Friday, October 23, 2009

Start Your Countdown To a Hassel Free Holiday Dinner

The leaves are beginning to change colors and the days are shorter and cooler. These are subtle reminders that the holiday season is getting closer. When many of us think of the holidays we think of classic holiday meals featuring vegetables, breads, stuffing and, of course, turkey. Holiday meal planning can also prove to be very stressful. This year why not serve up a great holiday meal without the stress? If you start now, at the beginning of November, to begin your initial holiday meal planning you may eliminate much of the stress associated with putting a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner on the table.

The United State Department of Agriculture’s Partnership for Food Safety has developed an easy to follow holiday meal countdown that breaks up the major holiday meal planning task into smaller bite-sized pieces. You can find this countdown at their holiday food safety website, along with other useful and fun holiday planning tips and ideas.

You can check this website out first hand by visiting

According to the Partnership for Food Safety’s countdown now, at the beginning of November, is the time to sort through some initial planning task. Developing a guest list and actually inviting your guest would be the first task to tackle. Ask your guest to let you know if they will be attending dinner at least two weeks before Thanksgiving. Question your guest to see if they have any special dietary needs that you should take into account when planning your dinner menu. This is also a good time to count how many tables and chairs you have as well as glasses, plates, etc. If you don’t have enough for the number of people you are inviting, make arrangements to borrow or purchase what you need.

Two weeks before the big dinner is the time to actually purchase your frozen turkey or order a fresh one from your grocer. Other key tasks on this list include preparing shopping list, assigning cooking task to family members willing to assist with meal preparation, and ironing table linens.

With one week to go, start shopping for hardy vegetables such as onions, winter squash, carrots, potatoes, parsnips and turnips. Remember to make room in your refrigerator to thaw the turkey. It will take some larger birds 3 days or longer to thaw. After the turkey is thawed it can remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.

Don’t wait until the last minute to clean the house. This needs to be done three days before the event. Make pumpkin pies, rolls, and cornbread, biscuits or bread for the turkey dressing/stuffing two days before the dinner.

As you approach the day of the dinner the things you need to plan for are closely related to actual meal preparation. Study your menu and map out your day so that the foods that need the longest cooking times and long preparation are done first. Remember to allow time for congealed salads and other cold foods to chill.

The first task of the day of the Celebration Day is to clean and sanitize your countertops and cutting boards. This will help keep bacteria and other foodborne illness causing pathogens off of your guest list and out of your food. Another food safety must is a food thermometer. Use this tool to check the internal temperature or the turkey, dressing and casseroles and any other meats.
Before you put your feet up, divide any leftovers into smaller portions and store in shallow containers in the refrigerator within two hours. The website also features handy “use by” date labels for left-over containers.

For more information on keeping your holiday meal task manageable visit or contact the Penn State Cooperative Extension Nutrition Educator closest to you.

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