What it takes to have a happy Thanksgiving is different for everyone. Every family has their own special holiday traditions that help fill them with a grateful heart during this crazy time of year. For me, it’s the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade, followed by A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, Christmas movies, and music playing in the background.
And since cooking a large Thanksgiving meal can be a stressful venture, I like to have a plan and vision for the day. What will it look like? What will it smell like? Which loved ones will I want to share the day with?
Once I have that vision and Ultimate Thanksgiving Checklist well in hand, I can rest assured that my Thanksgiving celebration will give me a grateful heart instead of an anxious one.
Even though Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday in November every year, and most people think they have plenty of time, it’s never too early to start planning! Whether you’re hosting an intimate dinner with just a few guests, or a sprawling affair for the extended family, hosting a Thanksgiving dinner requires a lot of planning and preparation!
But don’t you worry, because I’m here to help you through it! I’ve written my Ultimate Thanksgiving Checklist that will help you keep track of everything from start to finish, so you can have your best “turkey day” ever! 🙂
This checklist begins three weeks before Thanksgiving Day, which means you can start preparations right away!
Happy Thanksgiving Day Prep
Three Weeks Before Thanksgiving
- Invite Your Guests. Make sure your guests have been invited and get those RSVPs! Be sure to find out how many adults you’ll have and how many kids they’ll be bringing with them.
- Ask About Allergies. Find out if your guests have any food allergies and dietary restrictions so you can account for them in your menu. (Hosting gluten-intolerant guests? You can’t go wrong with my Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pie Cake!)
- Inventory Your Place Settings. Once you know how many dinner guests you’ll have, make sure you have enough place settings for everyone. This includes table space, placemats, chairs, plates, glasses, flatware, etc.
- Gather Necessary Supplies. Once you know what you have and what you need, call around to your verified guest list and see if they have extra folding tables, chairs, and place settings you can borrow for the big day. If you love being a hostess and get excited at the prospect of filling your home with friends and loved ones, you may want to consider purchasing those folding tables and chairs and place settings. That way, you will always have them when you need them.
Two Weeks Before
- Plan Your Menu. Gather up your traditional recipes, or hunt down new ones if you want to try something new this year! If you plan on branching out, I suggest doing a test run a week or two before. Here are some of my personal favorites:
- Hand Out Assignments. Once you know what you’re going to make, recruit help if necessary. Guests are usually happy to help out, so don’t be afraid to ask your guests to help out with the cooking!
- Make Turkey Arrangements. Order your fresh turkey, or buy your frozen turkey and put it in your freezer. A good rule of thumb for size/weight is one pound per person for whole birds and 3/4 pound per person for bone-in turkey breasts.
One Week Before
- Start Prepping Tableware. Start getting your table ready. You don’t have to set it up yet, but this is a good time to wash your tablecloth and napkins and polish up any silverware you’ll be using.
- Gather Your Dishes. Round up all the serving dishes and utensils you’ll need, like your roaster (and if you don’t have an electric roaster, this is the time to get it), carving knife, platters, and any special occasion serving dishes, and wash them if necessary.
- Start Thawing Your Turkey. For your turkey to thaw properly in the fridge, you’ll need to allow one day for every 4 pounds it weighs. When in doubt, start thawing early-it’s better to have it thawed out a day ahead than to get behind!
Three To Four Days Before
- Delegate Cleaning Tasks. Round up your “cleaning crew” (mine is my husband and youngest sons) and delegate any chores that need to be done. Focus your efforts on the kitchen, dining room, and guest bathroom.
- Buy Perishable Ingredients. Shop for your perishable ingredients, like fresh produce and fresh herbs.
Two Days Before
- Make Pie Crusts. Prepare your dough from scratch, or thaw out any frozen dough you’ll be using.
- Make Custard Pies. Prepare and bake your gluten-free or basic pumpkin pies and other custard-y pies and store them in the fridge. (Hold off on making your fruit pies or pecan pies, as they don’t keep as well.)
- Make Rolls. Fresh bread and dinner rolls will keep for a couple of days.
- Make Dips & Dressings. Things like dips, salad dressings, soups, cranberry sauce, and even mashed potatoes will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.
- Assemble Casseroles. Assemble your sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, and oven-baked stuffing/dressing and store them in the fridge. All you’ll have to do on the big day is bake them!
One Day Before
- Set The Table. Put out placemats, plates, utensils, and whatever else you plan to have out on the table.
- Make Remaining Pies. Finish any remaining baking you still need to do, including making your fruit pies and pecan pies.
- Pick Up Fresh Turkey. If you ordered a fresh turkey, pick it up from the store or butcher.
- Make A Cooking Schedule. Coordinating a number of different baking, roasting, and cooking times take planning! Use my printable cooking schedule planner (see below) to make a plan for when you’ll cook what.
- Stick To Your Schedule. Get your turkey in the oven nice and early to make sure the rest of your schedule can go according to plan.
- Get Ready For Dinner. Shower, get dressed, and do whatever else you need to do early in the day. The later it gets, the less time you’ll have for yourself, so plan accordingly!
