K-State Research and Extension News
November 12, 2010
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Food Scientist Offers 10 Tips to Simplify Holiday Meals

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Pre-holiday sales typically make the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner a perennial bargain -- about $5 per person. Slow roasting a turkey need not be difficult, so what's the problem in getting a holiday dinner on the table?

"Food safety and quality are integral to the success of holiday gatherings, yet a traditional Thanksgiving dinner need not be complicated," said Karen Blakeslee, Kansas State University Research and Extension food scientist, who encouraged holiday hosts to plan ahead to save money and free-up time for family and friends. 

Saying that isn't the same as doing it, so Blakeslee, who as Extension's Rapid Response Coordinator spends her working hours answering food safety questions, offered tips to reduce stress and hold the line on costs:

1) Plan ahead; check the guest list to estimate the quantity of food needed. 

2) Simplify the menu; volunteering to host a holiday meal isn't the same as doing all of the food preparation. Ask guests who live nearby to prepare foods that will travel well (salads, vegetable casserole or desserts are examples) without compromising food safety and quality. Ask guests who will be traveling to contribute non-perishable menu items, such as beverages, relishes or partyware.

3) Check recipes and staples (flour, sugar, condiments, etc.) to build a grocery list; keep a running list and take it along when shopping prior to the holiday to avoid additional shopping trips. For those with smartphones, use the memopad app for your grocery list and you won’t forget it.

4) Check grocery sale flyers and purchase non-perishable foods (canned or frozen vegetables, condiments, baking mixes, paper goods, etc.) at pre-season sale prices and when supplies are still plentiful.

5) Bake ahead; quick breads, muffins, yeast breads and/or rolls typically freeze well. Some salads, such as a winter fruit or gelatin salad, and vegetable casseroles -- green bean or mashed potato, for example -- often can be made a day or two in advance and refrigerated until time to reheat and/or serve.

6) Select the turkey; either fresh or frozen are typical choices. Taste can be comparable, but after ordering a fresh turkey, place a reminder to pick up the turkey a day or two before the holiday. To thaw a turkey safely, remove the turkey from the freezer and place the wrapped turkey in a shallow pan on the lowest shelf in the refrigerator. As a general rule, allow one day of thawing time for each 4-5 pounds of turkey to ensure the turkey will be ready for roasting.

7) Follow USDA recommendation to oven roast a turkey at 325 degrees F; allow about 20 minutes per pound for roasting, and an additional 15-20 minutes to allow a cooked turkey to stand prior to carving. Roasting is a slow process, so there's no need to preheat the oven. Plan also to bake dressing or stuffing in a casserole, rather than in a poultry cavity, which, as a moist environment, can lead to bacteria growth and foodborne illness.

8) Use a thermometer; the USDA recommends checking safe-to-eat cooked temperatures with a food thermometer. All poultry products must be cooked to 165 degrees F. Test a whole, roasted turkey by inserting the thermometer probe into the innermost part of the thigh and the thickest part of the breast.

Relying on a pop-up timer packaged with some commercial turkeys is not recommended because the probe may not be long enough to test internal temperatures. More information on choosing and using a meat thermometer is available at www.fsis.usda.gov/PDF/Kitchen_Thermometers.pdf

9) Plan table or buffet seating; organize tableware, serving dishes and utensils in advance.

10) Transfer leftovers to shallow pans, and cover and refrigerate within 2 hours. To enjoy leftovers for holiday meals and snacks, reheat cooked leftovers to 165 degrees F or wrap, label and date leftovers to freeze for future meals within 2 to 3 days.

More information on choosing holiday foods and preparing and managing holiday meals is available at local K-State Research and Extension offices and online: www.ksre.ksu.edu/humannutrition and www.rrc.ksu.edu.


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by: Nancy Peterson
K-State Research & Extension News

Karen Blakeslee is at 785-532-1673 or kblakesl@ksu.edu.