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Adlen Robinson: Follow these steps to make Thanksgiving Day dinner a success

In two weeks, most of us will be busy doing last minute things before the big Thanksgiving Day turkey dinner. Whether you are cooking for a crowd or just for your immediate family, turkey day dinner is always a big production. 

Everybody has high expectations and if you are at the helm of the turkey ship, you need a rock-solid plan of action to ensure success. Are you ready to firm up your plan? Let’s go! 

• Firm up your menu in writing. No matter how creative I think I am going to be for Thanksgiving dinner, I almost always opt for the traditional family favorites — Roasted turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole and rolls are pretty much always on the menu. Of course, for dessert there is apple pie, and often pecan and pumpkin pie as well. 

• Gather your recipes. Either print out what recipes you are using or write them out on paper. It is so much easier to cook from a recipe on a piece of paper than using a bulky cookbook. Having the recipes all together (perhaps keep them in a file, along with your timeline for prepping), keeps you focused and on track. 

• Make your lists. Using your now all-together recipes, compile several lists. One list should contain all non-perishable items, and one list should contain perishable items. 

• Create your timeline. This is so important when cooking such a big meal and keeping your sanity. If you purchase a frozen turkey, you need to buy it in advance, enough to have time for it to thaw properly. If you buy a fresh one, you might need to reserve it. 

Plan now to make sure you will have enough room in the refrigerator for the turkey and everything else you will have for the big meal. Your timeline should include things such as when to prepare each dish. What things can you make ahead? Cranberry sauce can be prepared days in advance. Ditto for cornbread for stuffing or dressing. You can even chop onions or other vegetables ahead of time — just make sure you label them in plastic baggies so you can easily retrieve them when you are ready to cook. 

• Inventory your serving bowls and platters. Now is a good time to pull out your serving bowls, platters and utensils. I like to use sticky notes to label what dish will go in which serving bowl or platter. This is helpful on the big day, but also lets you know if you need to buy or borrow a platter or bowl for serving. 

• Decide on seating. Depending on the crowd you will be hosting, you might need an extra table or chairs. Now is the time to figure that out — not the day before when you are cooking and cleaning. Are you using a tablecloth that might need to be ironed? Now is a good time to take care of that. 

• Make a timeline for the big day. No matter how many people you are cooking for, Thanksgiving Day can be a whirlwind. I like to have a timeline for the entire day, so I can stay organized. What time do you want to put the turkey in the oven? Can something be cooked beforehand and then reheated while the turkey is resting and being carved? Can some things be served warm or at room temperature? Can a dish be cooked in the slow cooker, freeing up the oven for the turkey? 

• Décor and garnishes. Now is the time to think about what centerpiece you will use, if you need to stock up on candles, and what you need to garnish dishes. Add anything you need to buy to your shopping list. 

• Entertaining young children. If there will be young children present, think about a few activities to keep them busy. I used to cover the children’s table with butcher paper and set out crayons, markers and stickers for them to decorate their table. You can also plan a scavenger hunt to keep them active and outside while you are getting dinner ready. 

• Don’t forget music. Now is a great time to put together a play list. Nothing completes the ambiance of a gathering like music playing in the background. Of course, I always want Christmas music playing — but whatever you like, crank up the tunes. 

• Figure out your schedule for shopping and cleaning. Look at your calendar to decide when the best day is for shopping and cleaning. You can go ahead and buy your perishable list now and just keep everything together —perhaps in your dining room until you begin cooking. Maybe set aside a day the weekend before Thanksgiving Day to knock out the bulk of your cleaning list — solicit help now.

Above all, remember Thanksgiving Day is all about counting our blessings and being thankful. Don’t let preparing a meal stress you out. Doing some ahead of time prepping is sure to help you feel ready and organized for the big day. Be sure to look for Thanksgiving Day recipes and tips in the newspaper’s food columns. 

South Forsyth resident Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at