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It’s the meal of the year. The one that everyone in the family anticipates and salivates over for months. And it can be hard to live up to the expectations. Getting a turkey and all the trimmings on the nicely decorated table for a large group can be quite a task. But a little planning and preparation can make it manageable.

Cheryl Dornberg, owner of Mrs. Dornberg’s Culinary Experience in Highland, suggests planning the entire meal and creating a detailed preparation schedule to ease the last-minute stress. Working out your menu well in advance also allows you to make out a shopping list and avoid last-minute trips to the store for forgotten ingredients.

While Thanksgiving is synonymous with overabundance, Dornberg suggests focusing on fewer high-quality homemade items rather than several bought and processed dishes. Don’t burn yourself out making too much. You can keep it simple while still having an elegant meal that will satisfy your guests. Pick three side items that are family favorites and put your energy into making them well. If that doesn't cover all the requests, ask your guests to bring that dish they love. It will engage them and ease the burden on you.

There’s no shame in delegating. Others will likely want to contribute in some way. Besides accepting offers from guests who would like to bring a dish, give attendees a task if they offer.  For example, let someone else set the table. Designate a bartender or beverage host. Let someone handle entertainment, picking out a game or movie to enjoy after dinner. Put someone in charge of serving dessert. And enlist a clean-up crew.

“Assign someone or several people to pack up and refrigerate leftovers as soon as dinner is over,” said Dornberg. “For safety, food should only be in the danger zone of 40 to 140 degrees for a total of three hours.”

Something that can get overlooked while organizing a huge meal is the turkey. Don’t forget about the time it takes to thaw a frozen bird. “If using a frozen turkey, allow one day per each five pounds for thawing,” said Dornberg.

Once the meal's planned, determine what can be made in advance. According to Dornberg, gravy and fruit pies are two things that will freeze well and can be made weeks ahead. “For a fruit pie, after assembling put the entire pie, pan and all, into a plastic bag, tightly seal and freeze,” she said. “Allow it to thaw in the refrigerator a day and then bake as directed.”

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