Planning Your Thanksgiving Dinner

turkey and gravy

It is the month of the year where we all start thinking about the blessings we have and becoming increasingly aware of how thankful we are for the people and things we have in our lives. It is officially November!

You may want to start preparing your list for Thanksgiving dinner. It is never too early to think about your menu and who you’d like to invite. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because it centers around the family meal and “breaking bread” together.

There are many different foods that are considered traditional at each Thanksgiving table and what is popular varies from State to State. General Mills did a poll and I found it very interesting what is considered the most popular food by State. Here is a graphic that illustrates this perfectly:

You can also see the information above by clicking here.

Turkey is almost always a staple of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. It also can be very tricky to cook. You can roast, bake, deep-fry, smoke, or even grill a turkey. The most common way a turkey is cooked on Thanksgiving is oven roasting. Now, there are even more options to choosing what kind of turkey to have for your dinner. When planning your meal, that is the best place to start.

Before buying your turkey, tally up your guest list; you’ll need that number to buy the right size turkey. Figure on 1 to 1 -1/2 pounds of turkey per person. Add a few pounds on for bones and you’ve got your turkey weight. For example, 8 people will require a 12 to 14-pound turkey. If you want more leftovers, then add a few more pounds for good measure!

Here are just a few popular types of turkey to help you choose the right one for you and your guests:

  • Fresh: A turkey may be labeled “fresh” only if it has never been chilled below 26°F.
  • Organic: The USDA’s National Organic Program requires that turkeys labeled as “organic” be certified by a USDA-accredited certifying agency. A certified organic turkey will have been raised on 100% organic feed, given access to the outdoors, and will never have received antibiotics.
  • Kosher: A kosher label may only be used on poultry that has been processed under rabbinical supervision. The turkeys are grain-fed with no antibiotics and are allowed to roam freely. In addition to being individually processed and inspected, kosher turkeys are soaked in a salt brine, which gives them their distinctive savory character (This is good to know if you are planning to brine it yourself – no need to double brine).
  • Natural: The term “natural” simply means “no artificial ingredient or color added, and minimally processed.” The term makes no reference to the way the turkey was raised as the label organic does.
  • Self-basting: A self-basting turkey has been injected with or marinated in a solution of fat, broth or water, plus spices, flavor enhancers, and/or other flavorings/substances.
  • Frozen: Turkeys chilled below 0°F must be labeled “frozen.” Or, if they’re sold already defrosted, you may see “previously frozen” on the label.

After choosing your turkey, you may have the need to defrost your turkey. It is important to do this carefully and give yourself enough time to do so because, unfortunately, it can take up to a week to defrost a large bird. A safe rule of thumb for defrosting is 24 hours for every 4 pounds and the safest way to do so is to keep it in the original wrapper in the refrigerator. So, if you’re feeding an army with a 20-pound bird, prepare to start thawing 5 days ahead of time. Go here to calculate how long it will take to defrost your turkey.

There are so many ways to roast a turkey, and I’m not going to argue with your great-grandmother’s tried and true way that has been in the family for generations (because those are the best!). However, for those who would like some quick tips, here are some for the big day:

  • Unwrapping your turkey the night before and letting it “dry out” in the refrigerator (or at least 8 hours) before cooking will dry out the skin and allow for easier browning of the skin.
  • There are many people that will say to baste, but I say – baste not! Instead, try using avocado oil and rubbing the skin with a light layer. You can also rub your choice of herbs directly under the skin or with your avocado oil. You can also try brining your turkey – this produces incredible flavor and a juicier bird.
  • I highly recommend preparing your stuffing and turkey separately. Your turkey will cook the most evenly when the bird’s cavity is loosely filled or altogether empty. You can fill with aromatics instead like onions, garlic, herbs, etc.
  • Reduce the urge to open your oven door! Every time you open that door, the oven’s temperature drops, and your turkey will take longer to cook.
  • Invest in a meat thermometer! Roast your turkey uncovered in a 325 F oven, allowing around 15 minutes per pound. For a turkey in the 14 to 20-pound range, this will take 4 to 5 hours. The thickest part of the breast should be cooked to 165 F (This may sound early, but the temperature will continue to rise to about 170 degrees once you take the bird out of the oven.)
  • Let your turkey rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. Resting the bird loosely tented with aluminum foil allows all of the delicious juices to redistribute, giving you the most tender meat possible.

