Cooking in a small kitchen is difficult enough on a regular day — which is exactly why cooking a big family meal like Thanksgiving dinner in one can be absolutely catastrophic. And if you think that’s being dramatic, just imagine trying to cook a whole turkey, several side dishes, a couple of desserts, and appetizers with little to no counter space. Or maybe you’ve experienced this yourself already.
Either way, if you’re planning to prepare your next Thanksgiving dinner in a small space, you’ll need these eight tips to help you hang on to your sanity.
Planning ahead is always a good idea, regardless of the occasion. When it comes to Thanksgiving dinners, there are several things you can do to plan ahead.
First, write a list of all the side dishes, desserts, and main course foods you plan to serve. Are you going to make it all from scratch? Will you be buying some things pre-made? Knowing what you need to do ahead of time will make the whole process much smoother.
When you hit the grocery store, it’s important to shop smart. Make a list of all the ingredients you’ll need for each dish you plan to prepare, as well as one for the ingredients you already have on hand. That way, you can go in feeling confident that you won’t accidentally buy too much. Before you go shopping, clear space in your fridge, freezer, and cupboards for the items you plan to purchase.
Keep It Simple
While cooking a million appetizers, dishes, and desserts from scratch might sound like a good idea, actually doing it can be really stressful.
While you’ll obviously want to make sure there’s enough food for everyone you’ve invited, do yourself a favor and keep things simple. Your appetizers don’t need to be Pinterest perfect, after all. Simple snacks like a vegetable tray, cheese and crackers, and pre-made frozen goodies you can just pop in the oven are all great options that your guests are sure to enjoy.
You should also stick to simple cooking tools. A cutting board, knife, peeler, and masher should see you through the entire meal. When you start bringing out food processors, mixers, and blenders, you end up with a lot more (usually unnecessary) dirty dishes.
Clear Some Space
Before you start cooking, make sure to clear off all your countertops. Most people keep a lot of things up there, including knife blocks, toasters, coffee pots, jars of cooking utensils, and fruit bowls. All of that can be put away for now. You’ll need as much free space as you can possibly get when cooking a large meal like this in a small kitchen.
Clean As You Go
One of the best habits you can get into as a home chef is cleaning up as you go. Don’t let wrappers, food scraps and paper towels clutter your workspace. Instead, have a bowl for food scraps off to the side that you can grab when needed. You should also keep a bin nearby to toss any garbage into as you go, as well as a small recycle bin.
Cleaning up as you go not only keeps your work space clean and free of clutter, but it will also make cleaning up at the end much, much easier.
Prepare Side Dishes Early
Cook as many side dishes as you can as early as you possibly can. This includes desserts and appetizers. The less you have to do on the day of Thanksgiving, the better!
A lot of things can be cooked well ahead of time and warmed up quickly on the day of, including pies, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes. Alternatively, you can measure out all the ingredients you’ll need ahead of time and have them all ready to mix and cook come the actual day.
One thing you must cook the day of is the turkey. Once it’s fully prepared and placed in the oven, it requires very little attention, but at least having some of the other items prepped and ready will give you some time to actually socialize with your guests.
Strategize Cooking Times
In order for the entire meal to be hot and ready at the same time, you’ll have to be strategic about your cooking times. Start by determining the size of the turkey, which will help you figure out how long it will take to cook. Whenever the turkey is done is typically the time you’ll want everything else to be done by.
Multitasking in the kitchen is a skill that can be developed over time, but having cooking times for side dishes planned out and written down can greatly speed up the process. If you know mashed potatoes take half an hour, plan to put them on the stove about half an hour before the turkey is estimated to be done. Don’t forget to factor prep times, like the time it’ll take you to actually mash the potatoes, into your calculations, too.
Ask for Assistance
If you have a lot of people coming over for Thanksgiving dinner, you can always ask each family to bring a side dish or dessert. Ask one person to bring a pie and another to bring a veggie tray or cranberry sauce. There are a surprising amount of items that your guests will have no problem bringing along to help, and having them do so sure does help!