Your Step-by-Step Guide to Planning Thanksgiving Dinner

We've got your game plan for everything Thanksgiving-related -- from making a menu to choosing the turkey to all those (easily forgettable) last-minute touches. Here's our guide to planning Thankgiving dinner.

Two Weeks Before Thanksgiving:

  • Make your guest list and invite friends and family you haven't yet contacted. Be sure to ask if anyone has any dietary restrictions.
  • Decide your Thanksgiving menu -- consider the number of people you will be entertaining.
  • If you're throwing a potluck-style meal, ask guests if they would like to contribute a special dish.
  • If you are planning to cook a turkey, decide whether you're going with a fresh, frozen or smoked bird. When selecting a turkey, plan on 1 to 1 1/2 pounds per person, which will also leave you with some leftovers. And be certain the bird will fit in your freezer, fridge and oven!
  • Stock up on staples (butter, sugar, flour, eggs) when grocery shopping.
  • Make or purchase bread and rolls and freeze them for later.
  • Purchase disposable supplies, if using, such as paper plates, napkins, cups.

One Week Before Thanksgiving:

  • If you're buying a frozen turkey, purchase it now.
  • Decide on a centerpiece and any other tabletop decorations.
  • Prepare your cranberry relish and store it in the fridge.
  • Select wine to go with your meal.
  • Ask your kids to help organize games for the younger guests

Thanksgiving Week: Monday

  • Clean out the refrigerator and freezer.
  • Go shopping for perishable items on your shopping list.
  • Place your turkey in the fridge to begin defrosting. Take a few minutes to learn more about food safety at the holidays.

Thanksgiving Week: Tuesday

  • Iron linens, if necessary.
  • Polish silverware, if necessary.
  • Still looking for the perfect recipe? Check out our Thanksgiving recipe slideshows for inspiration. Print out the recipes and make sure you have all the ingredients needed.

Thanksgiving Week: Wednesday

  • Cut up bread for stuffing. Season as desired and place on cookie sheet(s) in a preheated (then turned off) oven overnight to dry. Store in plastic zip-top bags.
  • Chop vegetables, fruits and herbs for stuffing, and seal in plastic zip-top bags.
  • Prepare pies. Cover and refrigerate.
  • Prepare any make-ahead side dishes (roasted vegetables, casseroles). Cover and store in the fridge.
  • Set up an extra table and chairs if more dining space is needed.
  • Chill drinks. If you're short on refrigerator space, store them in a cold garage or out on the porch -- or place drinks in a large basin filled with ice and water.

Thanksgiving Morning:

  • Prepare the stuffing. Cover and refrigerate.
  • Wrap your roasting pan with foil or use a disposable roasting pan or cooking bag for a quick cleanup.
  • Clean the turkey, removing the bag of giblets. Place the turkey in the prepared roasting pan and put it back in the fridge.
  • Simmer the giblets, adding water as needed until tender. Then refrigerate, covered with liquid, until needed for the gravy.
  • Use your slow cooker if extra space is needed to keep menu items warm.
  • Children can help set the table and create placecards for each setting.
  • Prep any pre-dinner appetizers.
  • Clean as you go to avoid big cleanups later.

Four Hours Before Dinner:

  • Stuff the turkey.
  • Put the turkey in the oven. The roasting time will depend on size of the bird. 

Three Hours Before Dinner:

  • Clean green beans, cover and set aside. 
  • Cook sweet potatoes.

Two Hours Before Dinner:

  • Peel potatoes, then cube them and cover with salt water -- simmer until tender. 
  • Finish preparing any additional vegetables.

One Hour Before Dinner:

  • Fill a small pitcher with half-and-half or milk for coffee -- cover and refrigerate. Fill sugar bowl.
  • Set out appetizers along with napkins and small plates, if using.

One Half-Hour Before Dinner:

  • Remove the turkey from the oven. Let it sit 20 minutes before carving.
  • Reheat bread, vegetables and other side dishes, if necessary.
  • Make gravy, using the drippings from turkey and the giblets.
  • Mash the potatoes.
  • Place vegetables, cranberry sauce and other side dishes in serving bowls.

Serve Dinner!

  • Whisk the gravy and pour it into a gravy boat.
  • Open wine and pour into decanters or glasses.
  • Set out a pitcher of water so people can help themselves.
  • Make sure there are salt and pepper shakers on the table.

After Dinner:

  • Put coffee on to brew and boil hot water for tea.
  • Set out the milk or cream and sugar, as well as tea bags.
  • Serve dessert, coffee and after-dinner drinks.
  • If the weather permits, take a walk to enjoy each other's company and digest.

Planning a small, intimate gathering of just two or four? Check out our Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas for Four or just Two!

WATCH: Thanksgiving Planning in a Snap- Table Decor and More!

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