Thanksgiving for me has always been a great time to share a table with my family and close friends. As someone who likes to cook and eat, Thanksgiving is the ultimate dinner. It’s a time to put your diet on hold and enjoy the goodness that the dinner will provide.

While Thanksgiving has its distracters who say that it’s over the top and the work that is put into your holiday festivities is way more than the reward of the dinner, I couldn’t disagree more. The old saying is you get out of what you put in, with that said, to insure a great Thanksgiving experience it’s a good idea to prepare thoroughly.

I like to share with you my routine in preparing for the big feast. My friend says that I’m like General Patton with plans, flank maneuvers and attack strategy. He’s pretty close to the truth of that analogy.

Family With Grandparents Enjoying Thanksgiving Meal At Table
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Big Joe's preparation for Thanksgiving

First, you’ll want to get a good idea of a guest list and realize that may change. Life happens and sometimes we have cancellations or additions to our table.

I always prepare for one or two extra dinners just in case someone has no place to go on Thanksgiving or one of your guests asks to bring a last-minute guest. If you get a cancellation or two, that’s OK: your leftovers can go to your guests with extra for the freezer for another reminder of that Thanksgiving goodness.

Second, put your menu together, from the appetizers that you want to the desserts and don’t forget to add the necessities to make a turkey sandwich later that night. You can also make note of your guest’s dietary restrictions. My nephew and a guest or two are vegetarians so that I know my menu will also reflect a few vegetarian choices throughout the day that they will enjoy.

Walmart bags filled with groceries
Walmart bags filled with groceries (Walmart)
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Don't wait until final week to shop

Third, once the menu is set start your master grocery list based on the ingredients for each dish you’ll need for the incredible dinner you’ll be preparing. I like to change out the spices that I need for Thanksgiving so that I have optimum freshness for the big day.

To ease your shopping experience add items into specific departments like dairy, produce, meats, etc., and it’s great to put those categories in order based on how your supermarket is laid out, it makes one trip easier than back and forth all the aisles.

Don’t forget to take inventory of wine and alcohol along with the mixers and fruit for cocktails, soda or apple cider for the kids and those who don’t drink.

Once your master list is completed you can shop for the non-perishables way in advance of Thanksgiving. I carve out a section of my pantry that becomes Thanksgiving central and place my perishables in that section ready to go. Shopping early puts less stress on you than shopping a day or two before Thanksgiving with a shopping cart or two piled high along with the long lines at the supermarket.

Make lots of room!

I like to clean out the fridge to make room for all side dishes and turkey. I’ll make a few sides the day before Thanksgiving so I can do clean up and get ready before the house and kitchen become a little hectic on the actual day.

I have a big rule: if possible, take the night before Thanksgiving and use it to welcome your family or friends who may be coming from out of town. It’s a great night to grab a pizza and a couple of beers and catch up.

I hope you enjoy Thanksgiving as much as I do. In the coming weekends, I’ll be posting my recipes for sides, turkey and gravy. Good luck and have fun and have a very happy Thanksgiving!

The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 weekend host Big Joe Henry. Any opinions expressed are Big Joe’s own.

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