Plan for an Unforgettable Family Feast

By Michelle Chalkey

If there are two things we love around here, it’s food and family — it’s in our name, after all! The holidays are a great time to celebrate both as we make new memories and reminisce with our loved ones. And what would the Thanksgiving holiday be without enjoying new recipes and traditional family favorites?

Unfortunately, “the most wonderful time of the year” can also be accompanied by stress and anxiety, especially if you are hosting your friends and family. From grocery shopping to decorating, there is plenty to do during Thanksgiving, and it’s easy to forget one or two things on your to-do list. If you're feeling behind in your planning, follow these 10 tips to pull off a successful, stress-free Thanksgiving feast!

  1. Roll call. About a week before Thanksgiving dinner is the perfect time to double-check how many mouths you'll be feeding. Call up your family members, and while you're at it, ask if anyone is planning on bringing a dish. Be sure to account for the number of kids attending, as well.

  2. Plan a farmer-friendly menu. Iowa farmers lead the nation in producing corn, soybeans, pork and eggs, all of which can be incorporated into tasty Thanksgiving dishes. Impress guests and pay homage to our agricultural roots with farmer-inspired recipes like Roasted Pork with Raspberry Sauce or a Cornbread, Sausage and Apple Stuffing.

  3. Make your list and check it twice! Whipping cream, corn, tofurkey for your vegetarian cousin — write out every ingredient you'll need to make your menu a hit. Check your local Hy-Vee ad for great sales on your Thanksgiving staples. It’s easy to get carried away while shopping for your Thanksgiving meal, so set a grocery budget to avoid overspending.  Also, make sure to clear room in the fridge for all of your extra groceries. Your fridge will be full!

  4. Don't get caught without the gravy boat! Have you thought through whether you’ve got the e proper pots, pans and utensils you'll need to prepare and serve your Thanksgiving meal? Locate your deviled egg tray, muffin tins and roasting pans ahead of time, so you're ready to go on the big day. This also goes for serving ware. Make sure you’ve got the right platters, gravy boats or ladles that you’ll need to dish up your delicious meal.

  5. Safety first! While your centerpiece meat may look ready to devour on the outside, the inside could be a whole different story (Clark Griswold knows this all too well). The best way to test for doneness is to use a meat thermometer. Our friends at Iowa Pork Producers say a digital, instant-read thermometer is a must-have for every kitchen. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat for an accurate reading of the temperature. Take a look at our infographic for more information about proper cooking temperatures.

  6. Don't go cold turkey. Depending on the size of your turkey, thawing can take up to five or six days. To ensure food safety, thaw your turkey in the refrigerator or in cold water. Never let it thaw on the counter! A frozen turkey needs about 24 hours in the refrigerator for every 4 to 5 pounds or approximately five hours per pound. Check out the infographic to allow the appropriate defrosting time for your turkey size.

  7. Cheat with meal prep. Make Thanksgiving Day a breeze by preparing as much as you can ahead of time. The day before, boil your eggs for appetizers or salads, prep your pies (save even more time with this delicious Four-Minute Caramel Apple Pie recipe!) or pick up your favorite dessert from the Machine Shed Restaurant. You’ll be thanking yourself for preparing as many Thanksgiving staples ahead of time as possible.

  8. Make it a family effort. Get your family in on the holiday fun! Put your little helpers to work in setting the table or getting crafty with DIY place settings. Spend some time educating the kids on traditional family recipes or the history behind the holiday.

  9. Get your leftover game on. Don’t want the good eats to end? They don’t have to! Enjoy getting creative with your leftovers, like this Ham and Cheese Frittata that makes for a great power breakfast before Black Friday shopping, or these kid-approved Turkey Salad Cucumber Boats.

  10. Relax and be grateful. Don't forget the most important part of the holiday — being grateful for family and food! From the family members around your table to the Iowa farmers who helped put the food there, expressing gratitude for these blessings is perhaps the most important Thanksgiving checklist item.

With this Thanksgiving checklist, you’ll be sure to have a feast that’s a breeze. From all of us at the Iowa Food & Family Project, we hope your Thanksgiving is full of meaningful family moments and delicious, homegrown food!