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How to Start Planning Your Next Thanksgiving Meal

Carla J. Swick is a freelance writer who resides in NW Pennsylvania and works in higher ed technology.

A well-set table starts with a nice tablecloth and napkins. It is okay to use paper or cloth or a combo of both, but don’t leave your table naked.

A well-set table starts with a nice tablecloth and napkins. It is okay to use paper or cloth or a combo of both, but don’t leave your table naked.

Our Thanksgiving

According to, “In September 1620, a small ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers—an assortment of religious separatists seeking a new home where they could freely practice their faith and other individuals lured by the promise of prosperity and land ownership in the New World.”

A treacherous 66-day crossing brought the passengers to Plymouth, Massachusetts, where they suffered a “brutal" winter with only half seeing spring. With the assistance of Native Americans, the Pilgrims learned how to survive off the land, and in November 1621, the first Thanksgiving feast was held (

Although it has evolved, we continue this tradition today in the United States, and for cooks the nation over, it may be the biggest holiday feast they prepare. This year, my daughters and I documented our celebration, hoping that it would enthuse and ease Thanksgiving preparation for cooks and planners the "new world" over.


If possible, the weight of the Thanksgiving feast preparation should not be on the shoulders of one person; therefore, I met with two of my daughters and had a preliminary meeting.

The agenda included the following:

  • Who would host the dinner
  • Theme/décor
  • Food to be prepared and by whom
  • Ingredients/shopping list

Shortly before Thanksgiving, we went joint shopping, buying ingredients and whatever else was needed. The night before Thanksgiving, we met and prepared all desserts, side dishes, and whatever else could be done beforehand.

Festive Apple Candle Holders (for instructions, see video below)

Festive Apple Candle Holders (for instructions, see video below)

Wampanoag Family Words

My brother - neemat (NEE-math)

My father - noosh (nosh)

My mother - mokas (MO-k's)

My sister - numisses (nuh-MIS-sees)


  • Dress your table: A well-set table starts with a nice tablecloth and napkins. It is okay to use paper or cloth or a combo of both, but don’t leave your table naked. All this food prep deserves a little dressing up. Plain white plates are a great staple to any dinnerware collection as they can be adapted for any occasion.
  • Get creative: Getting creative with your décor does not need to be expensive. We built our table decorations around an inexpensive bouquet of supermarket flowers in fall colors. To this, we added some orange and green glass lantern-type candle holders we’d found on discount at a local store. Utilizing P. Allen Smith's video below, we also created tea light candle holders out of large apples. They turned out beautifully, and it was one of my favorite things we did this holiday.
  • Name tags/place holders: No holiday table is complete without one very personal touch that serves two purposes—the place holder or name tag settles any questions as to who sits where. It also acts as a welcome to each guest present, letting them know we were planning on their attendance. In past Thanksgivings, we have given guests Native American names that point to some characteristic familiar to them. Think “Running Gazelle” for your track star or “Great Medicine Man” for a doctor. As “Chief Cooking Squaw,” you can have a lot of fun with this part of the table décor. This year we created felt Mayflower boats, and the sails held the guest's name. We utilized the Wampanoag Indian word for sister, brother, mother before each person’s first name to add a historic touch.
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Our menu consisted of a stuffed turkey, two vegetable dishes, homemade rolls, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy, a signature drink, and a choice of Thanksgiving goodies or pumpkin torte for dessert.


(Because we like our turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, and gravy classic and no one does it better than Betty, we’ve provided the links above.)

  • Mashed Cauliflower and Cheese: There are many variations on mashed cauliflower, including vegan choices and those with garlic. We included our version above, but feel free to search for one that fits your taste.
  • Baked Broccoli Slaw with Cheese: Broccoli slaw cannot be found in every supermarket. We have located a local supermarket that stocks the Dole brand. Our recipe is simple: Boil two bags of broccoli slaw in three cans (add water if necessary) of chicken broth, being careful not to overcook the slaw. Stagger layers of the cooked and strained slaw with shredded cheddar cheese starting and ending with the slaw layer. Bake 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
  • Overnight Refrigerator Rolls: Easy to prepare the night before and bake right before dinner.
  • Cranberry Sauce: We kept this simple by popping open a chilled can of Cranberry Sauce and slicing it right before dining.
  • Delicious Pumpkin Torte: An alternative to pumpkin pie, the step-by-step instructions are found at the link above.
  • Oreo Turkeys & Chocolate Acorns: We created a dessert/snack by fashioning Oreo cookies to candy corn and mini-peanut butter cups with icing in a tube to create an edible turkey treat. The chocolate acorns were made by fashioning mini-Nutter Butter cookies to Hershey Kisses and chocolate chips with icing in a bag. (See pictures above and to the right for how to assemble.)
  • Cranberry Cocktail: Our signature drink was a cranberry cocktail. Mix equal parts of cranberry juice and ginger ale with one shot of whiskey. Add frozen cranberries to garnish. (You can omit the whiskey to make the drink virgin for children or non-drinkers.)

Activities and Cleanup

After the feast, don't crawl onto the couch and sleep or put on a football game and become a vegetable; add some fun and interaction to your day. Besides visiting with relatives, we have often included board and card games in our Thanksgiving celebration. This year we participated in a Thanksgiving trivia activity and a Thanksgiving Mad Libs game, both of which can be found online. This allowed us to laugh and relax a bit before cleanup. We have a rule at our family gatherings—whoever doesn’t cook has to clean up. If everyone cooks, everyone cleans up.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! It is our hope that we have inspired you to celebrate with gratitude using some of the ideas we have shared.

History source:

Language translation source:

© 2014 Carla J Swick


Carla J Swick (author) from NW PA on January 11, 2014:

Yes it was my favorite. Thanks for the read. Cjb

Dianna Mendez on January 11, 2014:

I find decorating for Thanksgiving a bit trying but now with your suggestions I have a few new ones to use this year. I love the apple candle, what a nice way to remember the harvest and it's so natural. Thanks for the tips.

Carla J Swick (author) from NW PA on January 05, 2014:

Thank u so much for the read! The turkeys were cute but the acorns were delicious.

Mackenzie Sage Wright on January 05, 2014:

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday so i was pleased to see this hub on it at this time of year-- great job here. I always tell people the same thing-- keep it simple and streamline it, it comes out so much better. I love those little turkey oreo corn candy things, I saw them this year on the Food Network's Thanksgiving special but never got around to trying them. They look so cute. Great hub.

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