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How To Prepare For Thanksgiving  | The Ultimate Guide For a Stress-Free Day!

Hosting Thanksgiving this year? Here are some tips on how to prepare for Thanksgiving to make it an enjoyable and stress-free experience!

The key to hosting a successful Thanksgiving dinner is planning and spreading out the work so you can relax and enjoy this special day with your family and friends.

In this article, I will show you what needs to be done and when to ensure that everything goes smoothly on the big day.

I've also provided six Thanksgiving planner printables for you to download to keep you well-organized and on track!

Read on to learn more….

How to prepare for thanksgiving.
A family about to enjoy their Thanksgiving meal.

How To Prepare For Thanksgiving – Essential Tips

Thanksgiving is one of the most important holidays of the year, and one of the busiest, especially if you are the host!

Getting everything prepared for the big day can be overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be. To make hosting Thanksgiving a successful experience, prepare and plan well in advance to avoid stress and frenzy.

Get your friends and family to pitch in with the preparations. Remember that Thanksgiving is all about giving thanks and sharing. So don't feel guilty about sharing the workload too! Assign Thanksgiving preparation tasks as early as possible and make sure that everyone knows what they need to do and when. 

Allow me to share a few tips on how to prepare for Thanksgiving the smart way, to make it an enjoyable experience for everyone…

If you need to, you can skip to specific sections of this page:

First Things First!

Before planning how to prepare for Thanksgiving, there are a few things you need to do first:

Download your Thanksgiving planner printables to keep things organized and on track as you  prepare for this special occasion:

  • Thanksgiving Checklist
  • Guest List
  • Menu Planner
  • Shopping List
  • Thanksgiving Cooking Schedule
  • Day of Thanksgiving Cooking Schedule

Set your budget

As we all know, hosting a big event like Thanksgiving is an expensive affair. Decide how much you are willing to spend and how many guests you can entertain.

Invite your guests

Prepare your Thanksgiving guest list and send out invites.

Ask your guests to confirm whether they’ll be able to attend so that you can plan for Thanksgiving appropriately.

Use this Thanksgiving Guest List printable to keep track of who was invited, who has confirmed, and what dishes they will be preparing.

3 Weeks Before Thanksgiving

Around 3 weeks before Thanksgiving, make sure that you get the following tasks done:

Finalize your guest list

Determine the number of adults and children you will be catering to and how many people will be staying during the holiday season.

Check your inventory

When planning how to host Thanksgiving, you'll need to determine whether you have everything you need. 

Thanksgiving dinner accessories

Check whether you have sufficient of the following items to cater to the number of guests:

  • Tables and chairs
  • Dinnerware and glassware
  • Linens and other table accessories

Make a list of all the additional items you’ll need.
Decide whether you will buy, rent or borrow these items.

Plan your Thanksgiving menu

Plan the menu taking into account the number of guests who will be attending.

Choose a few appetizers, main dishes, side dishes, and desserts, and assign preparation of some of these dishes to the nifty cooks on your guest list.

Don't forget to plan your beverage menu. You'll need to include wine, beer, liquor, soda, tea, coffee, and other beverages for guests that may not drink alcohol. 

Use this Thanksgiving menu planner to prepare your menu for the big day.

Decide your Thanksgiving meal preparation strategy

Plan your Thanksgiving meal preparation strategy, taking into account the dishes you will be serving.

Decide which dishes can be prepared a few days beforehand, and which can be prepared partially in advance and completed with minimum effort on the big day.

If dishes need to be baked, decide which dishes can go into the oven together. Avoid baking meat and dessert dishes at the same time.

Decide where you will store prepared items. Do they need to be kept cool before being served? If you are short of fridge space, you may want to set up a temporary storage area somewhere cool. Take care if you have pets to make sure that they don’t get to the dishes before you do! 

Aim to minimize cooking on Thanksgiving so you can focus on the turkey and the final preparations.

Plan your tablescape

Decide on your seating arrangement, the centerpiece, and other table decorations you will be using for the big day. Get someone to help you prepare place cards or any other items you’ll need to create your tablescape.

Thanksgiving tablescape ideas

Prepare your shopping list and shop in advance

Review your menu and recipes for the dishes you will be preparing.  Make a list of the ingredients you will need (including spices). Check your pantry to determine which ingredients you already have and what you’ll need to include on your shopping list.

