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Your Guide to a Foolproof Thanksgiving

What Is Your Favorite Thanksgiving Shortcut?

Real Simple readers reveal their best time-saving tips.

pie with mixer and books on kitchen counterHector Manuel Sanchez

Plan Ahead

Thanksgiving is about sharing the workload as well as the fun and the food. I list all the dinner-preparation jobs by time slot and invite everyone to help with specific tasks. No one feels as if he is "slacking" when it's his time to be out of the kitchen, and no one has to be the kitchen martyr. Children can help with simple jobs. Anyone who hasn't helped before dinner is assigned to kitchen-cleanup duty, after which dessert is served.
Cinda Gorman
Cincinnati, Ohio

I make lasagna the week before Thanksgiving and freeze it. Although I'm not Italian, I figure Amerigo Vespucci was here before the Pilgrims―plus it's easy.
Linda Ross
Utopia, Texas

I cut, slice, dice, and peel all the vegetables a day or two prior to Thanksgiving, place them in zipper bags, and stack them flat in the refrigerator on top of one another or on top of other items, which saves space. Then, when Thanksgiving Day comes, all I need to do is place them in their pots, pans, or baking dishes for cooking. Because all the tedious work has been done in advance, I can concentrate on the turkey.
Frances O'Neill
Alpine, New Jersey

I have had years where I was scrambling for my 10th linen napkin or something was missing, like a salad fork, moments before my company arrived. The best shortcut for me, which always alleviates a lot of stress, is to set the table a couple of days early. It's nice to wake up on Thanksgiving morning and come out to see the table looking beautiful. Even if your turkey is still frozen and you have 14 pounds of Brie but no butter for the mashed potatoes, it makes you feel as if you did something right.
Maria Walsh
Albany, New York

Cook the turkey the day before. All the stress of having the perfect turkey can make you crazy, so I cook it a day ahead, when I have plenty of time. I carve the meat and put it in a dish with turkey or chicken stock poured over it to keep it moist. Then, on Thanksgiving Day, all I have to do is reheat it. Saves a ton of time―you can get up at 7 a.m. instead of 5.
Amanda Morris
Redlands, California

A day or two before Thanksgiving, I prepare the dinner table and I get out all the platters, serving bowls, and utensils that will be used. I label them with slips of paper: mashed potatoes, stuffing, etc. This keeps me organized in the last few minutes before serving everything, and it makes things easier for my kitchen helpers. It also prevents the need for last-minute searches for the right bowl or utensil.
Justine Wischman
Elma, New York

Over the years, I have collected recipes from friends and various cookbooks to make the perfect Thanksgiving dinner. I scanned all my favorite recipes and made a PDF so that instead of trying to find them every year, I can just print them out. It makes writing my grocery list easy and helps me time the dinner to come together all at once. I never forget a vital ingredient, and when someone wants a recipe, it's simple to print out.
Suzanne Crolley
Bourbon, Missouri

My most reliable Thanksgiving shortcut is to prepare all my side dishes a couple of days ahead in pretty casserole dishes. An hour before the turkey is ready, I start to bring the casseroles to room temperature. While the turkey is resting out of the oven and I'm preparing the gravy, I heat the casseroles. They go from oven to table―no last-minute potatoes to mash or extra serving dishes to find.
Nancy Vaughan
Southbridge, Massachusetts

I make the mashed potatoes early in the morning. I peel, cook, and mash them, then put half a cup of milk in the bottom of my Crock-Pot and keep my potatoes in there. A few hours before eating, I turn on the Crock-Pot; the potatoes come out fluffy and hot.
Regina Dugan
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


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