1. Clean out your fridge and your freezer. Okay I know that sounds like a weird first tip, but you are going to be buying a lot of food at the store and then you are going to have a lot of food leftover that you need to store. So go through your fridge and your freezer and get rid of things that have been in there too long and things you aren't going to eat, and then wipe down the inside. Not only will you feel better, but you will have a good start to your Thanksgiving preparations!
2. Make a menu and gather recipes. The first thing you really need to do before shopping is to make your menu. Do you want a salad, mashed potatoes, stuffing, turkey, pies, cranberry sauce, rolls, or anything else? You need to decide for sure which items you want to make first. Then, gather the recipes you are going to use. You can use Pinterest, your mom and grandma, your friends, or even Martha Stewart. I don't care. It's preferred that you use recipes that you can trust that people you know have actually made, or from somewhere that you can ask whoever made them questions if you have any, but it's not a huge deal. This part of planning can actually take the longest, and is one of the most important, so take your time.
3. Read recipes thoroughly. You want to make sure you understand the recipe and can actually handle doing what it says before you get the Thanksgiving day and have a problem. You want to make sure you know what all the tools you need are, how to do different techniques (like basting), and that there isn't some extra bottom portion to the recipe that you missed the first time reading through it. Why recipes do that sometimes, I don't know. But make sure you read them all the way through and you understand them before you get to cooking and realize you are completely in trouble.
4. Double-check your grocery list. Before you leave to do your big grocery shopping trip, double-check that everything is written on there. You don't want to have to send your husband to the store on Thanksgiving day because you forgot something. Make sure you have everything written down that you need, including supplies. Large foil, special utensils, and a turkey pan are included here. Double-check your grocery list!
5. Shop the week before. Since everyone and their mom will probably be buying really similar things for their Thanksgiving dinner as you will be, try going grocery shopping the week before Thanksgiving. You can get a better turkey that way, you can be assured that things won't be sold out that you need, and you can beat the crowds a little. There may be some things you can't buy a week in ahead (like fresh produce), but try and get as much as you can the week before Thanksgiving. It really helps eliminate stress!
6. Read about turkey tips. Everywhere and anywhere. I looked on several different websites about different ways to cook turkeys, and I took the best tips from each one. It helped because I could read comments people had made on different sites and get tips from a lot of different turkey pros. Since I had never cooked a turkey before last year, I needed all the help I could get!
7. Take the turkey out of the freezer 3 days before, not 2. It is recommended that you take your turkey out of the freezer 2-3 days before cooking it. I can't think of anything worse on Thanksgiving day than having a turkey that is still frozen. So to ensure that you give it the maximum time to thaw, take it out of the freezer and put it in your fridge 3 days before you are going to cook it on Thanksgiving.
8. Test your oven temperature. Just because your oven beeps and says it is at 350 degrees does not mean that it actually is. Invest in an oven thermometer so that you know what temperature your oven actually is so you avoid under- and over-cooking food. You definitely don't want to have your turkey in an under-heated oven and then have to compensate by cooking it for 3 hours longer than you thought. That is a good way to ruin your dinner and make your family a little bitter. So just quickly test your oven and make sure that you know what temperature it really is at. Because that oven has a big job to do!
9. Cook for 2 days instead of 1. This was really really helpful for me because by spreading the cooking over 2 days, I wasn't stressing on Thanksgiving day with the huge amount of food I had to make. The day before Thanksgiving I spent cooking pies and rolls, aka the things that could sit for a day and still be fine. Then on Thanksgiving day I cooked everything else. This is especially important if you are the only one who is going to be cooking and if you don't have a big fancy kitchen with two ovens. This is definitely a big, big helpful tip. Trust me.
10. Time when other foods should be ready based off when your turkey should be done. Since the grand masterpiece of Thanksgiving dinner is the turkey, and since that takes the longest, time cooking other foods based off what time the turkey will be done. If the turkey will be done at 4pm, and it takes 2 hours to prepare your macaroni and cheese (my family tradition), then start cooking your macaroni at 2pm. You don't want cold food by the time the turkey is done, and you don't want a cold turkey by the time the rest of the food is done.
11. Make it special. It's a big deal planning and having your first Thanksgiving on your own, so make it really special! Use a new tablecloth and cloth napkins, drink sparkling cider out of fancy glasses, decorate the table with a cute printable or some mini pumpkins. Make it different than other meals that you have. I had a lot of fun picking out a new tablecloth and setting the table fancier than I normally do for dinner. And it makes it nice for your family, too, because it's something special. You can do whatever you want on your first Thanksgiving because it's your own!
12. Ask for help. Don't feel like just because you are doing this on your own for your first time, you need to be able to do it completely on your own. I called my mom a few times when I was first starting the turkey to ask her which way was the front (yes, I know). And I was super proud of myself for getting out the neck and icky parts, but I had to have FaceTime guidance from my mom to do it. There is no shame in that! You have to learn somehow, and it's nice to ask people who have done it before. So ask for help when you need it, and definitely don't be afraid to ask for help.
13. Go big or go home. If you can't decide what kind of pie to make, make three. Even if it is just you and your husband and your 8-month-old baby. If you want to make salad, rolls, mashed potatoes, gravy, macaroni and cheese, and your turkey, do it. Don't be afraid of making too much food because you are going to have leftovers no matter what and it's totally fine. Make what you want and don't worry about it. Thanksgiving is about two things: being thankful and eating a ton with your family. So do your part and make sure you can eat a ton of delicious foods! Go big or go home!
I definitely learned a lot preparing my first Thanksgiving for my family, and it wasn't scary, it wasn't too hard, and it was really fun. Sometimes you just have to man up and go for it, and making your first Thanksgiving dinner on your own is one of those times! So good luck, have fun, and enjoy all your delicious foods. You won't ever have another first Thanksgiving, so make this one successful and yummy!