TTU nutrition professor offers tips for planning ahead this Thanksgiving

Advanced planning is the secret ingredient for making memorable Thanksgiving feasts with minimal stress for Cathy Hix-Cunningham, a professor of food, nutrition and dietetics at Tennessee Tech University.

“Thanksgiving isn’t about simply sitting down to a meal of turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie. Creating memories and establishing traditions is what makes Thanksgiving — and any other grand guest meal — truly feel like a holiday,” Hix-Cunningham said.

“Although food is central to the celebration, it serves as a symbol of the love we want to put into nourishing and nurturing everyone who sits down at our table, but if creating that meal causes stress, then it’s not really a holiday for us — it’s just another day of work,” she continued.

That’s why she begins planning ahead and making advanced preparations up to two weeks before the holiday — but not everyone will need that much advanced planning.

In fact, planning ahead even three to five days is better than not planning ahead at all.

“It all depends on the level of organization you’re hoping to achieve, how many guests you’re expecting, and the number of menu items — and your menu is central when it comes to preparing any special occasion meal,” Hix-Cunningham said.

She advises writing it in the order of food preparation — rather than writing it in the order the dishes will be served.

That method makes it easier to calculate the total preparation time of the entire meal and to make and freeze some menu items — such as piecrust or unbaked apple and pecan pies — in advance.

“Once you get your menu in order, back it up with the actual recipes for the items you plan to make,” she said. “You can check multiple recipes for the same ingredients to figure out the total quantity of those ingredients you will need.”

Many different recipes, for example, include chopped onions, which can be prepared ahead of time and frozen. “Or if you want to save even more time and don’t want to have to chop your own onions, you can buy them already chopped and frozen from the grocery store,” Hix-Cunningham said.

After looking at menus and recipes to determine what ingredients you will need for your meal preparation, you’re ready to go to the grocery store.

“I plan a holiday meal like it was the invasion of Normandy, so I print out a Thanksgiving grocery checklist from the web site of my preferred store before I even think about going shopping,” she said.

Web sites of most grocery store franchises will offer such lists, some itemized by which products can be found in which aisles.

“The whole reason for such detailed holiday planning is to make sure Thanksgiving will include some quality leisure time with family and friends,” Hix-Cunningham said.

“Enlisting others to help you with the meal preparation — from shopping, to cooking, to bringing potluck dishes — can offer its own brand of sharing quality time,” she continued.

Planned-over meals are also an excellent way to share quality time and leftover menu items, Hix-Cunningham said, because they offer twice the benefit for half the effort.

• Extra mashed potatoes can be used to make potato pancakes.

• Leftover salad can be blended with V-8 juice and chopped onions to make a tangy gazpacho soup that can be served either hot or cold.

• And extra dressing can be mixed with a beaten egg and wetted with broth or milk and baked for 15 minutes at 350 degrees to make a type of croquettes.

“Of course, there are all types of dishes you can make with leftover turkey — from soups and salads to sandwiches and other recipes,” she said. “In fact, you can substitute turkey in virtually any chicken recipe.”

Creative thinking can be used to salvage even most menu items that don’t turn out as planned. All that’s often required is discovering a different way of serving the item.

“If you’ve got a pecan pie that doesn’t set or gel properly, for instance, just scrape it out of the crust and serve it as a warm sauce over low-fat ice cream,” Hix-Cunningham said.

For optimum convenience and affordability, entire precooked Thanksgiving meals can be ordered from many grocery stores.

“It’s not the same as having a home-cooked meal, but if saving time and money are priorities, precooked meals might be the right choice. They’re definitely more convenient and generally less expensive than buying the individual ingredients required for preparing your own holiday meal,” she said. “In the end, it’s not what you cook but how you celebrate the holiday that makes it memorable anyway.”
Apply Now