Your Stress-Free Thanksgiving Planning Guide

By , SparkPeople Blogger
The wheel of "It's your turn to host Thanksgiving" was spun and the arrow stopped on me. Yippee! If you won this year too, check out this list and you will be smiling all day.  No stress, no worries, just holiday spirit, laughter among loved ones and plenty of delicious food.

3 Weeks Ahead
  • Make a guest list of family and friends that you want to include. The more the merrier!
  • Send an invitation and ask people what they plan to bring.
  • Take inventory. Once you get a general idea of how many will attend, take inventory of your china, glassware, silverware and serving dishes. (It's OK if it doesn't all match!)
  • Pick your décor. Decide on tablescape ideas: napkins, candles, tablecloths and decorations. I love to use fall harvest nuts, berries and pumpkins in my decorations.
2 Weeks Ahead
  • Finalize the menu.
  • Shop for non-perishable items.
  • Pick your turkey: fresh or frozen?*
  • Make and freeze a meal for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
*Turkey Tips
If you're buying a frozen turkey, get it now (if you have the freezer space). If going the fresh route, place your order with a local butcher or turkey producer. Allow 3/4 pound per person for a whole turkey and 1/2 a pound per person for a turkey breast. Don't buy turkeys larger than 15 pounds. The bigger they are, the older they are. As we all know, when we get old, we get touch and mean!
1 Week Ahead
Thaw the turkey if frozen. Make sure there's room for it to thaw in the refrigerator. Use a large pan to catch any juices that might escape as it thaws. Allow 1 day of thaw time for every 4 pounds of bird. For example, a 12-pound bird will need 3 days to thaw.
5 Days Ahead
Get the family involved in planning "use it up meals" to clear space in the refrigerator for the next few nights.
3 Days Ahead
  • Shop for perishable items. Group items according to recipe in the pantry or refrigerator.
  • Set up the beverage area. Choose a central area in the kitchen or dining room to stock with assorted glasses, cocktail napkins, an ice bucket, a bottle opener, a wine key and a small can for recyclables.
  • Set the table with tablecloth and decorations if you have a separate formal dining area. 
2 Days Ahead
  • Make desserts. Plan on 1 1/2 servings per person. Typically, people like to sample a couple of desserts, so make sure you have enough.
  • Clean the house and pick up the yard.
1 Day Ahead
  • Prepare side dishes that can be held overnight, such as cranberries or sweet potato casserole. Cut and chop ingredients for salads but don't toss with dressing until just before serving.
  • Pick up last-minute items like prepared rolls and ice.
  • Time your turkey. Roast 12-15 minutes per pound at 325 degrees F. The turkey should be done 1 hour before dinner so it can cool slightly and carve easily.
  • Set out all serving dishes and utensils.
  • Chill beverages.
Step-by-Step Guide to a Stress-Free Thanksgiving Day
Be sure to "Pin" this graphic for future reference.

Happy Thanksgiving from My Family to Yours!
Chef Meg, Mark, Noah, Ian and Josh

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints


Great article! Report
That sounds great! Report
AQUAGIRL08 11/14/2020
This is very helpful. Thank you! Report
1CRAZYDOG 10/22/2020
Good timeline! Thanks. Report
I've made many Thanksgiving dinners and am confident about my ability to plan and serve a lovely dinner, but this list includes other tasks that are critical to hosting guests. For instance, making and freezing dinner for Wednesday night and cleaning the bathrooms. These are tasks that have never been on my list, but are necessary. Chef Meg's list helps me plan more thoroughly. Thank you! Report
Thanks for the information. Report
Thanks for the ideas. Report
thanks Report
Some great guideline suggestions. Report
I'd stress out anyway. That's the way I am. Report
Good timeline Report
Very good tips to allow time for everything. Report
Good article, thanks. Report
Good article, thank you. Report
Great article Report
A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith
in their mission can alter the course of history.
- Mohandas Gandhi Report
thanks Report
Thanks for these great steps. You made my job much easier. Report
Great reminders for a stressful time! Report
Happy Thanksgiving! Report
My mother-in-law would put empty serving dishes on the table with the serving spoon or fork with a note about what food went in it. I thought that was great. When I helped put out the dinner, I did not have to ask her which serving dish to use! chris Report
Some ideas I wouldn't use but some are awesome tips that I wouldn't have thought of so I am Thankful for this. One other poster suggested checking to make sure all food is on before calling folks to the table - I too have missed a side dish until left-overs are being stowed. Can't do without this!
Most of this article makes sense, but I'd never set the table 3 days ahead of the dinner. I do have a separate dining room that doesn't get used often, but having dishes out for 3 days means they'll have to be dusted or washed again right before dinner. Since it only takes a few minutes to set the table, it can be done on the morning of Thanksgiving day. Report
this is so cool. you have practically hour by hour what to do instruction's. Way too cool. Lovin it. Report
This is awesome... got to work around some of that "on the day" stuff, though, because I'm going to spend the morning out running a 10K. Report
This will be my first year planning and cooking our Thanksgiving dinner. I really appreciate this guide and will be using it a general guideline! Thanks Chef Meg for your great ideas! Report
It's a shame some posters feel the need to leave snarky comments. It may not be the way you do it, but you don't need to rude.

