Planning for Thanksgiving: food and family (part 2)

It’s time for the next installment of our Thanksgiving series that takes a closer look at how to maximize the enjoyment of family and food for this coming holiday. This week, we take a look at how the kids can help out, and just how long it really takes to properly cook that turkey.

Missed last week’s article? No worries. You can still catch up on the first part of our Planning for Thanksgiving series

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Thanksgiving is a great time of feasting and fellowship. One without the other would render the holiday incomplete. This year, we decided to bring you a series that covered the topics of both family and food at Thanksgiving in the hopes that it may provide you with a little help in making the holiday ever more special.


So now you have a plan; an idea or two of how you would like to celebrate your Thanksgiving Day with your children. The next step is to prepare, and let’s face it, preparation takes work.  The meal doesn’t just float magically to the table. The table doesn’t set itself. The groceries will not arrive by courier on your doorstep. All of these components take time and energy and resources for a culture whose time and energy and resources are already spread thin. How do we prepare so that all of our plans do not become stressful fury? And how do we include our kids in on that preparation? 

We live in a culture of perfection, which continually leaves us feeling as if we do not measure up, that we need to do and be more, more, more. And nothing could be less damaging to your Thanksgiving Day (and your life) than chasing after perfection. Dream big, yes. And then think reasonably. Prepare sensibly. Don’t expect so much of yourself and your family that the joy of the day is lost in that expectation.

I wasn’t there, of course, but I am reasonably sure that the first Thanksgiving participants did not overwhelm themselves with concern as to how clean their homes were, or how lovely the table was, or what everyone was wearing. I’m pretty sure they worked together to create a feast that they also sat and enjoyed together – they celebrated their survival and they were grateful for one another. So should it be in your home.

Include your kids in that preparation. The “work” of the day should not rest upon just one.  The work this Thanksgiving, just like the work at the original Thanksgiving, should be shared by all, especially your children. Ask that they serve, and not expect to be served. As to what that will look like will vary from home to home, child to child. Only you know at what point and to what extent to include them in the process. But include them. Assign them a task and when possible, let them prepare with you. Allow them the pride of participation. And as you go, if something on your “list” seems overwhelming, allow yourself the freedom to mark it off. Let go of the pressure of perfection. Don’t just “get through” the preparation.” Make it part of the celebration!


For the sake of argument, let’s assume that most people have the normal cook top and range. That means four burners and one oven. Let’s also assume that most people like the traditional baked turkey. Baked turkey plus one oven equals perfect timing. Your average 15 pound bird takes approximately 4 hours to bake. That means that there is not much time or space to do anything else. The menu needs to reflect that.

Cooking this many things with that many people can be a daunting task. Never perform such a feat without a little libation. Wine, beer—whatever works! My personal favorite is a nice VSOP Calvados Brandy, a perfect fall sipping drink. Do not drink too much; you will need your wits and motor skills. Drink enough to remember that this is a celebration. You know your limits, so stick to them.

Since the turkey is the centerpiece, make its preparation paramount. If you are buying it frozen, give the bird 3 days to defrost in the fridge (Sunday night). Brining is the new rage, so why not let the bird soak in water and salt and whatever else you would like for 24 hours (Wednesday morning). Remove the bird from the brine and pat dry before seasoning it. Don’t forget to spread the flavors all around (Thursday morning). The bird should be in the oven by 9 AM and pulled at 1 PM. Let it rest 20-30 minutes and then slice away! Get your knives sharpened this weekend and try to avoid using your old man’s electric knife. That sucker shreds mean, which is good, as we’re hoping for sliced turkey and notpulled fowl.

Make the casseroles ahead of time. Schedule things appropriately. Even if you have to use a pen and paper: it’s better to be organized and confident while cooking than overwhelmed and unnerved. Remember: the more exact the plan, the better the meal will turn out.

photo by joebeone

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Matt Sadler

In the hopes of experiencing the perfect meal, Matt “The Marinara” Sadler searches the foothills of Manakin, the barrios of Chesterfield, and the corners of Oregon Hill only to realize that he is easily satisfied.

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