Thanksgiving Dinner: Make it Easy on Yourself!
easy Thanksgiving dinner - Thanksgiving dinner ideas
I’ve been going over my old Thanksgiving recipes this week. I’ve also been searching for new Thanksgiving recipes. I always provide a traditional Thanksgiving dinner menu, but I also like to include at least one or two new dishes. Wow. I can’t believe Thanksgiving is next month! Where did this year go? My dad always told me that when I got older, time would pass more quickly. I didn’t believe him when I was younger, but after I hit the half-century mark, I began to understand what he meant. Now, a month seems to go by in a flash, and turkey day is almost upon us, so I’m already planning this year’s Thanksgiving dinner.
We always have Thanksgiving dinner at my house. My three daughters, their husbands, and my eight grandchildren attend. Oftentimes, we have additional guests, too. A few of my friends and/or a few of my daughters’ friends might join us for Thanksgiving dinner. We always have a huge spread! My Thanksgiving dinner menu usually includes smoked turkey, fried turkey, smoked ham, barbecued pork roast, cornbread dressing, giblet gravy, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, squash casserole, rice and mushroom casserole, garden peas, sweet potato casserole, corn casserole, succotash, broccoli casserole, cranberry sauce, yeast rolls, congealed salad, fruit salad, iced tea, and soft drinks. That’s our traditional Thanksgiving dinner menu, but like I said, I usually add a new dish or two.
Of course, we also have lots of desserts with our Thanksgiving menu. Thanksgiving desserts always include our old favorites, like my no-bake layered pumpkin-cream cheese pie, sweet potato pie, and pecan pie. Sometimes our Thanksgiving dinner menu will also include red velvet cake, carrot cake, Italian cream cake, or a chocolate fudge cake with twelve skinny layers.
I’m retired now, so I don’t stress too much about preparing Thanksgiving dinner. When I was working, however, I found it all but impossible to do the entire Thanksgiving menu by myself. There just weren’t enough hours in the day, so I had to come up with a strategy and some new Thanksgiving dinner ideas. They worked so well that I still use them, even though I’m retired!
Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner
If you wish to celebrate the holiday but aren’t American, you might not be familiar with what a traditional Thanksgiving menu includes. If you’re an American, you can skip this part – you already know it. The Thanksgiving dinner menu usually includes a turkey. The turkey can be baked in the oven, smoked on a smoker, or fried in a turkey fryer.
A traditional Thanksgiving dinner menu also includes stuffing or dressing. For many years, this concoction was usually cooked inside the cavity of the turkey, but due to health concerns, many people have stopped this practice. Now, the dressing or stuffing is often cooked in a separate dish. Stuffing and dressing are usually made with bread crumbs or with cornbread, however, some people prefer rice stuffing.
An American Thanksgiving menu usually includes a sweet potato dish, too. Sweet potatoes are usually abundant in the fall, and they’re a lovely orange color, which goes along with the Thanksgiving theme. Popular sweet potato dishes include candied sweet potatoes, sweet potato pudding, sweet potato casserole, sweet potato soufflé, and sweet potato pie.
Cranberries almost always make an appearance on a traditional Thanksgiving dinner menu, and these tart, tasty berries can be used in a variety of ways. Some of these include cranberry sauce, cranberry muffins, cranberry bread, cranberry jelly, cranberry pie, and cranberry relish.
Another dish that’s a popular item on a traditional Thanksgiving menu is succotash. Succotash is an old Native American food that’s made with lima beans and whole kernel corn. Many Native Americans used to season their succotash with dog meat, but nowadays, salt pork is substituted.
Other typical dishes you might find on a traditional Thanksgiving dinner menu includes acorn squash, butternut squash, Hubbard squash, green beans, asparagus, macaroni and cheese, broccoli, peas, Brussels sprouts, and white potatoes. You might also find crescent rolls, cornbread muffins, tossed salads, ambrosia, or mincemeat pie. Some dishes are regional. For example, in the South, many people include greens cooked with ham hocks on their Thanksgiving menu.