Thanks, Chef Meg. Report
Thanks Meg I am hosting this year, what a great timetable! May you and your family have a great turkey day too! Mary Report
I have done Thanksgiving for years. One tip that I have is keep a Thanksgiving section in your recipe book. Add notes to recipes that you have tried or that didn't work. Accumulate them over the years - I now have great recipes that suit our family for all of the standards.

I also make a "this year card". It notes how many people, what I served, what wines I had etc. It is a great starting point for the next year. I have noticed that contrary to this article - my Thanksgivings have become simpler. We enjoy more with less. Less centerpieces, less fancy wines (at my house no one notices), less desserts. But last year my daughter used Alton Brown's brine recipe and it was great. Report
Three weeks before you invite people and ask what they're bringing and the two weeks before you send formal invitation, if using? Really? Also, who has a table just for setting three days ahead and as for a tablescape, I need the table space for the dishes that will be passed around. Decorate the house and have a small centrepiece...really it's about people not image.... Report
I really liked this article! Report
Also, forget Norman Rockwell/Walt Disney/Hallmark/Martha Stewart, etc. Those are idealized gatherings, not reality for the majority of us. I agree with MEL_UNRAU -- remember this is about friends and family. It's a great checklist and a place to start. Use it to do what is reasonable for you and your family.
Thanksgiving is always at Mom and Dad's but I like the Timeline . . . I do something like it for Christmas Eve which is at my house . . . lots of lists . . . lots of planning . . . the key is to have a plan just like with everyday Sparking. Report
Great tips, thank you! Report
I had thanksgiving dinner at my house 2 years ago for the first time. And although the timeline / list may be a bit too much, I would have loved to have it back then. My kitchen looked like a mess, I was worn out and tired but we all had a blast!! Report
i just read the rest of the comments! yikes!! we have some crabby non celebrators posting! lots of people celebrate like this AND need help with the list .... and this is so not martha ... it seems perfectly sane and manageable ..... Report
the best tip on here is "make and freeze a meal for the wedn. before t-day" ... just brilliant!!

great list ... thanks! Report
One other thing to add to this list: Make a list of the foods you are serving, post it on the fridge, and check it before calling your guests to the table. This way you won't forget to serve the strawberry pretzel salad (which is time consuming to prepare) the way I did one year! lol Report
Julia Child used to make lists like this. Informative and helpful. Report
Well, guess I'm not Martha Stewart then. I use paper plates, paper table cloth, and I cook what is on sale in the grocery store!
China-HAHAHAHA, glass ware-HAHAHAHA Report
Great list, outstanding for keeping my Type A personality in check! Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving! Report
GREAT LIST! I Could Have Used This List In The Past. I'm One Of Those Night Before People Although Desserts May Be Made A Couple Of Days Earlier. When You Wait To The Last Minute You Truly Get Tired And Grouchy And Not Very Thankful lol. I Appreciate You Sharing This And It Can Be Used On Other Holidays Or Occassions. Many Blessings Upon You And Your Family! Happy Thanksgiving To you All!!! :))))
I think this is a great timeline. To the few people who think it is going too far, the point of starting early is to spread out the workload so that it's not too much at one time. I have about 20 people for Thanksgiving each year, and a number of them are overnight guests, meaning multiple meals for large groups. If I don't start my planning early, it's a lot of stress. Thanks, Chef Meg! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Report
I think more people need to be thankful for this list! ;-) As a youngin' I would totally need something like this for my first Thanksgiving! Thankfully, my parents are still feeding me on the holiday Report
I think more people need to be thankful for this list! ;-) As a youngin' I would totally need something like this for my first Thanksgiving! Thankfully, my parents are still feeding me on the holiday Report
this plan sounds like Martha Stewart and many of those fancy cooks on the food channel. we don't have to do all the fancy stuff that for those who like things done fancy. my plan check the recipes out and i think this list is a good your own to do list going. and i can remember my aunt doing the table setting thing part way since she had a separate room and didn't use the room unless she had company they ate in the kitchen other wise. Report
Ha Ha another plus to living in Canada - I am done with Thanksgiving!!! Report
Seriously? This is a bit insanely silly. I throw lots of dinner parties, but with a small home and two small kids, this would never happen. Clean regularly so you don't feel you have to do a major deep clean, then touch up the day before. Make a lovely dinner and remember this is for friends and family... :) 3 weeks to plan one dinner? You need to enjoy the month too! After all, it's about being thankful, not perfect! Report
I would like to add one important note to the list: considering one's vegetarian guests. Most veg folks will be willing to bring their own food and will really appreciate your consideration.

For some great tips, there's a handy article right here on SparkPeople:
Set the table 3 days before? I don't think so.

Nonetheless, I appreciated this timeline and will refer back to it on a regular basis, since we ALWAYS host the family Thanksgiving gathering. And I'm glad to see that kids are included in the tasks as this is the only way they'll learn to do them.

Happy Thanksgiving to All! Report