Turkey on Baking Sheet on Dining Table with Autumn Decor

Chef Gary’s Tips for a Stress-Free Thanksgiving Dinner

When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, knowing what you can make ahead and what needs to be made day-of can be a big challenge… and quite overwhelming! Chef Gary shares his game plan to reduce stress so you can focus on what matters most on Thanksgiving—cherishing family and friends.

In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, create your menu. Decide if you are going to:

  1. Make everything from scratch
  2. Buy some pre-made items for ease and convenience
  3. Ask your family and friends to help out with a few items. Asking for help relieves stress, saves room in your refrigerator and is easier on your wallet!

And be sure to check below for some great slow cooker ideas to make your holiday planning easier!


First, determine how much time your turkey will need to cook. You’ll do the actual cooking on Thursday, but take a few minutes to prepare using the table and information below. The general rule of thumb is 20 minutes per pound at 350 degrees. Times are approximate, as all ovens vary slightly in temperature. To ensure your bird is fully cooked, use a meat thermometer to check the temperature.

On Thursday, you’ll take two readings:

  1. One reading in the thickest part of the breast (goal: 165 degrees)
  2. One reading in the thickest part of the leg (goal: 180 degrees)

Your turkey is done when the thermometer reads 165 degrees in the breast and 180 degrees in the leg. Remember to let the turkey rest at least 20 minutes before carving to let all the juices redistribute.

 Weight of Bird Roasting Time (Unstuffed) Roasting Time (Stuffed)
10 – 18 lbs. 3 – 3.5 hours 3.75 – 4.5 hours
18 – 22 lbs. 3.5 – 4 hours 4.5 – 5 hours
22 – 24 lbs. 4 – 4.5 hours 5 – 5.5 hours
24 – 29 lbs. 4 – 5.5 hours 5.5 – 6.25 hours


On Wednesday, rinse and dry the turkey. If you plan to season it, now is the time. This will give the seasoning time to meld and will add a ton of flavor to the turkey.

Next, make the cornbread for the cornbread stuffing. Cover, and let sit at room temperature.

Chop up all your onions and celery for the stuffing, place in a zip-lock bag, and refrigerate.

Then, make your cranberry sauce. Place it in your serving dish, cover, and refrigerate. This one is all set to go.

Roast up the garlic for your garlic mashed potatoes.

Make your pumpkin pie—or the pie(s) of your choosing—cover, and refrigerate. Save yourself a few steps, and ask someone else to make the pie(s), or pick them up from your local bakery. Most pies can even be made a week ahead and frozen. Thaw at room temp starting on Wednesday.

Make your sweet potatoes, cover, and refrigerate.

Make your gravy. Gravy can be made up to five days in advance and refrigerated. Add the drippings after the turkey comes out of the oven. Your gravy will be just as delicious!


Today is the day! You may need to get started early, but if you have done the prep work already mentioned, it will be a snap.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Sauté the onions and celery that you cut up yesterday. Add in sausage (if you're using it for the stuffing), and set aside.

Boil and drain your potatoes for the garlic mashed potatoes, and set aside.

While your potatoes are boiling, assemble the cornbread stuffing. Bake the stuffing for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove and cover with foil to keep warm.

Now, get that turkey in the oven! Use the time table above. Remember to take two readings to determine when the turkey is done.

Slow Cooker Side Dish Ideas

During the holidays, your slow cooker can be your best friend. Use these simple ideas to create some great side dishes that won’t take up precious room in your oven or on your stove top.

Slow Cooker Sausage Stuffing

Try this delicious stuffing that requires little time and effort. Place cut-up stale French bread, chopped up carrots, celery and onion and a little sweet Italian sausage in your slow cooker. Top with a small amount of chicken or turkey stock (the vegetables and sausage will give off plenty of additional liquid and flavor), and let the slow cooker do the rest.

Slow Cooker Home-Style Mashed Potatoes

Simple mashed potatoes can take up room on your stovetop. Use your slow cooker to solve this problem. Toss cut russet potatoes, butter, salt and pepper into a slow cooker. Turn it on low and step away for a few hours. When you return, the potatoes will be perfectly tender and ready to be mashed. Make sure to mash them up with warm milk (warm the milk quickly in the microwave). For some added flavor, throw in some of the roasted garlic that you roasted the night before.

Slow Cooker Spiced Sweet Potatoes with Pecans

Here’s an easy way to make the celebrated candied sweet potatoes that are a tradition on most holiday tables. Begin by cutting the potatoes into thick rounds so they will hold up during the cooking process. Once the potatoes are fully cooked, toss them with a dash of cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 2 tablespoons of butter. There is no need to add marshmallows to these. The result will yield you a tender potato that’s just sweet enough with a touch of spice.

Slow Cooker Green Bean Casserole

Pre-sliced cremini mushrooms are thrown right into the slow cooker with string beans. Cooked together, the mushrooms will release some great flavor into the beans. Once cooked, toss the mixture with some butter and cream. Season with salt and pepper to serve. Simple and easy!

By: Gary Appelsies MS, CHHC, AADP
Director of Healthy Eating