

  • Confirm your guest list so you know how much food you need to buy.
  • Will you be serving wine? Visit your wine shop and purchase wines, sodas, ciders well in advance.
  • Purchase storage containers, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and extra plastic bags in quart and gallon sized.
  • Preorder the turkey the turkey from Whole Foods or another fine quality fresh turkey purveyor.
  • Start cleaning out your refrigerator / freezer.  Now is a great time to get rid of all condiments and bulky items.  Wipe your shelves down and replace your baking soda container for a fresh smelling fridge.
  • Start your shopping list with three pages  – items to buy a week before, a few days before and right before the cooking begins.
  • Think about those things the grocery store might run out of, or have run out of in the past.  Get those early if you can.
  • Identify a shopping buddy.  Someone to run back an aisle or two for something you forgot, or to dash down crowded aisles without the cart.
  • Schedule your shopping time.
  • As you are shopping, make sure items have price stickers/bar codes so that there are not delays in checkout.
  • As you shop, if you use coupons move them over in your file folder so that you can easily hand them to the clerk.

Cooking: Cooking is about planning, prepping and timing. The more you prepare ahead of time, the more enjoyable the meal will be. Keep your kitchen clean and organized and have enough containers to hold the prepped foods you prepare.

  • In your notebook, have a list of items you can make ahead of time and schedule that time.  Do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today!
  • Are there items on your menu that need to be done at the last minute? Can any prep work be done the day before or assigned to your helper.
  • What can be served and or stored safely at room temperature and for how long?
  • Do you have family favorite dish recipes.  Make sure you ask Aunt Sophia for that Waldorf Salad recipe weeks in advance

The nigh before:

  • Set the table,
  • Do any pre-prep work – fill prep bowls with chopped parsley, onions, mix herbs and create bundles you will need. Squeeze lemons. Unwrap butter and partition as you will need it.  Anything you can do the night before, and safely store until the morning will make your day easier
  • Before you go to bed, make sure you clean the sink, put new bags in recycling and garbage cans and clear your counters of everything but the essentials you will need.
  • Set the coffee pot up so you wake up to the fragrant smell of fresh brewed coffee.

This year after the guests have left,  take a few extra moments after the big event and jot some notes about the day so that next year you have a blueprint to success.


Listen to Chef Mary on PAIRED Live every Monday Evening at 6:30PM EST here on (click image below to launch radio player).  This Monday, November 17, Chef Mary’s guest is Whole Foods Turkey experts. Wine Expert Duane Pemberton will be there to guide you through choosing wines that will be pair with your meal.

Listeners can call in to ask questions, or use the Scribble Live Chat window below to share your tips, or ask questions of our hosts or guest.


Mary Moran

Upon graduating from the California School of Culinary Arts in 2002, Chef Mary Payne Moran began her professional career shelling crabs at the world-renowned restaurant, Michael's in Santa Monica. Simultaneously, she launched her own company, Hail Mary’s, founded upon the belief that good food nurtures the soul, and began catering weddings, parties and large corporate events. In the fall of 2008, Mary began teaching her culinary skills to others. Currently she can be found at Hollywood School House teaching her after school cooking class, and teaching her popular "Vegetables or Not Here I Come" assembly. Most recently, Mary has launched another division in her company as well as a chef she is now also a Certified Nutritionist for high profile clients. She helps her clients discover their healthy way of eating. Mary has recently been published in the Los Angeles Magazine, & The New Jersey Star Ledger. Daily she addresses cooking aficionados through her blog - Cooking with Chef Mary as well as her how-to webisodes on You Tube.