Non Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas
There’s no law that says you have to serve a traditional Thanksgiving dinner! I have a friend whose family doesn’t like turkey and dressing, so she never cooks a traditional Thanksgiving dinner menu. Instead, they usually have grilled steaks or seafood for Thanksgiving dinner.
If you want to break with tradition, try some new Thanksgiving dinner ideas. If you’re expecting a crowd, it’ll be easier on you if you cook a big portion of meat. You could cook a beef prime rib roast, a pork loin, a Boston butt, a beef brisket, or a baked ham.
Other Thanksgiving dinner ideas you might want to consider are boiled shrimp or roasted oysters. These can be cooked outdoors, and part of the fun is in the cooking itself. Shrimp can be boiled in a big pot over a propane burner, and oysters can be roasted on a large grill.
Delegate your Thanksgiving dinner!
Don’t try to be a hero or a martyr when it comes to making Thanksgiving dinner. Learn to delegate! I do, and it’s made for an easy Thanksgiving dinner. One thing that really helps me is for my husband to cook all the meat outdoors. He cooks a large turkey, a cured ham, and a pork roast on the smoker. He also fries a smaller turkey or two in the outdoor fryer. Not only does this save me a lot of time and energy, it also frees up my oven for other Thanksgiving recipes.
Each of my three daughters brings two dishes to our Thanksgiving dinner, too. That’s six dishes that I don’t have to make. When other guests come to share Thanksgiving dinner with us, they always ask what they can bring. I don’t know if this is just a “southern thing,” or if it’s a common practice everywhere, but I’m not shy. I usually give them something simple to bring, like tea, ice, paper plates, a salad, or a pie or cake from the bakery. You’ll find that even simple things that you don’t have to deal with really help you manage your time.
Plan Ahead for Thanksgiving Dinner
As I already mentioned, I plan my Thanksgiving dinner menu far in advance. I write down everything I want to serve, and I made a grocery list. Starting in October, I begin picking up some of the non-perishable items I’ll need for Thanksgiving dinner. As I buy them, I check them off my list.
Another way I save time is to make my cornbread in advance and store it in the freezer. I let it thaw the day before Thanksgiving, so assembling and cooking my dressing doesn’t take long.
I also make and assemble my casseroles the day before Thanksgiving. All I have to do to them on Thanksgiving morning is to pop them in the oven. Not only does this save time on the big day, I’ve also discovered that allowing the casseroles to sit in the fridge overnight improves their flavor. If you’re using any crunchy toppings on your casseroles, don’t add them until just before cooking. They’ll get soggy sitting in the refrigerator overnight.
There’s no reason to kill yourself making your Thanksgiving dinner! If you don’t have anyone to help out with the meal, buy a couple of ready-made dishes from a deli, a supermarket, a bakery, or a restaurant. Purchasing just one or two dishes can be a big help. You’ll find that by following some of these suggestions, you won’t be so stressed out and tired when the big event occurs. You’ll actually get to enjoy your guests and your Thanksgiving dinner for a change!
More about Thanksgiving:
- Southern Culinary Arts: The best smoked ham ever!
How to make the best smoked ham you'll ever eat. Period.
- Southern Culinary Arts: Oyster Dressing Casserole
This is a great recipe for oyster dressing!
- Cook the Perfect Turkey!
Tips for turkey cooking, including how to brine a turkey. Instructional photos and videos are included.
- Easy Thanksgiving Table Centerpieces, with Photos
Ideas for easy Thanksgiving decorations. Thanksgiving pictures included.
- How to Fry a Turkey the Southern Way
How to fry a turkey. This is a great fried turkey recipe!
- Southern Culinary Arts: Old-Fashioned Southern Cornbread Dressing: Step by Step
The best cornbread dressing - EVER! I take your hand and walk you through the entire process!
- Thanksgiving Appetizers
Great ideas for Thanksgiving appetizers. Photos are included.
- Southern Culinary Arts: The Best Smoked Turkey Ever!
- Make Your Own Thanksgiving Wreath: Inexpensive and Easy!
Tips and ideas for easy Thanksgiving wreaths.
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