I am not going to leave out those guests who would rather go hungry than eat a turkey! There is really no way around making two main dishes unless all of your guests are vegetarian. Over the years I’ve noticed that most of my friends and family who are vegetarian also like to eat gluten-free, thus the inception of my yumm-o-licious roasted vegetable lasagna. It’s made with layers of extra-thinly sliced potato, eggplant, zucchini, onion, my homemade pesto and goat cheese. (By the way, most people who are lactose-intolerant can eat goat cheese without any issues. Cha-ching!)

Although this recipe might sound painstakingly difficult given the “extra thin” sliced vegetables, it’s really über simple if you invest in a mandolin — no, not the musical instrument, it’s a kitchen gadget, people! I have a super mega-cool mandolin that I bought from Williams Sonoma for a zillion dollars (well…$150 really, but it was expensive). Given that I’m always cooking, teaching cooking classes or developing recipes, it was an investment. The good news is you can find a decent mandolin in the kitchen gadget section of your local supermarket for around $10. This tool will slice the potatoes, zucchini, eggplant, and onion in a snap.

Buon Appetito! 😉

Christine’s Roasted Vegetable Lasagna
(serves 10)


  • Olive oil for greasing the dish
  • 6 medium red potatoes, very thinly sliced
  • Christine’s Pesto (see below)
  • Sea Salt
  • ¾ pound eggplant (about 1 large), unpeeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 medium golden zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 1 large red or yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 jar (24 ounces) marinara sauce
  • 12 ounces soft goat cheese


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Grease a 2-quart baking dish with olive oil.
  3. Arrange half the potato slices in the dish.
  4. Season each potato with a small drop of the pesto.
  5. Top each potato with a slice of eggplant, zucchini, and onion.
  6. Using half of the goat cheese, place a bit of cheese onto the top of each vegetable stack.
  7. Pour half of the marinara over everything.
  8. Make a second layer of potatoes, pesto, vegetables, and sauce.
  9. Lastly, drop mini dollops of the remaining 6 ounces of goat cheese over the top of the lasagna.
  10. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes.
  11. Remove the foil and bake until the lasagna is bubbling and the top has browned, about 10 minutes.

Nutrition facts per serving: 297 calories, 12 grams protein, 35 grams carbohydrates, 13 grams fat

Christine’s Pesto
(makes about ½ cup)


  • 2 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed with the side of a knife
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper


  1. Combine the basil, cheese, pine nuts, cayenne and garlic in a food processor or blender.
  2. With the machine running, slowly pour in the oil.
  3. Blend until mixture looks bright green and thick, about 45 seconds.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Nutrition facts per tablespoon: 71 calories, 1 gram protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, 7 grams fat (mostly good fats!)

Not only is this month full of family, friends, and one of the biggest meals of the year, November 16th is National Fast Food Day. I like to think of fast food as something that is quick to make, provides a PC combo (check out my books for information on why you need a healthy combo of both protein and carbs) and gets you out the door and on with your day – without having to stop at the traditional fast food places. This recipe is most definitely fast, nutritious, and you can fit it into your Thanksgiving menu for a pumpkin pie substitute!

Christine’s Skinny Pumpkin Pie Cottage Cheese


  • 3/4 cups nonfat cottage cheese
  • 3/4 cups organic packed pumpkin
  • 1 tablespoon organic raisins
  • 1 tablespoon crushed walnuts
  • cinnamon


  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl.
  2. Mix well.
  3. Sprinkle with cinnamon and enjoy.

See nutrition information and more on

“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.”― Maya Angelou



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