Day by Day Schedule for planning and preparing Thanksgiving Dinner
Start early by planning your menu and inviting guests. Ask for RSVPs so that you have plenty of time to delegate any cooking your guests offer to do, make your shopping list, and cook up a storm. I’ve compiled a basic schedule of when to do what once it is time to shop and cook.
A few days before Thanksgiving
Make your shopping list. Gather your menu and all recipes you’ll be making, along with any beverages and snacks you’ll serve. You’ll want to do a quick clean-out of your fridge and make sure you’ve got room for everything that needs to be there, including the brining pot if you’re brining your turkey. If you need disposable pans for your turkey or side dishes, be sure to add them to the list. Be sure to watch for an upcoming tip about how much food to make for your crowd!
The day before:
- Prep vegetables. Cut up onions, carrots, celery, trim green beans, and brine your turkey. Save your prepped veggies in zipper bags labeled with which recipe they belong to. This makes the big day MUCH easier, as you don’t need as much work surface, the house won’t wreak of raw onion, and your prep surfaces will be clean and available for arriving dishes and snack trays.
- Lay out serving dishes and utensils so that you know you have enough for everything you’re serving. If you’re short on something, ask a guest if they can bring it.
- Set the table, or buffet with plates, forks and so on. Get this out of the way so you’re not fumbling with breakables on the day you’re timing a thousand other projects.
- Lay out the baking and prep dishes you’ll need for all of your cooking. This makes the cooking day much easier since you won’t be searching for everything. Do you have a carving knife and board? Do you have covered dishes? Pots and pans? Think through this just like you did with your menu and shopping list.
- Oven space is tricky. Figure out how you’ll get everything hot and consider what can be made ahead in order to avoid a crisis at the end. This is where those hot plates, slow cookers and chaffing dishes become your best friends.
- Clean the house! Nobody wants to deal with that on Thanksgiving morning.
- Select the time you’d like to serve dinner, and calculate when the turkey needs to go in the oven. Prepare the turkey and get it in the oven. Once you know your target dinner time, calculate how long you think it will take for your side dishes to make, and plan around that serving time. Keep in mind that mashed potatoes can be made early (or a day ahead) and heated for serving. If you make green bean casserole, you may also wish to assemble it the day before and pop it in the oven all prepped.
- Once your turkey reaches the proper internal temperature, remove it from the oven, cover it in foil and allow it to rest. This allows the meat to absorb the juice. If you cut in too early, the moisture will drain out and all that work will be lost! This is also the perfect time to make your gravy, which should be happening while everything is placed into serving dishes, covered with foil or lids, and moved to the table.
- Call your guests to the table as you remove the foil and lids from all your dishes. Carve and serve the turkey as your guests pass the food. If you make a small speech or say grace, keep it short so the food doesn’t get cold.
Happy Thanksgiving! You did it! All that is left to do is clear dishes, serve dessert and relax with your guests. Get leftover food into the fridge right away, but leave the dishes for after guests are gone.
* If you wish to offer your guests a take-home plate, set out a stack of paper plates and aluminum foil, and set everything out on the table or counter for them to assemble their own plate. This helps with that over-stuffed fridge, and everyone loves Thanksgiving leftovers!
Resources for further learning: