Countdown to Turkey Day November 4, 2010: The Soft Menu Plan

Heather says:

Yay! Another pen/pencil and paper exercise or maybe if you’re wired weird and serving a bunch of people it’ll be a Google spreadsheet. I’m still being teased for that, if you must know.

Today’s exercise is not the final menu.

Divide your sheet of paper into three columns.

Label them:

  • My ideal menu
  • My guests’ ideal menu
  • The Great Compromise

Alternately, use this handy Home Ec 101 Thanksgiving Menu Planner Printable.

This Thanksgiving Menu Plan has three versions.  Start with your ideal Thanksgiving dinner. If time and money weren’t an object, what would you want on your Thanksgiving table?

Just for fun, I’d love to hear what you’re planning for Thanksgiving this year.

Leave a note in the comment or a link to your own site, if you’re of the blogging persuasion.

The second column is the one that would make everyone happy (you know with Granny’s Waldorf Salad, Aunt Teppy’s Green Bean Casserole, etc). After these two are complete you pull from both to make the compromise that is the reality of the holiday.

On the compromise menu make sure you include at least one item that will bring you joy. Know full well as you add that item to your list that everyone else may hate it. It doesn’t matter; add it to the list anyway. A holiday meal is a lot of work and what is the benefit of being the host / hostess if you don’t get something out of it?

Thanksgiving spread

Why is it that some holiday meals feel like a potluck while others have a unified theme?

It’s all in the menu plan.

When planning a menu for a large meal, look for flavor ties between dishes to create a flow.

The Cajun seasoning of the turkey is part of the sausage of the cornbread dressing and sausage is also in the collards. I swapped out the pecans for almonds in the apple, sage, cranberry dressing to tie it with both the broccoli salad and the green beans.  Cranberries are in the sauce -duh- the apple, sage, cranberry dressing, and in the broccoli salad.  This works best if there are very different textures with the involved dishes. Crisp turkey skin, contrasted with soft dressing, or the crispness of stir-fried green beans next to the soft baked feel of the apples in the other dressing.

Thanksgiving is always a special occasion, but this year make it extra-special by downloading Southern Cooking for Thanksgiving: 10 Thanksgiving Sides, Thanksgiving Desserts, & More. These easy recipes will be the perfect complement to your Thanksgiving turkey.

It’s not the easiest technique for me to explain, so feel free to ask questions in the comments. Not every dish in your menu has to fit the flow, but it’s best if they don’t come from too far afield. If it seems out of place, see if there is a way to alter it slightly so it carries some component of the other dishes. In my example the mashed potatoes receive turkey gravy and the macaroni and cheese was topped with  bacon (also in the broccoli salad) and green onions (onion flavor was in many of the dishes).

Have fun! Of course, maybe I’m the weirdo here who enjoys thinking about food almost as much as eating it.


  1. Mindy on November 9, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    My husband works in food and beverage so, of course, I'm completely on my own when it comes to planning and cooking the meal. We tend to have other F&B refugees who are unable to be with extended family. I'm a bit of a control freak but I'm going toTRY to relinquish some this year. The E-Vite I've sent out indicates that I'll make the turkey, stuffing (I can't give up THAT much control), a side and a pumpkin pie. I've asked everyone to bring something that reminds them of their own Thanksgiving traditions and to include that dish in their reply so we don't have duplicates and so that I can round out the menu if I need to. I'm hopeful that we'll have about 10 people. If they all come, I'm not sure where we're going to put everyone!

  2. @infogdss29 on November 8, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    This year, we're hosting a group of friends and family, and since space is limited, we're thinking buffet style but doing appetizer sized bites, over several courses. My vision includes choice of soup (cauliflower & something else), a raw veggie crudite with dip, turkey wrapped in bacon kebabs, stuffing baked in mini muffin cups (I like giblets, but maybe this year we'll do a sausage & cornbread stuffing), individual apple & sweet potato casseroles, mashed potatoes piped then twice baked, and brussel sprouts with pancetta, and the cranberry sauce will be sweet and top mini dark chocolate tortes.

  3. cherie on November 5, 2010 at 6:43 am

    We do turkey but I make a turkey breast and a bunch of turkey thighs – we have a lot of dark meat lovers – and it all cooks quicker this way
    I don't do a lot of veggie 'dishes' – I tend to take a half dozen or so different veggies and roast them with various seasonings – usually onions, zucchini, potatoes, sweet potatoes, asparagus, eggplant, tomatoes, and whatever else is looking good at the market – the veggie lovers prefer it this way and the ones who don't care for them much were barely eating anything when I made more elaborate things – and this is so simple!
    FIL does cranberry sauces LOL – makes him happy
    I will do a fly by the seat of my pants stuffing – whatever feels right at the time
    I think I may do an additional protein this year – my kids are not huge turkey lovers – and I'm guessing someone else might appreciate a choice too – not sure what though –

  4. Tammy on November 4, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Our menu is pretty typical…turkey, potatoes, gravy, etc. But this year Im trying a new stuffing recipe (cornbread, cranberry & apple), roasted butternut squash and possibly a new version of scalloped corn. Our must-haves are of the sweet variety…Cranberry Fluff salad and peach jello made with ice cream. Yes, we are from Minnesota, why do you ask? 😉

  5. Lynn on November 4, 2010 at 8:50 am

    We’re having duck this year, however I haven’t yet decided how to prepare it or what sides. Pumpkin pie and green bean caserole are musts for the husband despite not being favorites of mine.

    One year I was pregnant and had an awful poultry aversion so I made a crown pork roast! We had guests that year so I made stuffing, 3 pies, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, and mixed veggies, did it all gluten, dairy, and soy free.

    • HeatherSolos on November 4, 2010 at 8:19 am

      I also have major poultry aversions when I'm pregnant. The smell of chicken or turkey cooking is enough to send me fleeing. Thank goodness I was never pregnant over Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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