The official New South Essays Thanksgiving Meal Planner

As a public service, New South Essays would like to inform you that Thanksgiving is just 19 days away.

If you haven’t already started planning this year’s feast, now is the time to jumpstart your meal preparation. Of all the holidays and traditions we experience in a year, Thanksgiving is a meal-based celebration. It requires planning and pre-work, even if you are simply ordering a turkey and “fixins” from the grocery store.

The Wallaces at the Thanksgiving table in 2019.
The Wallace Family Thanksgiving table in 2019.

Allow me to alleviate your Thanksgiving preparation anxiety and introduce the New South Essays Thanksgiving Meal Planner. I’ll break down each decision, and you fill in the blanks. When you finish reading this post, you’ll be ready to head to the grocery store and get to work. This planner works best if you print it and have a black ink pen or no. 2 pencil handy. Better yet, laminate it for repeated annual use:

  1. Meat. Turkey, ham, turducken, tofurkey, BBQ, other (circle one). I’ve had all but the turducken and tofurkey for past Thanksgiving meals. Yes, I had pulled pork barbecue one year. An unusual choice to be sure, but it was delicious just the same. For some reason, this year my dad has taken to the idea of having BBQ on Thanksgiving. Maybe with this pandemic everything is so off-kilter that he’s thinking “Why not have a nontraditional protein for Thanksgiving?” We’re cooking a small turkey again this year, but we’re still undecided on whether to smoke or roast. We will definitely be brining for added flavor and moisture.
  • Vegetables. Sweet potatoes/yams, carrots, corn, green beans, squash – butternut/other, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, eggplant (I don’t know what you like!), okra, field peas, English peas, black-eyed peas, Swiss chard (just checking to see if you were still paying attention) and, of course, mushrooms. (There may be more than one correct answer). This cannot possibly be an exhaustive list, but it’s enough to get you started. You are allowed to write in the margins. I’m also aware that most vegetables get converted into their casserole form for Thanksgiving because we all love to take a perfectly healthy vegetable, soak it in cream and smother it in cheese, Ritz crackers or marshmallows.
  • Starch. Mac n’ cheese, mashed potatoes, stuffing – cornbread/bread crumb/other, dinner rolls, biscuits, other (circle all that apply). Now before you go arguing about the selections in this category, know that in my house, the mac n’ cheese at Thanksgiving has been one of the most divisive and hotly contested issues. While popular, it is decidedly not a vegetable, despite what you may see on meat-and-three restaurant menus in the South. Personally? I’m not a fan. I don’t dislike mac n’ cheese, I just don’t see the point. I will also not eat mac n’ cheese on Thanksgiving when there is just so much other goodness to be had.
  • Salad. Garden, chopped, spinach, cranberry, congealed (insert congealable substance here:___________), other, none of the above (Why waste room on your plate with salad?) I cannot help myself when it comes to my mom’s congealed salad. I don’t even know its proper name. I know it is yellow, has a foamy top, contains pecans and grated cheddar cheese, and tastes like Thanksgiving. This might be too personal a preference for you, but I do hold open the possibility that you have a favorite salad for Thanksgiving. I do not go in for pears with a dollop of mayonnaise. That ain’t a salad. And anything with Jello and four cups of sugar definitely counts as a salad, not a dessert. Speaking of desserts…
  • Dessert. Pie – pumpkin, pecan, apple, sweet potato, chocolate, coconut cream, chess, buttermilk, non-pie, other. (More than one answer is assumed). At my house we’re pumpkin and pecan people, but we have been known to mix in a sweet potato or chocolate pie on occasion. My youngest is obsessed with pumpkin spice, so pumpkin pie is a must. I’m partial to pecan and particularly enjoy the “Mystery Pecan Pie” recipe with cream cheese my dad introduced us to a few years back. The mystery is that the mixture flips during baking, and the pecans float to the top. My youngest insists there is no mystery. He says it should be called “Science Pecan Pie.” I don’t think it has the same ring to it. In any case, if you have something other than pie, I’d like to hear about it because it just doesn’t seem right. But I’m open to new ideas.

There you have it. Hopefully you used a pencil if you need to go back and make alterations to your menu. Just don’t take too long making up your mind. If you’re going to have everything ready by lunch on Thanksgiving day, you’ll have to start soon. You don’t want poor planning to cause a traffic jam in the oven and the turkey to be undercooked.

Here’s hoping this year, despite it all, you have reasons to be thankful and can enjoy your family feast.

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