Are you hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year? Learn tips on how to plan Thanksgiving dinner so you can relax on Thanksgiving Day.
When I first started making Thanksgiving dinner, I had lots of questions. How do you plan Thanksgiving dinner? How do you cook Thanksgiving dinner in one oven when the turkey takes up so much time? How do you time Thanksgiving dinner so everything can be served warm at the same time? How can I make Thanksgiving dinner without spending the entire Thanksgiving Day in the kitchen stressed out.
Hosting Thanksgiving dinner can sound intimidating but it’s really not as difficult has it sounds. The trick is to plan ahead of time and keep things simple. I’ve been making Thanksgiving dinner for over 25 years so I’ve learned a few tricks that I’d like to share.
Since I’ve been cooking Thanksgiving dinner for so many years, it doesn’t take me nearly as long as it used to. In fact, for many years, our family spent Thanksgiving in a condominium in Florida, and I would do all the shopping and prep the day before Thanksgiving and finish up on Thanksgiving day.
After many years of making Thanksgiving dinner, I now have a menu I repeat almost every year, with the same shopping list and recipes. So, once you get your Thanksgiving dinner menu under your belt, you will be able to repeat it year after year, in less time.
I hope you find these tips on how to plan Thanksgiving Dinner helpful!
How To Plan Thanksgiving Dinner
- Plan your menu two weeks in advance, including a few appetizers, roast turkey, side dishes, desserts, and beverages. This gives you time to select recipes you want to try, whether it’s your mom’s stuffing, your grandma’s green bean casserole, or your aunt’s famous pumpkin pie.
- Keep things simple. Stick to the basics and what your family enjoys the most. When I first started making Thanksgiving dinner, I tried all sorts of new funky Thanksgiving recipes. I found that most people just want the Thanksgiving dinner they are used to, nothing fancy or different. If you want to try something new, introduce a new appetizer; otherwise, stick to your family’s traditional favorites.
- Ask guests to bring their favorite side dish or dessert. Thanksgiving dinner is very personal. Many people have favorite side dishes and desserts from their childhood that they just have to have to make Thanksgiving complete.
- Make a shopping list and organize by aisle in the supermarket. Shop online for as many items as possible to save time. Buy all the ingredients 2-3 days in advance.
- Prepare side dishes in advance and store in ovenproof casserole dishes. Almost all side dishes can be prepared several days ahead of time, or at least prepped to some extent.
- Come up with a schedule for cooking your Thanksgiving dinner. Decide what time you want to serve Thanksgiving dinner, then work backwards to figure out what time you should start serving appetizers, and preheat the oven so the turkey has enough time to cook, adding in 45 minutes to heat up the side dishes while the turkey rests.
- Keep a record of your Thanksgiving dinner for next year. Choose all the recipes that you liked and keep them in a folder for next year.
Sample Thanksgiving Dinner Plan
Here’s a sample schedule for cooking Thanksgiving dinner. I buy a fresh turkey, but if you buy a frozen turkey, see the notes below to ensure your turkey is defrosted in time for Thanksgiving. When choosing the right size turkey for your family, follow the rule of thumb of 1 1/2 (no leftovers) – 2 pounds (with leftovers) turkey per person.
Our family has a tradition of watching football on Thanksgiving day, so our Thanksgiving dinnertime revolves around the football schedule. Choose a time that works for your family.
2 weeks before Thanksgiving: Plan Thanksgiving dinner menu and start selecting recipes
1 week before Thanksgiving: Finalize Thanksgiving dinner menu and make shopping list. If you’re using a frozen turkey, buy it at least a week before Thanksgiving. If you’re making turkey stock for gravy, buy turkey parts for this.
3-4 days before Thanksgiving: Defrost frozen turkey in refrigerator (defrost time is 1 day for every 4 pounds). Alternatively, you can defrost a frozen turkey by submerging the packaged turkey in cold water and changing the cold water every 30 minutes (defrost time is approximately 30 minutes per pound). Make turkey stock for gravy.
2-3 days before Thanksgiving: Shop for all ingredients
1-2 days before Thanksgiving: Assemble stuffing, make mashed potatoes, make sweet potato casserole, trim green beans, make cranberry sauce,
Morning of Thanksgiving: Make pumpkin pie; assemble appetizers
12PM Start roasting turkey (based on roasting a 12 pound turkey)
2PM Serve appetizers; remove side dishes from refrigerator (they will reheat faster)
2:30PM Assemble green bean casserole
3 PM Turkey should be done; make gravy. Put side dishes in oven to reheat for 45 minutes
4PM Eat Thanksgiving Dinner!
6PM Layer all the leftovers in a casserole dish and make Layered Thanksgiving Leftovers Casserole. Put turkey carcass in a big pot with carrots, onion, and celery; cover with water and make turkey stock. Strain and make turkey congee for breakfast the next day.
Looking for some Thanksgiving dinner recipe ideas? Check out the following:
100+ Gluten Free Holiday Side Dishes
60 Healthy Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Recipes
100+ Healthy Holiday Appetizer Recipes
Layered Thanksgiving Leftovers Casserole and 30+ Healthy Thanksgiving Leftover Recipes
John T. says
This is awesome Jeanette! Thanksgiving is about family and friends not stressing over the meal. Keep it simple but fulfilling is what it’s all about. Happy Thanksgiving!!!!!!
Hope you find this helpful John, although I have a feeling you’re a pro already :). Happy Thanksgiving!