FoodHow to Plan the Perfect Thanksgiving Menu


How to Plan the Perfect Thanksgiving Menu

Thanksgiving: the one day of the year on which menus (like these stunning, unique options from MustHaveMenus) are more important than ever. No pressure, though! When hosting Thanksgiving, there might be a lot on your plate (pun intended), but planning the perfect Thanksgiving menu is doable with some careful planning.

From individual guest preferences to cooking schedules to impressive aesthetic touches, we’ve got some life-saving tips for creating the perfect Thanksgiving menu and hosting the holiday right.

Ace the Aesthetics

While food is the main appeal of any dinner gathering, providing an aesthetically pleasing dining experience is also an important part of hosting, especially on Thanksgiving. Think about it — on which other holiday do you order a new outfit and take hours to set the table precisely just for a meal? 

When planning out your Thanksgiving recipes and cooking schedules, don’t forget to think about your guests’ experience and make an effort to create something truly special. Start off strong before appetizers even roll out by placing tasteful name cards at guests’ seats. Use good silverware, quality napkins, and linens, and consider purchasing holiday-specific candles or centerpieces. 

Add an extra-impressive touch with on-theme, aesthetically pleasing Thanksgiving menus from MustHaveMenus for each setting. Use elegant fonts and autumn colors to set the mood and give your guests a truly special Thanksgiving dinner experience. Providing menus also saves you from having to give a long-winded answer when guests ask you, “What’s on the menu?”

Consider Cooking Times 

A typical Thanksgiving meal consists of several courses or at least several dishes. There’s the big turkey, of course, but there are also lots of side dishes and starters, and desserts to consider as well. With such hearty, plentiful meals, it can take all day long just to consume all of the foods.

Creating a loose cooking schedule for Thanksgiving will save you lots of stress on the holiday itself. Since the turkey will likely be your biggest project – the average bird takes around three hours to cook — it’s best to plan around that. If you don’t want to be in the kitchen prepping your dinner vegetables while the rest of your guests are getting chummy over their appetizers, start the day before. Select dishes that can either be prepared fully or partly ahead of time, and don’t forget to consider your refrigerator and oven capacities.

If you have a lot of guests and really want to minimize your stress, feel free to inscribe your rough dining schedule on guests’ menus themselves. That way, you won’t feel like you’re rushing anyone through a meal, and guests will know what to look forward to next. It’ll take away that awkward glance guests give each other between courses that means, “Are we ever going to eat that turkey?”

Get a Final Headcount

When you’re serving so much food, it’s important to know just how many people you’ll need to feed. It’s better to cook more than less, as you can always send your guests home with leftovers (and it’s a savvy idea to have leftover containers out and ready the day of!), but excessive amounts of uneaten foods might mean you’ve wasted money and lots of valuable family time cooking for mouths that were never going to be there. 

On the other hand, running out of pumpkin pie too quickly could leave you feeling defeated in the end. It’s impossible to cook the perfect portions of food when serving several guests at once, but getting a final guest headcount at least a week in advance will help you narrow down your measurements to a more exact number. It’ll also help you decide whether you’ll serve a buffet-style meal, platters, or individual plates.

Think Tradition versus Personal Preference

RSVPs and final headcounts do more than just help you portion dishes. When you know exactly who is going to be attending your Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll be able to curate a menu that’s catered specifically to the palates of the guests you’re feeding.

Be sure to ask all guests about their dietary restrictions and make impossible-to-forget reminders to yourself about them. You might need to prepare some individual dishes, or you might be pleasantly surprised to find that several of your guests share the same allergies or restrictions. This will help you plan a tight cooking schedule.

Thanksgiving is known for its well-established roster of traditional dishes like turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and pie. While keeping the classics usually never hurts, it might not make sense if your family is one that simply doesn’t like stuffing.

If you’re making lots of foods and you know that a majority of your guests don’t enjoy certain dishes, don’t feel like you have to cook certain things for the sake of tradition. The Thanksgiving gods will understand, and you’ll have extra time and space to create a dish you know everyone really loves — no matter how on- or off-theme it may be! It’s your Thanksgiving menu, and you’re allowed to customize it how you see fit. 

Make a Menu for a Memorable Thanksgiving

Spending time with loved ones on Thanksgiving is enough to make the holiday special and enjoyable. While the day will likely be a memorable one regardless of your menu, why not make it a holiday people remember for all the right reasons? 

Instead of, “Remember the year Janie served a 6-inch vegan pumpkin pie to 14 meat-eaters?” Let your Thanksgiving be fondly reminisced upon with something like, “Remember when we all fought over who’d get to take home the last three cranberry brie bites?” Luckily, your guests will have pretty Thanksgiving memento menus to take home and throw in their scrapbooks!

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