By Hilary Bernstein, Contributing Writer

Growing up, Thanksgiving dinner was a wonderful time with family and plenty of food. Yet many of the dishes served were made with processed food:

  • Green bean casserole made with cream of mushroom soup and French fried onions,
  • Pre-made rolls,
  • Gravy from a jar,
  • Canned sweet potatoes topped with brown sugar and marshmallows,
  • Canned cranberry sauce,
  • Pumpkin pie made with ready-made pie crusts and canned filling.

A real food Thanksgiving dinner isn't difficult to prepare, and the taste is amazing ... and far more nutritious than a processed meal.

My husband and I both love to cook real food, so a few years ago we started making our own real food Thanksgiving dinner – weeks before Thanksgiving. It was delicious. And, surprisingly, it wasn’t too difficult. In fact, with a little planning, I’ve found I can make everything from scratch in just a few hours.

Until this year, we haven’t been able to enjoy a completely real food Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving Day. Ever since we started hosting Thanksgiving, we make sure the entire menu is made up of real food. When we know to expect a processed Thanksgiving, we make up for it by enjoying our own real food feast throughout the year – whether it’s in the middle of November, January, or even July.

What’s on our menu?

I’ve experimented with different recipes over the years, but have found my favorites. My go-to menu is:

A real food Thanksgiving dinner isn't difficult to prepare, and the taste is amazing ... and far more nutritious than a processed meal.

Timing is everything

As long as I know we’re planning our feast, I set aside an afternoon of cooking. (While the turkey is roasting in the oven, I get to work on everything else.) Here’s my timeline:

Three days before

  • Thaw turkey
  • Clean the kitchen.

One day before

Four hours before dinner

  • Make pie crust.

Three and a half hours before dinner

  • Simmer cranberries for cranberry sauce.
  • Make pie filling.

Three hours before dinner

  • Bake pie.
  • Prepare stuffing.

A real food Thanksgiving dinner isn't difficult to prepare, and the taste is amazing ... and far more nutritious than a processed meal.

Two and a half hours before dinner

Two hours before dinner

  • Set table. (Remember, this meal is just for my immediate family … when I’m hosting guests, I’ll work on this in the morning.)

Hour and a half before dinner

A real food Thanksgiving dinner isn't difficult to prepare, and the taste is amazing ... and far more nutritious than a processed meal.

Hour before dinner

  • Cube potatoes and start boiling them.
  • Bake green bean casserole.

Half-hour before dinner

  • Let turkey rest.
  • Mash potatoes.
  • Finish making gravy.

Then dinner is served! (After dinner, it’s a massive clean up — made easier when I try to clean up after myself while I’m cooking — and saving the turkey carcass for bone broth.) It’s a feast, for sure … and my family usually dines on leftovers for days after. But it’s delicious, and completely worth a busy afternoon in the kitchen.

Growing up, Thanksgiving dinner was a wonderful time with family and plenty of food. Yet many of the dishes served were made with processed food. Here's how to plan and prepare your first REAL FOOD Thanksgiving dinner.

What are your favorite real food Thanksgiving dinner dishes?

PlanToEat-150x150This post is sponsored by Plan To Eat. If you know you need to make strides towards regular meal planning and you’re looking for a tool to make it easier, I highly recommend you check out Plan To Eat’s virtual tour. Sign up for a free 30-day trial to see how it works! Plan To Eat was born from a desire to eat real food — great food — prepared at home, together as a family. Plan to Eat is an online menu planner that uses your recipes, scheduled for the days you want them, automatically generating your grocery list, organized the way you like to shop. Eat well. Eat together.