Check the expiry date on the items in your pantry. Believe me, you don't want to spend hours preparing a dish, then spoil it by adding a rancid ingredient!  

Prepare two shopping lists, one list for non-perishable items which you can buy well in advance and another list for perishable items which you'll need to buy closer to Thanksgiving.

Remember to stock up on foil, plastic wrap, paper products, freezer bags, zipper bags, and takeaway boxes for leftovers.

Make space in the freezer

Start using up some of the items you’ve stored in your freezer to make room for dishes you’ll be preparing on the run-up to Thanksgiving.

Order the turkey

If you plan to cook an organic turkey, you’ll probably need to order it around 3 weeks in advance. To be on the safe side, check with your local farmer or grocery store to decide when to make your purchase.

Plan your guests' stay

If you'll be having guests staying over during the week of Thanksgiving, plan meals and activities for your guests during their stay. If children will be staying over, they'll also need some activities to keep them entertained and out of mischief!

Get someone to give you a hand to organize some fun activities.

2 Weeks Before Thanksgiving

Yes, we’re getting closer to the big day! Make sure you get these Thanksgiving preparations done about two weeks before the event:

Plan your Thanksgiving meal prep schedule

Decide how you will carry out your Thanksgiving meal preparation in advance.

Make a list of the dishes you plan to prepare and create your Thanksgiving meal prep schedule, so you'll know what you need to do and when.

Prepare a detailed schedule for the day of Thanksgiving to ensure everything is ready on time. When preparing your schedule, start from the time planned to serve dinner and work backward. Allow for an hour to let the turkey rest before carving and serving.

Start food preparation

Get a head start by preparing foods that can be frozen. This includes items such as cranberry sauce, bread rolls, turkey stock, gravy, and pie crusts. Depending on the filling, certain pies can be prepared and frozen in the pie dish and baked just before Thanksgiving.

Making bread rolls for thanksgiving

Schedule an appointment with your stylist

Everyone likes to look their best for a big celebration, especially the host! Make an appointment with your stylist for the day before Thanksgiving. You don't want to leave this to the last minute as it will be difficult to get a free slot just before the big day.

Put up decorations

If you haven’t already, start putting up decorations for Thanksgiving. Take the opportunity to complement your décor with any items you consider necessary.

Thanksgiving decorations

1 Week Before Thanksgiving

This is what you should be doing about a week before Thanksgiving:

Prepare your house for guests

If necessary, rearrange any furniture to accommodate your guests. Designate an area where guests can leave their coats, bags, shoes, and other belongings when they arrive.

Prepare the bathrooms for guests, making sure that they are stocked up with toiletry supplies and towels. 

If guests will be staying overnight, prepare the rooms and put clean sheets on the beds. Make sure you have sufficient bath and hand towels for your guests to use during their stay.

Confirm the dishes guests will be bringing

Check in with the guests who have dishes assigned to them to make sure that they are still able to prepare the dish and that everything is on track.  It’s also a good reminder for those who may have forgotten their assignment!

Thanksgiving meal dishes

Prepare dinner accessories

Wash and iron your linens and prepare any other dinner accessories. If you need to polish your silverware, get on with it now! I can assure you that you won’t want to be doing this (along with all other pending tasks) on the days leading up to Thanksgiving.

Clear your countertops

Put away items that you can go without during the run-up to Thanksgiving.

Reserve an area for food preparation and another area to temporarily store dishes that have already been prepared.

Make room in the refrigerator

Clear space in the fridge to accommodate appetizers, side dishes, desserts, and other cold dishes that will be served on Thanksgiving. You'll also need room to store leftovers at the end of the celebration.

The Week of Thanksgiving

Ok, just a few days to go before the big celebration!  Here’s what you should be doing:

Thaw the turkey

If you have frozen the turkey, put it in the refrigerator to thaw. Make sure you give it sufficient time to thaw properly before roasting. Allow for one day for every four pounds of meat (fridge time) and give yourself a day’s margin in case it takes slightly longer.

Spruce up the entrance and driveway

Give your guests a great impression when they arrive at your home! Clean the entrance and clear away any fallen leaves. You may also want to put up some festive outdoor décor to complement the holiday spirit. Again, I can’t stress this enough, let members of your household help you with this task!

Buy perishable items

Get your perishable items a few days before Thanksgiving to make sure they’ll be nice and fresh, ready to be served on the big day.

