How To Prepare For The Holiday: Thanksgiving Meal Planning

Thanksgiving Dinner

After Halloween, Thanksgiving rolls around. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the preparation. There are so many dishes that have to be made and brought together in one evening! One of the ways you can help reduce your stress during Thanksgiving is by planning. We compiled a helpful timeline for Thanksgiving meal survival to make this gathering a success for your family.

1 Month Down the Line

The earlier you prepare for large parties like Thanksgiving, the better-- especially if you have a big family to prepare for. Four weeks before the big feast, start by jotting down the must-haves and to-dos!

Ace a Guest List

Depending on how many people you can accommodate for a holiday, whether immediate family or extended family and even friends, the list of people you will be feeding is essential. Get those invites out, and make sure to inform those who will be joining your table! 

The second step is figuring out what dishes everyone prefers: handed down from generation to generation, traditional turkey with all its trimmings, vegetarian options, or something new like seafood Thermidor. It's now time to decide precisely how much work you're willing to do this year.

Ideate on the Menu

Menu Board

Do you want to stick with traditional Thanksgiving dinner menus or mix things up this year? Start planning what your guests can enjoy, from the turkey and sides all of way through dessert.

For first-time hosts, it's best not to add too many complex dishes so you don't feel overwhelmed by stress on such an important day! However, best to keep in mind that portion sizes should be generous but not intimidating.

In addition to the main course, provide a choice of two or three side dishes and make sure you have all the ingredients on hand for each one. Nothing makes guests more uncomfortable than running out of mashed potatoes! If cooking it yourself, consider enlisting some help from friends - they'll be grateful for an opportunity to contribute and share.

Shop for the Thanksgiving Products That You Need

Must-have Thanksgiving Ingredients

Now that you have a rundown of who is coming, what dishes they bring, and your menu finalized. It's time to get down to the business of shopping for all those products on your grocery list!

Few things are more boring than being caught without a proper gravy boat to serve your special guests on Thanksgiving Day. I'll tell you what - if the day before is anything like last year, this will happen at some point between Christmas Eve dinner and New Year's brunch!

Make sure you have all of your tablecloths set out and enough serving trays for everyone. That way, there won't be any leftovers that end up getting thrown away or donated after these festivities are done.

3 Weeks Down the Line

After the first week of preliminary planning and brainstorming, it's now time to take action. It's ideal to have all of the Thanksgiving day tasks completed by now so that you can spend more time with family during this particular holiday season!

Delegate Tasks and Assign Dishes

Why should you let your guests bring something instead of doing all the work yourself? There's no reason not to say yes! Bring a dish or two that is sure to please even more people. You may have Thanksgiving sides in mind, but also keep an eye on what everyone else brings, so there's plenty for everybody at this dinner table feast.

Believe it or not, some people are coming with dessert ideas already planned. At the same time, others won't know until after they've gotten there or how much food needs to be prepared or whether someone has allergies. Don' shy away from assigning which dishes to bring to save everyone the hassle and, of course, the cost.

Go for No-Cook Options if You Please

This is usually a more accessible alternative for those celebrating friends-giving, especially if none of you in the friend group know their way around the kitchen. Have them bring wine or signature cocktails before dinner to kick off the festivity!

You can also let someone else take care of prepping food for you. Therefore, your focus will be on other important matters. You may entertain those around the table with games and sides while still being able to enjoy Thanksgiving itself!

Shop for Holiday Essentials 

Avoid long lines and low stocks of the best brands by shopping for what you can as soon as possible. You'll be happy to have a few good cooking oils, canned goods, holiday spices, or even aluminum foil in your cupboard. 

This will save you time when something goes wrong hours before dinner! You'll then be fully equipped to replace that secret stuffing recipe your mom never fails to lose, then look for the last minute. 

Make a Turkey Master Plan

A Fully Cooked Turkey on the Table

Like it or not, in most households, the turkey is the centerpiece of every Thanksgiving dinner. Traditionally, it's prepared three different ways: roasted in the oven, deep-fried, and smoked.

Many people usually result to roasting their turkey in the oven. Though you can use any cooking method for Thanksgiving dinner, there are a few tricks that make it easier- like preheating your pan or baking stone for at least 30-45 minutes to ensure the heat is hot enough for an evenly browned turkey.

Whether you're using a gas or electric oven, set it between 325°F to 350°F. If your recipe requires basting, then do so about every 45 minutes until finished cooking.

2 Weeks Down the Line

You're finally halfway through the preparations. The following two weeks till Thanksgiving dinner will require you to zero in on the details and fine lines.

Pay Attention to the Decor

Thanksgiving Decor and Table Placements

Now is the time to ponder on the aesthetic of your dinner theme. The time has come to make your home feel like an inviting and cozy place for friends around the Thanksgiving dinner table. Try adding some harvest accents, such as pumpkins or sugary leaves in vases on shelves with candles inside them!

Decorating is one of the most exciting parts of preparing for the feast. It's a great way to collaborate and develop ideas that your loved ones will enjoy and your relatives can't help but notice.

