UNITED STATES—Well we’re less than a week before the biggest cooking day of the year: THANKSGIVING. While some people love the holiday because they get to kick back and do little to nothing, some of us indulge in the festive cooking day, not just because time is spent with family, but because it allows some creativity to emerge in the cooking arena.

With Turkey Day, you have those who prepare a dish and those who host the dinner. If you’ve ever hosted Thanksgiving, you know its much more chaos than people seem to think. As someone who has hosted the big shindig on more than one occasion, preparation is key! The biggest mistake newbies make is the idea that they can do all the cooking in one day. WRONG! It never works out that way, things unexpectedly always happen, so much to the point that you feel like tearing your hair out. For anyone who has ever hosted T-Day, as many of us like to call it making a list of dishes to be prepared is crucial.

For starters, decide what meat or meats will be the main dish. Of course, you can’t have Thanksgiving without turkey, but that doesn’t mean you have to make it the main course. Ham, roast beef, duck, lamb and many other forms of meat can be just an important as the bird. Once you have an idea of what meats you plan to cook, the next step is to consider the sides.

When it comes to sides this is where the fun begins.  Think of those staples, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, etc. Consider options on veggies you want to highlight and what starches you want to highlight. It’s okay to have a few staples, but at the same time it’s an opportunity to try out some new dishes. Something that will be new on the menu this year for me is Brussels sprouts with bacon. I hear about Brussels sprouts time and time again, so I decided what’s the worse that can happen?

Don’t go overboard with side dishes though. You never want to have more dishes than people are willing to eat, so think small to medium sized dishes if you plan to have more sides than the typical Thanksgiving feast. One of the dishes that can’t be forgotten is the stuffing or dressing, depending on what part of the country you live in.  Be creative with this one, I mean there is no rule to making stuffing, the key is to make sure it tastes good.

Of course we can’t forget about the desserts. By the time you eat all the staples, your stomach may not be open to consuming any sweets, but it’s still important to have them. This is where you use your guests to your advantage. Have them bring a desert to the feast; rather its store bought or homemade is not a big issue in my opinion.

Now that we’ve laid out the important ingredients, the next step is to get those ingredients. In other words its time to shop! The biggest mistake many people make is to do ALL of their shopping a day or two before Thanksgiving. Big mistake. When you get home you have to sort through all those items and its causes your brain to overwork itself.  The key is to purchase your ingredients in groups.

Get those non-perishable items as soon as you can when they go on sale, so your pantry is stocked. Purchasing the turkey at least a week in advance before the holiday is crucial; if you have a frozen bird, it has to properly defrost and it may take several days for it to properly thaw. If you get a good deal on a ham or other items grabbing them a few days in advance won’t hurt.

I would say items best to purchase about two days before the big cook-off are those veggies and fruits that don’t have a long shelf-life.  So we’ve purchased all of our items, the next step is prepping dishes. Start that peeling, dicing and organizing at least 1-2 days ahead. There are plenty of dishes that you can prep in advance and place into the fridge or freezer until you’re ready to pop them in the oven. The biggest mistake so many novices make is thinking they can do everything in one day, it can be done, but you’ll be so exhausted you won’t even want to eat. Trust me; it has happened to me more than once.

Have you heard of the phrase, “Too many cooks in the kitchen?” Well this holds true on Thanksgiving. People just want to flock to the kitchen and be in the ‘mix’ of things. This is a problem, if people are not cooking, get them out of there. The more space you have to prep and move the better.

Don’t wait till the last minute to get things in the oven. Keep the number of times you open the oven to a minimum; you don’t want to let out unnecessary heat and cooking time if you don’t have to. Have guests prepare the dinner table and as dinner time slowly approaches begin to bring dishes out on the serving table or mantle, whatever you might use to showcase your festive food.

Remember Thanksgiving is to be a fun day, don’t allow the thought of doing too much take away from the importance of spending time with family and being thankful for the things that you do have. Happy Thanksgiving to all!