Hi, my name is Camille and I LOVE Thanksgiving. I live for making a full Thanksgiving dinner. However, I know it’s not everyone’s jam and it can be downright stressful if you don’t love to cook. Heck, it can be stressful even if you DO love to cook! That’s why I’m helping you out with this gigantic post on Thanksgiving planning.
Below you’ll find my exact timeline on how I plan for Thanksgiving and when to do what. There’s even a shoppable collage to get you set up with some prep essentials, and a timeline you can Pin or print.
Whether you’re hosting for the first time or need a little refresher, I’m here to make your Thanksgiving a little more organized and hopefully a little less stressful.
My Thanksgiving Planning Timeline
Start Planning 1 Month Before Thanksgiving:
Finalize The Guest List
Before you can get to any planning, you need to know how many people you’ll have at your house on Thanksgiving. Call up friends and/or family members to get the T-Day talk going.
The bigger your party, the more sides and drinks you need to shop for. Most importantly, the number of guests also determines the size turkey you’ need.
Plan Your Menu
About a month in advance, plan your Thanksgiving menu.
Start with your favorite or family turkey recipe, then move onto any hors d’oeuvres, appetizers, salads, and desserts you want to serve.. (If you don’t have a turkey recipe, I usually use this one from Tyler Florence, but do my own stuffing.)
I serve stuffing and mashed potatoes as the classic sides, but then try something new each year as an additional one.
For hors d’oeuvres and pre-dinner snacks, Martha Stewart’s Appetizers book has been my go-to for years. She has a lot of great make-ahead recipes that you can prep in advance.
3 Weeks Before Thanksgiving:
Once you have your Thanksgiving menu planned, take an inventory of serving dishes, cooking utensils, or any specialty items you need for your recipes. Maybe you’re missing a special pan for dessert or need to upgrade an old tool.
You should also do a quick check over drinking glasses, dishes, and silverware to make sure you have enough for your guests.
This gives you plenty of time to pick up any extras you need to help the cooking process for Thanksgiving Day.
Crate and Barrel sells affordable white dishes that work with any aesthetic. Here are some staples that I use every Thanksgiving:
- Chip dish – I actually use this for my turkey!
- White serving bowls
- White appetizer plates
- Stemless wine glasses – no stems = less spills
- Tiered server – great for finger foods and appetizers
I also really recommend using a Kitchen Aid stand mixer for Thanksgiving prep. It saves a lot more time than hand mixing, and I even use it to whip my mashed potatoes at warp speed! It’s an investment, but I can’t recommend it enough.
Click on the “+” to shop any of the Thanksgiving prep essentials below!
Create Your Grocery List
About three weeks out, you should have a good idea who’s coming to dinner, so you can start to plan your Thanksgiving grocery list. Look over your selected recipes, figure out how much of each you need to make, then write out the ingredients you’ll need.
This is also a good time to delegate dishes to your guests if you’re doing a potluck. Be sure they also have a headcount, so they know how much to bring.
Order Your Turkey
The turkey should be the first thing you get for Thanksgiving once your guest count is final.
If you want a fresh Turkey, be sure to order ahead of time. Usually, you can go to the meat counter and order it there. They’ll help coordinate when you can pick it up.
For frozen turkeys, just make sure you don’t wait until the last minute to avoid them selling out.
PRO TIP: If you have one oven, space for roasting a turkey along with sides can get tight. MEASURE YOUR OVEN SPACE. Move the bottom rack as low as it can go in your oven, slide in your baking dishes, then put the other rack on top of the dishes. Put your roasting dish on the top rack, then measure accordingly so you know how big of a bird your oven can actually accommodate.
1 – 2 Weeks Before Thanksgiving:
Decide on Décor or Flowers
Plan out what kind of décor, centerpiece, or flowers you might want at your Thanksgiving table. We have a pretty small dining table, so I keep things simple with eucalyptus, baby pumpkins, and candles as my centerpiece.
READ THIS POST for the affordable Thanksgiving centerpiece items I use year after year.
Clean Your Fridge and Freezer
Thanksgiving groceries and dishes always take up more space than you think. About 1-2 weeks before Thanksgiving, plan to clear out any old things in your fridge and freezer to preemptively make space for the big day.
Buy Wine and Liquor
I prefer to buy all non-perishable items as soon as possible to avoid the holiday crowds. Wine and liquor have a long shelf life, so you can purchase both whenever you have time, no matter how far in advance it is.
