Food Styling Tips and Thanksgiving Dishes You Don’t Have to Make Yourself, with Whole Foods Market Cherry Creek

We all have Pinterest boards with dozens (if not hundreds) of food styling ideas. Many of us dream of a magazine-style holiday table with Thanksgiving dishes that look like works of art. The harsh reality is that managing guests and cooking alone takes up much of our preparation time on holidays. We’re often lucky if all components of a meal make it to the table without being burnt or cold. How are we supposed to have time to make them beautiful too? Jana Patterson, executive chef at Whole Foods Cherry Creek in Denver, has French culinary training and a background in catering. She offers some helpful, easy-to-follow advice for a gorgeous holiday dinner. The biggest surprise? You need to start setting your table today!

 Take Advantage of Prepared Meals

One of the best tips for doing your holiday meal right is to not do it all yourself. Locating quality meals at your grocer can save hours of food preparation time, allowing you to style your meal and–believe it or not–enjoy the holiday. Whole Foods Cherry Creek has a staff of 96 people in their prepared food department. Patterson says, “We have a lot of chefs in our department. We added it up and I think we have 47 years of experience.” Whole Foods offers high-quality and healthy options to cover every part of a holiday meal. Selections include sweet potato biscuits, stuffed brie, maple citrus mashed yams, green beans almondine, herb roasted turkey, pumpkin pie, the list goes on.

It’s important to realize that you don’t have to make an entire holiday meal yourself or buy the entire dinner from your grocer. Patterson explains, “Everybody has their own holiday tradition. Some people want to make their own turkey and so they focus all of their energy on buying a heritage bird and doing the turkey but the run out time to do the sides. So we offer a side package for eight and that eliminates the stress. It comes with reheating instructions so they can just come in and order that. We also offer complete meals where the turkeys are all fully roasted. They come a farm (Diestel) that only raises birds for Whole Foods.”

Don’t Forget Specialty Diets

Before you try to sneak the bacon out of your vegetarian nephew’s green beans, consider a better option. If you are not comfortable preparing vegetarian or vegan meals but you have a family member with a special diet, tapping into your grocer’s prepared foods allows you to offer them more than a dinner roll for Thanksgiving. Whole Foods offers a range of vegan and vegetarian options, so you can pick up some sides or an entire meal to accommodate any dietary needs.

Holiday Dinners for Two

Couples who live far away from family and many empty nesters may long for the full holiday spread, but roasting a turkey for two is a little bit of a hassle. This is another scenario in which opting for grocer prepared meals makes perfect sense. Patterson says, “People can order side ranges or turkeys, even a turkey breast dinner from two.”

Set Your Table Early

Patterson claims that setting a beautiful table is all about preparation: “My tip is that you want to get organized ahead of time. Before your holiday table is set, I would pull out your dishes and use sticky notes to assign what dish you will use for each item. That way, you are not making more mashed potatoes than you can fit in your serving dish.  And you know you have enough dishes, so you are not putting out your gravy pot instead of your gravy boat. Give yourself a couple of days, so you know you have enough plates and serving utensils.”

Easy Garnishes

You can get some easy yet striking garnishes for your Thanksgiving dinner while you are out grabbing ingredients. Patterson explains, “Say your recipe has parsley, pick up an extra bunch so you can garnish with that. If your recipes have herbs, pick up an extra package so you can soak them in water while your dish is cooking. That way they are a nice bright green. Then when your dish is finished, you can put them around the dish and really set it off like restaurant and magazine style.”

Get Creative with Your Table

We sometimes run out of serving platters and bowls for large family gatherings. Patterson suggests a creative twist if you find yourself in this position, “You can use a pumpkin to serve your stuffing. Say you don’t have enough vessels and you are going to the grocery store, but you don’t want to wait in line at another store to buy the dish. Just pick up a pumpkin and carve it out. You don’t have to roast it at all. What I do is carve it out, salt the inside, let it sit for an hour, and then wipe it out. That way you don’t get any of the bitter pumpkin.” Patterson also suggests using carved-out pumpkins for potted mums as a seasonal centerpiece for your meal.

Fancy Drinks for All Ages

As you can see in the photos, Patterson dressed up sparkling apple cider for a festive beverage for all ages. She simply used thyme leaves and fresh cranberries for a holiday look. She adds, “Sometimes I will  buy some raspberry sparkling water and then put some gently bruised mint in it. Just to open up everybody’s palette before dinner. That way if you are running behind everybody has a drink in their hand and they are relaxed.”

Best Tip for Leftovers

Patterson uses leftover sweet potatoes for day-after-Thanksgiving doughnuts. You can do the same thing at home with your favorite fritter recipe. Or just pick them up at Whole Foods–they are divine.

Timing is Everything

If you are planning to take advantage of prepared meals at Whole Foods, preordering is your best route. Prepaying for your food means that you can pick it up on Thanksgiving day and avoid waiting in all those lines. And if you happen to burn your turkey or your mashed potatoes are gluey, Whole Foods is open on Thanksgiving. Hours vary by individual store, so call ahead.

Visit to order your holiday meal!

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