Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Thanksgiving 101: Grocery-Shopping Template & Tips

For the past few years, my cousin The Beez and I have more or less hijacked the planning and preparing of our extended family’s Thanksgiving dinner. And while hosting Turkey Day (or Tofurkey Day, if your relatives are hippies) for a crowd is many people’s worst nightmare, we get totally geeked out about it, to the point of making multiple spreadsheets for planning purposes. (Oh, you snicker now, but if you skip our advice and end up running out to 7-Eleven at 4pm on Thanksgiving Day for canned cranberry sauce, who will be laughing?)

This year, rather than schlepping on the Bolt bus on the most nightmarish travel day of the year, we are having T-Day right here in Brooklyn, chez The Beez. The prospect of not leaving the mother of boroughs is a massive relief to both of us. And I would like to pass that stress savings along to you, gentle reader; hence Thanksgiving 101, the BGC guide to Thanksgiving planning!

Herewith, the first installment of we-haven't-decided-how-many-yet in our Thanksgiving 101 series: how to gather all the groceries you need without running around town like a turkey with its head cut off. (See what I did there?)

Back to those spreadsheets: A key one is the grocery list, organized into columns by food category so that you're not running back and forth from aisle to aisle. If there are certain items you expect that you will only be able to get at a specialty store, keep these separate at the bottom, so they don't slip through the cracks when you're crossing stuff off at your local Try-N-Save.

Here is a partially filled-in sample of the list (and I do mean partially—for our family meal, this baby usually stretches to, like, 30 rows). You can download the template here. Obvi, you could add or delete your own categories.

Produce Meat Dairy Dry/Canned Goods Baking Misc. & Non-Food
Onions (5 lb) Turkey (20 lb) Heavy cream Canned cranberry sauce Brown sugar Frozen spinach (2x8oz pkg)
Leeks (4) Italian sausage (1 lb.) Eggs (2 doz.) Chick peas (2 cans) Semisweet chocolate Phyllo dough
Butternut squash (2 lb.)   Parmesan cheese (1 lb.) Pecans (8 oz.) Cornmeal Aluminum sheet pans
Brussels sprouts (2 lb.)   Buttermilk Pumpkin puree (4 cans) Yeast Wooden toothpicks
Morels Prosciutto Creme fraiche Jarred chestnuts   Beef demiglace
Ground lamb Mascarpone cheese Dried cherries Xanax

A few other shopping tips:

  • Make your list by going through each recipe on your menu. You can update quantities of ingredients that dishes have in common as you go (think eggs, butter, etc.)

  • Check your pantry and see what needs to be restocked. You might think you have enough flour, but for Thanksgiving, you probably don’t.

  • When bagging at the grocery store, try to keep all your refrigerated items together. It will make it easier to just put those bags away first when you get home. (I always bag all my groceries by category so I can organize them more easily in the fridge/freezer/cupboards, but you may not be that OCD.)

  • Above all, be flexible, and willing to adjust your menu. There is always going to be one ingredient you can’t find in stock, and rather than make yourself insane going to three stores, just accept that you will either tweak the dish, 86 it from the menu, or replace it with something simple (e.g. mashed sweet potatoes) that doesn’t require more than a couple of ingredients.

    More Thanksgiving 101 posts to come, including menu-planning tips and ideas, and prep countdown timeline! Meanwhile, you can practice the shopping-by-category method for your regular grocery trips. Tell me that doesn’t save time.

    Note: Special thanks to Debzita for helping me remember the name of the supermarket on The Simpsons.


    1. I would like this spread sheet to be in the shape of the Red Hook Fairway.

    2. That's the download for premium members. Just give us your credit card number and we'll be sure to send it right away.

    3. Actually, that's a great point - reordering the columns to fit your market's aisle order.

      Also, once you send your credit card #, there is this really sweet Nigerian prince I want to introduce you to, you will not believe what he has gone through!