Experiment and Practice with New Recipes

If you're feeling nervous about preparing a big meal, do a test run. It would help to try out new Thanksgiving sides. Make time to practice your basting skills on easier bird-like chicken thighs before tackling Turkey Day dinner this year!

Aside from turkey, the stuffing is one of the more crucial dishes people expect to be nothing short of exceptional or plain awful. Be patient and try out alternative ingredients that will meet the dietary restriction of your guests and will leave everyone wanting more of your new creation!

Check which Dishes can be Pre-Made

Not every dish has to be made hours before the big feast. Many recipes, including make-ahead gravy and mashed potatoes, can still be prepared in advance for Thanksgiving dinner with ease! Just freeze these dishes once they're cooled down or heated, then leave them on hand just before your big day so nothing will go wrong during cooking time.

A Few Days Down the Line

Now that you're nearing your Thanksgiving hosting duties, it's time to iron out a few more pesky details before the last-minute chaos ensues.

Run Back to the Grocery Store for a Final Grocery Run

A person pushing a grocery cart

It's time to get your greens and sweet potatoes for the holiday salad. You can always find fresh produce at this time of year. It may also be best not to buy anything else because we want our food supply healthy before all those people descend!

It's usually the most simple ingredients that tend to go missing fast, so best to load up on them even at the last minute. However, don't forget to be mindful of other holiday shoppers; hoarding all the canned cherries won't be necessary if you're only entertaining a few people.

Clean and Shape Up Your Home

This is a part of hosting Thanksgiving that no one ever seems to get right. The last thing you want on your mind when it's time for guests, families, and friends is dishes in need of washing!

To host families to have enough food and make sure everything looks presentable before the company comes over. Set things straight inside/out once they arrive, which has been known to cause chaos for a long time.

Get that foyer ready to receive guests once they step into your home correctly. No one wants to lose their coat and have to go back for it to witness unexpected post-Thanksgiving banter!

Don't Get Crusty with Pie Prep 

Pie Crust

Whether it's rhubarb pie or apple pie, the crust plays a vital role in making it a dessert stealer. This is, in fact, one of the most popular Thanksgiving desserts many people look forward to, so best to be meticulous with not just the filling but with the crust as well.

If making homemade pies seems daunting, try prepping some dough at least two days before kneading them, so all that needs to be done when the company arrives is rolling out the pastry onto pans--it's never been easier than now, thanks to the invention of pie crust mixes.

Defrost That Turkey

It takes three days to defrost a whole turkey thoroughly. If you're pressed for time, and you must cook a turkey that has been frozen solid, then put it in cold water and let it defrost. It might seem like a tedious thing to do, but it's necessary if you want it to be ready for cooking. Remember, don't skip the first crucial step!

Confirm and Follow Up with Your Guests

Your loved ones are coming over for dinner soon. It's been a few weeks since they asked, but you still haven't gotten the dishware and wine ready. You need to call or text them quickly before things get out of hand.

Keep in mind that getting everyone aligned is key to achieving proper delegation. This is also an ideal approach to avoid duplicates of certain dishes and wasting food, of course!

1 Day Before the Big Feast

The final stretch is here, and you need to get yourself together and get things ready! One last time to make a list, or secure that perogies delivery before it's too late.

Get that List Out

Thanksgiving is a day of celebration and family. Make sure you don't miss anything by making an up-to-date list the evening before, including dishes prepared and items guests will be bringing with them for their contribution at dinner time!

Note essential times such as when turkey should go into the oven or any other instructions needed from guests who prefer more specific cooking directions for their food.

Chill the Bevvies and Brewskies

Need to serve alcohol at your Thanksgiving dinner to appease the odd energy between your relatives? Better get those wine and liquor bottles, plus juices and soft drinks in the fridge, so they are cool by the time company comes.

Season the Big Bird

People seasoning the turkey

You can spice up your turkey by bringing it the day before and then roasting it with some herbs. If you want something exceptional, try overnighting this delicious dish for an extra tender bird!

Bake the Pies Ahead

Thanksgiving is the perfect day to enjoy a slice of your favorite pie. Pies are always delicious when made ahead, no matter what kind you're serving! Not to mention, Thanksgiving is a good day for baking, thanks to the abundance of tasty fruits and veggies available in stores.

Thanksgiving Morning

The day is here, and the family and friends have all been hounding you about the time and what else they could bring. Don't scream out of stress, stay composed, and stick to the list!

Have Brekky

While most people will starve themselves hours before a big feast, it's not always the most brilliant move. Don't forget to take care of yourself! As much as you want to skip it, make sure you get a good breakfast and coffee before diving into cooking all day. You'll need both for the long haul in this endeavor; trust us!

Refer to Your Checklist

Review your game plan and see which tasks need to be prioritized hours before the turkey finishes cooking. It's a must to stay calm and focused, don't let the guests distract you; be respectful and let them help if you need any!