You probably don’t want to play bartender all evening, so plan a big batch drink or stick to wine so that your guests can help themselves.
Try this Thanksgiving Sangria if you’re looking for a drink recipe. It’s full of fall flavors like apple and cinnamon and you can make a day in advance.
Buy Non-Perishable Items
On that note of avoiding the holiday rush whenever possible, plan to buy non-perishable items one to two weeks before Thanksgiving. Heck, buy them three weeks out if you have your menu and guests on lock.
There’s no reason why you need to wait to buy brown sugar or molasses or olive oil at the last minute.
Plus, if you forget something in this round, you can get it on your “perishable items” grocery trip. 🙂
Don’t Forget Candles
Okay, so this is a random tip. However, I have put out our nice candle holders that we only use for fancy dinners to realize I have no candlesticks too many years to count.
If you have candle or tea-light holders that only come out for special occasions, be sure you have the actual candles for them, too. (And a lighter. Or matches.)
Scroll down to to see my Pinterest-friendly Thanksgiving Planning checklist!
Planning for The Weekend Before Thanksgiving:
Clean Your Home
The weekend before Thanksgiving, plan to clean your home so that you only need a quick tidy-up before guests arrive for dinner.
This is also a good time to wash and dry any tablecloths and cloth napkins you have. Steam and fold ahead of time so you’re not scrambling at the last minute.
Make Your Day-Of Cooking Plan
Take another look at your recipes, and really read through them. This will help you in two ways:
- You can figure out what can be prepped ahead of time to cut down on day-of cooking
- You can plan what needs to be started when on Thanksgiving Day
Prep What You Can Ahead of Time
If any of your recipes allow for freezing ahead of time, take advantage of the weekend and prep those items.
Monday Before Thanksgiving:
Start Defrosting Your Turkey
After many Google searches over the years, I’ve found that the rule of thumb for turkey defrosting is one day for every four pounds.
I like to print Thanksgiving menus every year. It’s super easy to do and instantly elevates your dinner.
I don’t anything fancy; I just pick a script font I like and list out the main dish (roasted turkey) along with the sides and desserts.
For appetizers I do the same thing, but I’ll cut the menu to the size of a picture frame, pop it in, and place the frame near the snacks.
Label Your Dishes
Remember how you took inventory of your serving dishes and bought any extras you needed? Time to take these babies out in preparation for your dinner.
I physically label my dishes with Post-It notes. I know this sounds nuts, but come Thanksgiving Day, I have zero stress on plating because I can visibly see what goes where.
Doing this on Monday will also give you time to grab something just in case you forgot a dish or added something to your menu that you didn’t originally account for.
Tuesday Before Thanksgiving:
Shop for Perishable Items
With perishable items, the key is to shop as close to Thanksgiving Day as possible so your food can still be fresh. Unfortunately, this timeline is the same for everyone, no matter how prepared you are in planning for Thanksgiving. I make a point of getting to the grocery store first thing in the morning so that I can still have the rest of the day.
Pick Up Your Fresh Turkey
If you have a fresh turkey to pick up, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving is a good day to grab it. If there’s any ice from the store, you’ll have time to still thaw that small part.
If you buy flowers the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, they should still be fresh on Thursday. Be sure to clip any leaves that go below the water line to avoid mold, and change the water every day until the big day.
Use the day before Thanksgiving to prep for recipes, like potato peeling or vegetable chopping. You can also use this day to make recipes that need time to set (pies) or rise (doughs).
Spot clean your home for Thanksgiving Day with a quick vacuum, then tidy up your entryway and living room. If you have a glass table, be sure to clean it so it sparkles.
Set the Table
You’re almost there! The night before Thanksgiving, set the table with everything (linens, silverware, and glasses). Add your centerpiece so you have a welcoming spread upon your guests’ arrivals.
Refrigerate Wine or Champagne
Toss any wines or Champagnes that need to be chilled into the fridge so that they’re ready to go the next day.
Thursday: Thanksgiving Day
YOU MADE IT, ROCKSTAR! Wake up early, go on a nice walk to get some fresh air, then start cooking!
Don’t be afraid to ask your family and friends for help if you need it. If they’re good guests, they should offer any way. 😉
Put on some music, be sure to snack while you’re cooking, and enjoy the day.