Go fresh and local
To start your Thanksgiving planning, draw up a simple harvest menu using what’s fresh in your local area in mid-November. Yes, there are some T-day staples that you won't want to give up no matter where they came from. But choose as many fresh, local, organic ingredients as you can; they'll taste great, and it's a great reason to check out area farmers' markets before they all close down for the season.
Spread out the work
Start shopping and cooking now (and cleaning, too; funny how I almost forgot to mention my least-favorite part). Make your piecrusts now, put them in the pie pans, wrap tightly, and freeze them. Buy all the nonperishable foods and supplies you’ll need, including extra plates and cutlery, napkins, even bed linens for overnight guests. A few days prior to the meal, go shopping for the perishable foodstuffs and start doing the prep work: Scrub, peel, and cut up veggies and put them back in the fridge all ready to go. Make pie fillings and put them in the fridge. You can even measure out dry ingredients and seasonings and put them in marked, covered containers so all you have to do is dump and stir at the last minute.
Spread out the cooking
Thankfully, most side dishes taste just as fine made the day before as they do cooked fresh, and a few even benefit from sitting in the fridge overnight. Once you have your menu set, make a list of which dishes you can cook beforehand. Keep your recipes simple, so you spend less time in the kitchen and the good taste of the food can shine.
Mashed potatoes are fine made a day or two ahead, seasoning and all, and then reheated, covered, in a 350°F oven for about 50 minutes before serving. You can heat them up with your reheated turkey to save energy. Add fresh herbs and a bit more butter after reheating.
Bread stuffing gets better and better with age—if you like a moist stuffing. If you like a dry, crumbly dressing, it’s best to save that for Thanksgiving Day. My favorite is bread stuffing made from local bread seasoned with apples, fresh sage, onions, and homemade turkey stock.
Cranberry sauce or relish can be prepared a few days ahead, and raw relishes will get better with time.
Gravy doesn’t really improve or get worse with time, so if you are cooking the turkey beforehand, go ahead and make the gravy, too.
Save Thanksgiving Day for roasting mixed root veggies with fresh rosemary (sweet potatoes, white beets, and parsnips are my favorites), Brussels sprouts sautéed with bacon and cream, and those oven-fresh pies (pumpkin, apple, and green tomato mincemeat), which you can serve with a choice of a good local Cheddar cheese or fresh small-batch vanilla ice cream from the local ice creamery.
Delegate, delegate, delegate
It works at the office and it works at home, too. Assign guests and family members to take care of specific dishes and tasks. Send out your assignments this week; then send reminders the weekend before the holiday. And don’t be a purist: Cranberry sauce and gravy come in jars and taste great (avoid the canned stuff; those cans are lined with bisphenol A), pie shells or complete pies are readily available from the grocer’s freezer or at your local baker. Mix and match purchased and homemade dishes to suit everyone's time and skills; query the cooks on your guest list to see if they're up for making something or would prefer to grab something at the store.
Make room in the fridge
Work on eating up (or composting) as much as possible out of your refrigerator from now till Thanksgiving Day, to allow room for all the ingredients, prepared dishes, and, eventually, leftovers.