Get the Slow Cooker Dishes Ready

Slow Cooked Stew

Some dishes require a long cook and are just best executed when slowly cooked to perfection. The best way to save time on Thanksgiving is by cooking your meal in a slow cooker. The following recipes are ideal for big holidays because they can be prepared ahead of time and don't require much space in an oven during preparation!

Thanksgiving Afternoon 

Just a few hours before the dishes start to come out, start cooking your side dishes. Remain focused and get the turkey cooking at the right temperature. Check every hour to see if your oven is doing the job. Also, start getting those garnishes and toppings out.

Pop that Turkey in the Oven

A Woman Placing Turkey in the Oven

When planning your Thanksgiving dinner, don't forget to consider the time it takes for your turkey. Place the prepped turkey in your oven and monitor the temperature and cooking every hour. You should expect an average bird (about 15 pounds) to cook up in 3 1/2 hours once total cooking begins!

Start Cooking Time Consuming Dishes

Turkey time! Get your mashed potatoes ready with some fresh herbs for that unique flavor. It's also the perfect opportunity to make stuffing if you haven't already, but don't forget about keeping them warm in a slow cooker while oven space gets packed too quickly during this busy season of cooking.

Pay Attention to the Guests (And The Sides)

You don't want to be caught short in the kitchen, so get your guests involved! That means fixing salads and prepping veggies. And while you're at it - why not have everyone heat up dishes from last night's dinner party? Don't be shy about getting efficient when you're feeding several bellies!

Time for Table Check

Thanksgiving Table Setting

Your table is already set, but what if there was something else? Make sure that the salt and pepper shakers are visible for guests. The butter dish should also be on hand so people can help themselves when they need more of it!

You might want to provide some gravy boats or other food items as well - this way, your dinner party will host itself without needing any help from anyone at all (well, besides yourself!)

Fill the Wine Glasses Up

Before you toast to the holiday and company, make sure every guest has a glass of sparkling wine cider of their choosing. It's essential to have refreshments right by your side to relieve your full stomachs!

Take Your Time Carving Turkey

Carving thanksgiving turkey

When carving a turkey, don't cut into the meat until at least 20 minutes after roasting. It's best if you wait until dinner is ready so as not to dirty any dishes and risk messing up your nice stovetop or oven!

Don't carve onto an already cooked bird-you'll want time for it all juices anyway before digging in; keep those thumbs wrapped around each other too because, let's be honest here: knives terrify us most human beings.

Spot Check All Food 

When you're ready to dig in, make sure that everything is there. Have the buttery rolls sitting on top of your breadbasket?

Are they waiting for a serving spoon sopping up all those yummy mashed potatoes with their tenderness and delicious flavor? If not, then do yourself (and everyone else) one better by providing these essentials before beginning!

Post-Thanksgiving Duties

Once you and your family are in full Thanksgiving mode, it's time to clean up. Thanksgiving dishes will be there for a while, so don't ignore the wrapping up that needs to be done. You have to be smart on which dishes you want to give away or which ones need to be thrown out.

Conquer the Dish Pile

Dinner is behind you. The dishes are all piled high, and it's time to tackle that mountain of dirty pots, plates, silverware- everything!

Get your dishwasher loaded up with some soap so those pesky clean-up tasks can be left for tomorrow morning (or later today). Grab an empty armload from the sink or cabinet first, then accept any help offered as people start loading their loads into their respective homes again after dinner.

Tackle the Leftovers

During the post-dinner routine, it's best to ask each guest what they'd like to take home. Even better if you enlist a helper who will go around and take orders for leftovers while freeing up your time so that packing can happen in no time at all!

Don't forget labels on those reusable containers either - it's essential when returning them later down the line after using something from someone else's meal too.

The Day After Thanksgiving

You would think that wrapping up Thanksgiving can be done in a day, well you're mistaken. It usually takes up a few days to ultimately bring your kitchen back to a standard shape. Start with the clean-up and restoring order with these tips:

Launder the Linens First

Gather your tablecloths and napkins to wash the following morning. If you have any particularly stubborn stains, use homemade stain removers or solutions with vinegar to get it back in shape for next year's Thanksgiving feast.

Restore Routine and Order

When it's time to bid farewell to the holiday good vibes, savor what was and remember the good times, then gradually restore your home to its typical look and your routine.

Finish the Leftovers Gradually

Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich

Don't underestimate the power of simplifying your life after grand celebrations; it's an excellent way to slow down and avoid the "treat me" mentality, especially after a big holiday feast with loved ones.

Why not make the most of Thanksgiving leftovers? Whether you have a few leftover turkey sandwiches or many, there are ways to use them efficiently. Use those that will go bad quickly in your meal prep, or experiment with a new recipe using the dish with the most leftovers.


Preparing a Thanksgiving meal for loved ones is something you can't cram last minute. But it is an event worth making the extra effort for. Whether it's starting a month ahead with the guest list and the food assignments, rest assured that a thanksgiving dinner is usually worth all the fussy prep. 

Everyone is constantly munching on comfort food. Besides, people will never forget good food and a great feast at the end of the merry-making, full bellies, and exhaustive family bonding.

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