Thanksgiving Menu Planning

by Cate on November 21, 2017

If you’re like me, it’s possible you haven’t fully planned your Thanksgiving menu yet, let alone even shopped for it. Although I don’t host our family Thanksgiving, I operate the same way with any holiday, event, occasion, or cooking class I host … I plan the menu at the last minute. My nine-year-old keeps trying to tell me that it might be less stressful if I planned and shopped for such things a few days before, and since she and her brother have a first row seat to the whirling dervish of stress that I become on the day of, she’s absolutely right.

T - cranberry conserve

But I’ve found I thrive under pressure, despite the fact that it seriously drives me nuts.

What can I say?

So if you’re like me, you might need a little help with your menu. I’m here for you!

No matter the meal, appetizers are always my favorite part, and my mom’s too. Like, I’d much rather have a meal consisting entirely of appetizers and “picky food,” than the main event. It’s just so much more fun!

Spinach Cheese Squares

Spinach Cheese SquaresCheese Delights and Sausage Cheese Balls are all tried-and-trues and have made regular appearances since forever in my home, for many different occasions, and with good reason. The Spinach Cheese Squares and Cheese Delights are recipes that my Mom made for us growing up, and they never fail to disappoint.  I love that our kids (mine and my sister’s) are eating things that we ate as kids ourselves.  The recipes are easy, and delicious and take just a few minutes of prep, which is exactly what you need on the big day. I’ve made the Spinach Cheese Squares for many Cabot cheese tastings that I’ve done and, seriously, everyone raves about them. I mean, there’s a reason we’re still making a recipe that’s been around since the 70s.

Side Dishes
Outside of appetizers, I can also get behind having multiple side dishes on the table. Maybe it’s because I love most vegetables … I can’t even think of one I don’t like (well, maybe kale…), and also, let’s be honest, part of the fun of cooking for the holidays is feasting on the leftovers for the days that follow. Sweet Potato Souffle first hit our table six years ago, and it’s been true love ever since. Even if you don’t like sweet potatoes, I think you’ll love this. I mean, it’s like dessert, but a side dish, so not. I’ve also made it half with the nuts and half with marshmallows, to appeal to everyone at the table, and it’s just as delicious either way (or both ways, depending on your perspective).


This Cranberry Conserve has been hitting our table for, like, ever, and I’ve already made it for Thursday. A chef friend was asking me how I made it today and he was trying to give me suggestions on how I could improve it. And I’m all, like, nooooooo …. you can’t give me suggestions if you haven’t even tasted it yet! Just trust me on this one. I hated cranberries until I started making this.
Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes are smooth and creamy and everything mashed potatoes should be. Total comfort food, and everything Thanksgiving should be, and bonus points for getting something checked off your list ahead of time. You can also check out a Cheddar and Chives version I created for the folks at Bangor Daily News last year right here.
Cranberry Broccoli Salad is super colorful, with a nice crunch, and very simple to pull together. And it has bacon in it, so, winning.
Emeril’s stuffing is a go-to, although I usually leave out the oysters since my family doesn’t care for them. Yep, they don’t know what they’re missing.

Grandma Ople’s Apple Pie is the easiest pie ever and your guests will think you slaved for hours. It will be our little secret. For a Friendsgiving I hosted a few years ago, I made individual versions – so fun.
Caramel Apple Cheesecake is one of those awesome, sneak-attack desserts because it looks like it took you hours to make, when, in fact, it didn’t. Delicious, even if you’re not a huge cheesecake fan.
This Cranberry Nantucket Pie is perfect when you’re looking for something a little different.
Many years ago, my Mom made Paula Deen’s Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle and it remains one of my favorites, and it looks so pretty in a clear glass trifle dish.
I created this Caramel and Toasted Coconut Rum Cake for the folks at Captain Morgan last year, and it is simple and perfect for Thanksgiving. Delicious and understated. You know, when you need something a little lighter at the end of your feast.

As for the main event, you’re on your own for turkey. I’ve actually never cooked a whole turkey! When I was married, that was my husband’s responsibility and he loved doing it. He would make it low and slow overnight, which freed up the oven for me on the big day. If you’re aiming to do something a little bit smaller, which I sometimes do when I have a craving for turkey because my kids aren’t the hugest fans, this turkey breast recipe from Emeril is delish.

For even more inspiration, check out this Thanksgiving-themed Pinterest board.

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