You Can Do It: Thanksgiving for Busy Families


Everyone is busy these days, but there’s no busy like holiday busy. Now is the time to start making your plans so that your Thanksgiving dinner will be safe and stress-free.

Plan out your menu, and from there make your shopping list.

Make a list of the foods you can buy well in advance (including canned goods and mixes, potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes and onions) and purchase them now.

If you are buying a frozen turkey it can also be purchased well ahead of time, but remember to allow one day for each 5 pounds of weight to thaw it in the refrigerator.

If you are buying a fresh turkey, check the manufacturer’s tag to make sure it will keep until Thanksgiving. If there is no ‘use by’ or ‘best by’ date, wait until 1-2 days before Thanksgiving to purchase your turkey.

Timesaving Tip: Prepared foods. Save time by buying vegetables already washed and cut from the produce section, the freezer section, or even your grocery store salad bar. Side dishes and desserts may also be available; these can be purchased up to four days before Thanksgiving. Keep them in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to use.

As Thanksgiving gets closer, take the time to clean out your refrigerator to make room for all the holiday foods that will need to be stored there. This is also a good time to make space on your counters.

Timesaving Tip: Having guests? Assign some of the cooking to them, especially the dishes you don’t care to prepare yourself. If you’re responsible for the main meal, have your dinner guests bring appetizers and desserts.

It’s important that the food you are serving is held at a safe temperature.

If your guests are bringing food, find out in advance if their dishes will need to be refrigerated, if they will need to be kept warm or if they will be cooked at your house.

Food that needs to be kept warm should be placed in the oven, warming trays or chafing dishes to keep them hot.

Thanksgiving dinner is a long meal, so you don’t want food (whether hot or cold) sitting at room temperature before mealtime. Place cold foods in the refrigerator and keep hot foods above 140°F.

Once dinner has been served, pack up any leftovers as quickly as possible and refrigerate.

76 percent of respondents in a recent USDA study said they would refrigerate leftovers after letting them cool to room temperature first. This is not necessary, and could actually make your food unsafe. Food poisoning bacteria grows faster at room temperature, so for safety you want the leftovers to cool down as quickly possible.

Leftovers cool down faster in the refrigerator than they will on the counter, so divide them into small portions or shallow containers for rapid cooling. Use within four days, or freeze.

Timesaving Tip: Make leftovers last. Now that your Thanksgiving leftovers are in smaller portions in the freezer or refrigerator, use them for future family meals. Just a quick reheat to 165°F in the microwave, and those leftovers will be a great timesaver for your busy family!

Have questions about Thanksgiving? Call the  at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert, available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, in English and Spanish. You can also chat live at If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the Meat and Poultry Hotline is available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time.



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