- Tent The Turkey. When the turkey is done, tent it with a big piece of tin foil. Allow the turkey to rest for at least an hour before serving.
- Finish Cooking. Finish baking or heating up any side dishes, including stuffing, mashed potatoes, rolls, and casseroles.
- Make Your Gravy. Many Thanksgiving dishes taste delicious even if they’re not piping hot, but gravy is NOT one of them. Make your gravy as late as possible to ensure it’s hot when the meal is served.
- Serve The Food. Recruit help to get all of the food into serving dishes and set it out on the table or countertop. Then let everyone know you’ll be serving yourself first because you absolutely deserve it! 🙂
Download The Ultimate Thanksgiving Checklist & Cooking Schedule!
I put together a printable version of the checklist I outlined above. You can download a copy of it for FREE by clicking the link in the box below!
My Thanksgiving Checklist will help you keep you plan your best “turkey day” without ever feeling rushed or stressed. Download the checklist as a printable PDF file using the button below.
I also made a printable cooking schedule that you can fill out to help you stay organized (as I mentioned above under “One Day Before.”) You can download that below!
Thanksgiving Cooking Schedule
Download a printable PDF file of my Thanksgiving Cooking Schedule and use it to plan how you’ll get everything cooked, baked, and roasted to perfection.
Tips To Make Thanksgiving Dinner More Meaningful
When I was a child, Thanksgiving festivities were centered mainly on learning about the Pilgrim and Native American story. But it’s so much more than just a partial history lesson and a feast of delicious food. Thanksgiving is also an opportunity to express a thankful heart, in addition to learning about our nation’s history. Here are a few tips to help you feel more gratitude this holiday season.
Print out simple Thanksgiving day quotes on colored cardstock or put a unique Thanksgiving quote on each place setting to help encourage dinner discussion. They can be funny, heartfelt, or deep quotes depending on your style.
Gratitude Chalk Placemats
Use chalk placemats like this one at the kid’s table and provide a bucket of colored chalk. Encourage the children to write or draw pictures of one good thing that brings them happiness.
A Special Thanksgiving Card
If you’re feeling especially blessed, you can write each friend and loved one a happy Thanksgiving message that shows your appreciation for the joy they have brought to your life. I promise they will leave with a thankful heart and hope for the upcoming year, and it’s sure to be something hey will always remember!
This can also be done verbally, around the table during the dinner itself.
BONUS: 9 Useful Thanksgiving Tips, Tricks, & Hacks
1. Bring A Cooler
Whether you’re hosting your own Thanksgiving dinner or attending one, having your cooler on hand can be extremely useful! Use it to keep dishes warm before dinner, and fill it with soapy water after dinner to soak dirty dishes!
2. Freeze Some Grapes
Offer up frozen grapes instead of ice if you’ll be serving sparkling wine or cider. Not only are they a festive touch, but they won’t water down your drink as they thaw!
3. Plan For Leftovers
We’re a food-loving bunch, so we almost always end up making more food than we’re capable of eating at dinner. But more food means more leftovers, and that’s never a bad thing in my mind!
Plan ahead for leftovers by stocking up on disposable containers ahead of time. Restaurant supply stores offer a variety of sizes and styles for just a few cents each, and if you’re feeling fancy, you can even spruce them up with a few cute labels!
4. Hide Pie Imperfections
I don’t bake pumpkin pies very often (I like pumpkin variety), so they rarely turn out picture-perfect. If I’m feeling particularly self-conscious about the cracks, dimples, or other imperfections, it’s easy to hide them!
I just slice the pie up before dinner and top each piece with a big dollop of whipped cream. It saves me a bit of time after dinner, and as far as my imperfect pie goes, no one’s the wiser! 😉
5. Fix Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry sauce is an important part of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner because it’s tart and tangy flavor helps cut through all the richness of the other dishes. But it can be hard to get just the balance of sweet and tart just right.
If your cranberry sauce isn’t quite tangy or tart enough, a splash of lemon juice will fix it right up!
6. Make The Gravy Last
As I mentioned previously, it’s important to make your gravy last. Even if all your other dishes are a bit lukewarm by dinnertime, the hot gravy will ensure it all tastes amazing!
7. Counter Turkey Dryness
Sliced turkey can start to dry out at an alarming rate. To make sure your turkey stays moist until everything else is ready, sprinkle a few tablespoons of hot chicken stock over the top of it.
8. Eliminate Gravy Lumps
There’s no excuse for lumpy gravy when cooking, especially when it only takes a few seconds to fix it. Just run your finished gravy through a fine-mesh sieve or strainer to remove the lumps and ensure your gravy is silky-smooth.
9. Rescue Mashed Potatoes
There are a thousand little things that can go wrong with mashed potatoes. Keep this simple Plan B in your back pocket in case your mashed potatoes just aren’t turning out right!
Spread the potatoes in a shallow baking dish, and sprinkle a generous amount of breadcrumbs, herbs, and parmesan cheese over the top. Bake the potatoes until the top is golden-brown for a potato casserole that is sure to taste amazing!
What’s your most useful Thanksgiving tip?