Set up the dining area

This is a great time to set up the tables and chairs for dining. Gather together your table accessories and make the final touches to your centerpiece and table decorations. 

Prepare your dinnerware and glassware

Get out your dinnerware, glassware, serving dishes, and serving utensils. Wash and dry them thoroughly and cover them with dishcloths to keep them clean.  

Prepare vegetables

Start preparing your vegetables in advance to minimize the amount of work you’ll have to do on the big day. Store clean, chopped vegetables in plastic zipper bags in the refrigerator so they stay crisp and fresh.

Chopping vegetables for Thanksgiving meal

Thaw prepared foods

Put pre-prepared foods such as cranberry sauce, pie crusts, turkey stock, and gravy in the refrigerator to give them sufficient time to thaw properly.

The Day Before Thanksgiving

Nearly there, there’s light at the end of the tunnel! Here’s what you should be doing the day before Thanksgiving:

Quick tidy and spot clean

Do a quick tour of the house to ensure that everything is in its proper place. Check the guest areas, guest rooms, and bathrooms to make sure they are clean, tidy, and stocked up with supplies. Spot clean if necessary. 

Set the table

Set out the dinnerware, glassware, dinner accessories, and any other table decorations required to complete your tablescape. Take the opportunity to make any final adjustments to the table décor.

Setting the table for Thanksgiving

Set up the serving buffet

If you’ll be using a serving buffet during the Thanksgiving celebration, set it up the day before the big event.

Lay out all of the serving pieces you plan to use on the serving buffet table. Label each piece with the dish to be served. 

Be sure to place the labels and the serving utensils to be used inside of the corresponding serving dish to avoid mix-ups. This gives you one less thing to think about while you tie up the final preparations just before the meal. 

Finish off cooked dishes

Now's a good time to finish preparing your side dishes and bake desserts.  So all you'll need to do is to warm them up or chill them just before serving them.

Doing this will reduce your workload tremendously on Thanksgiving so you’ll have more time and energy to enjoy the festive celebrations with your loved ones!

Baking pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving

Chill drinks

Remember to put the wine and other beverages in the refrigerator to chill. Make sure you have plenty of ice available to serve with your drinks.

You can also ask one of your guests to bring some extra ice over to avoid the risk of running out!

Visit your stylist

By now, most of the Thanksgiving preparations should be well underway. You’ve earned a well-deserved few hours to visit your stylist before the big day.  You deserve it!

Get a good night's rest!

Everything is practically ready!  Take a few minutes to relax and unwind before settling into bed. Make sure you get a good night’s rest to recharge your batteries ready for the big day.

On The Big Day

Yes, the big day is here… at long last! Just a few things to prep before the guests arrive.

Let’s get on with them…

Have a good breakfast

Start the day with a good breakfast!

Once you get into the last-minute food preparations, stopping to have breakfast will be the last thing on your mind. You'll need some fuel to keep your energy levels up and your mind focused on the final tasks.

Review your schedule

When you’ve finished breakfast, review your schedule to remind yourself what needs to be done and when.  Put your schedule where it is clearly visible to help you stay on track.

Put the turkey in the oven

Finish the preps on the bird and get it into the oven well on-time to make sure that it's properly cooked at the scheduled time. Remember to include the stuffing!

Once the turkey is in the oven, you'll have plenty of time to finish preps on the appetizers, salads, and any other cold dishes you plan to serve.

Remember to take out the bread rolls from the freezer and allow them to thaw at room temperature.

Roasted turkey for Thanksgiving

Get yourself ready

Remember to stop and take some time out to get dressed and do your hair and makeup before your guests start arriving.

I’m sure many of us have been caught out on this one on previous occasions (myself included!). We’re usually so focused on the final preparations that we forget that we also need time to get ready and make ourselves presentable to receive our guests.

The final touches

Whilst the turkey is resting, heat the side dishes and bread rolls. Set out the appetizers and other cold dishes on the buffet table.  

Just before guests arrive, take out ice and garnish for drinks.

That's it...you're all set and ready to go! 

Thanksgiving Celebration

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    The holiday season is upon us once again!

    To avoid the stress and frenzy of this busy time, start deciding how to prepare for Thanksgiving well in advance. Remember that Thanksgiving is all about sharing…this includes the workload.

    Allow your guests and members of your household to participate in the preparations and festive spirit.  You don’t have to do everything by yourself.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Check out the following articles to stay organized and productive: