Are you feeling overwhelmed by hosting Thanksgiving Dinner this year? Use this checklist as a game plan to get ready a little each day, and you’ll have time to enjoy the holiday, too.
How to Get Organized for Thanksgiving
If this is your first time hosting, you may feel like everyone expects perfection, and you’re eager to deliver a memorable holiday meal. But give yourself some grace: the people who love you are there to spend time with you, just as you are.
So, cut yourself some slack and treat it like you would any big party: plan it out and get a little preparation done each day. That way, you’ll be confidently prepared and still relaxed enough to enjoy spending time with your guests.
Game-Plan for an Organized Thanksgiving
The checklist below will get you completely organized for Thanksgiving over ten days, from planning the menu to grocery shopping and preparing guest rooms. Read through the article so you understand each step, then grab the printable Thanksgiving preparation checklist at the bottom.
Of course, there’s no reason why you have to do this in exactly ten days. You can spend two or more weeks getting organized if you have a busy schedule. Or if you’re crunched for time, you can theoretically do it all in a couple of days. The idea is to divide the work of getting ready to host Thanksgiving Dinner so you can get it all done without going insane.
10 Days Before: The Big Picture
Plan your menu: If you don’t have any tried-and-true recipes, now is not the time to start browsing through Pinterest for some because you just don’t know how they’re going to turn out. Try sites with reviews, like Food.com or All Recipes, or ask a foodie friend to share their recipe. (Here’s my fool-proof recipe for the perfect, juicy turkey every time.)
Deep-clean your kitchen: For some reason, guests love to hang out in the kitchen. Rather than worry about the messes they might find, give your kitchen a deep cleaning now. It’s not going to stay spotless until Thanksgiving, but that’s okay: you’ll only need to do a few touch-ups before your guests arrive.
9 Days Before: Divide and Delegate
Delegate dishes: People love to bring their famous side dishes or desserts to share with others. It’s a tradition that dates back to the very first Thanksgiving, so don’t turn down guests who offer. But unless you have lots of workspace in your kitchen, ask them to bring oven-ready contributions. And make a list of who’s bringing what, so you don’t have six different green bean casseroles and no mashed potatoes.
Make two grocery lists: Organize Thanksgiving grocery shopping by creating an aisle-by-aisle grocery list of non-perishable items and another for perishables. Shop for non-perishables early, before they’re in short supply. If you’re buying a frozen turkey, buy one while the size selection is good because the closer it gets to the holiday, the harder they will be to find.
Get bedrooms ready: If you’ll be having overnight guests, now’s the time to clean the guest bedroom. You might also want to launder your guest towels so they smell fresh and replace any ratty ones.
8 Days Before: Gadgets and Guest Bathrooms
Plan your cookware and gadgets: With your menu in hand, decide what you’ll use for cooking each item on the menu. Do you have enough saucepans? Casserole dishes? Need a platter for the turkey? Now’s the time to get them. Make sure you have the gadgets you’ll need, too.
Deep clean the guest bathroom: Some guests go through bathroom cupboards and medicine cabinets whether we want them to or not. Do a thorough bathroom cleaning and organizing now to get them spotless.
7 Days Before: Planning and Cleaning
Plan your table linens: Get out your holiday tablecloth and cloth napkins and inspect them for stains. Then launder them and fold them directly out of the dryer. Hang them on clothes hangers in the coat closet to keep them from wrinkling too much. (You’ll have time to touch them up with an iron in a few days.)
Plan your centerpiece: Order your floral centerpiece or decide where to buy flowers to make your own. (Related: How to Keep Flowers Fresh Longer.)
Clean house: Clean the rest of your home to get rid of cobwebs, dusty baseboards, etc. if you’re concerned about it. Otherwise, just clean the rooms where guests will hang out.
6 Days Before: Shop and Make-Ahead
Buy long-lasting perishables now: Heavy cream, potatoes, eggs, onions, and butter run scarce the closer we get to the holiday, so buy them now. Use this trip to pick up root vegetables, winter squash, and canned goods too.
Make and freeze what you can: Get organized for Thanksgiving cooking by making and freezing what you can: pie crusts, undecorated cookies, cranberry relish, cornbread for stuffing, and rolls. Marinated artichoke hearts and olives can be prepared ahead and stored in the refrigerator, too.
Decorate: Change your front door wreath and decorate the rest of the house. Be sure there’s enough seating, even if that means removing a few of the dozen throw pillows you keep on the sofa. If you’ll be hosting elderly or physically challenged guests, ensure the walking areas within rooms are safe: no rugs that could slip, no cords to trip over, plenty of room to move. If there will be young children, move breakables out of reach and attach safety latches to cabinets containing hazardous items.
5 Days Before: Schedule and Stock
Plan your cooking schedule: Grab a notepad and pen, and calculate the timing of the big day. Count back from when you’ll serve dinner to know when your turkey should go into the oven. Don’t forget the turkey’s resting time! Schedule side dishes to cook as the turkey rests.
Stock your bar: Get organized for Thanksgiving beverage service by ensuring you have enough glasses for all of your guests. Buy wines, liquors, mixers, and garnishes today, along with soft drinks or ingredients for punch if you’re serving one.
4 Days Before: Defrost and Dish Prep
Begin defrosting your turkey: Although the turkey wrapper may advise waiting until three days before Thanksgiving, defrosting takes longer when your fridge is crammed with other holiday food, because everything stays colder. To defrost your turkey, leave it in the wrapper and put it in a roasting pan or other deep container to catch drips, so they don’t contaminate other foods. Place this on the lowest shelf in your refrigerator.
Plan your seating: The larger your gathering, the more important it is that you take control of the seating. If you don’t, you could wind up with grandma isolated at one end of the table and surrounded by kids who talk so loudly she can’t hear the other adults. Or your two vocal, intense relatives who belong to opposing parties could wind up seated next to each other, and you know how that’s going to turn out. Draw or print place cards, so guests will know where to sit.
Get out the holiday dishes: Wash your holiday dishes, even if you’ve had them in storage all year, then attach a sticky note to each indicating what you plan to serve in it. Get rid of any weird smells on drinking glasses and buff them with a lint-free towel until they sparkle. Whether you’re serving buffet or family-style, do a trial run by arranging your dishes and serving ware, so you know you’ve got room for everything.
3 Days Before: Shop and Spruce Up
Shop for perishable items: Make room in your refrigerator and give the shelves a quick wipe. Then grab the list of perishable groceries you wrote on Day 9 and go shopping. With the supply chain stretched as it is, you may have to go to more than one store to find everything on your list. If you can’t get it all, don’t panic: check out this master list of cooking ingredient substitutes.
Spruce up your entry: Clean your front door, sweep the step and the walk, and make sure your door handles gleam. Then tidy the coat closet. Guests will need a place to hang coats, hats, and purses. Make space, or they’ll use your bed for their stuff.
2 Days Before: Confirm and Coordinate
Defrost frozen dishes: Transfer any frozen food you’ve made ahead to the refrigerator so it has time to defrost.
Confirm with guests: Call or text everyone who volunteered to bring something to make sure their plans haven’t changed. They may have had a hard time finding stuff at the store, too. Confirming the plan now will give you time to change your menu if needed.
Get your recipes ready: Put every recipe you need in one convenient place, so you don’t have to hunt for them tomorrow. If you’ll be using your phone or tablet to look at them, slip it into a resealable plastic bag to protect against spills.
Get the bar/beverage area ready: Set up a beverage center away from where you’re cooking so guests can help themselves. Arrange bottles and glasses, then cover them with a clean towel to keep everything dust-free. Chop garnishes like lemons and limes and store them in the refrigerator. Consider setting up a cocoa or coffee and tea bar for those who don’t drink adult beverages.
1 Day Before: Bake, Brine, and Bedrooms
Brine your turkey: If you’re going to brine your turkey, now’s the time to do it.
Dry out ingredients for stuffing: Cornbread, regular bread, whatever you’re using — most stuffing recipes call for stale or dry bread. Set it on paper towels out of the way. Don’t cover it, though, or it won’t dry out enough.
Prep ingredients: Get organized for Thanksgiving cooking by chopping onions, carrots, and celery and refrigerating them in separate containers. Make dips, get your relish plate set up, cover them all separately with plastic wrap, and store them in the fridge. (Try my homemade pimento cheese recipe. It’s amazing.)
Bake pies: Don’t put off baking pies. Make them now, let them cool on the counter, then cover tightly with plastic wrap or a cake dome. You can always put them back in a 180°F oven while everyone eats dinner, and they’ll be warmed through in time for dessert.
Tidy up: Since you’ve thoroughly cleaned most of your house recently, you just need to dust tabletops quickly and vacuum high-traffic areas. Then give the bathrooms a once-over and make sure you have ample toilet paper, hand soap, and guest towels available.
Iron table linens and set the table: You can get organized for Thanksgiving dinner by laying your table now. Since you hung up the linens straight from the dryer last week, it’ll only take a minute to iron them now. Once you’ve got the table set, lay a sheet over the table to keep things dust-free.
Finish the guest rooms: Put clean sheets on guest beds and set out other amenities like bottled water, fresh flowers, etc.
Thanksgiving Day Schedule
Ease into it: Serving a holiday meal can feel like an all-day thing. Don’t let it crowd out your usual morning routines, or you’ll feel off-kilter all day. Take time for that cup of coffee. Enjoy a nice shower. Then empty the sink and wipe the kitchen counters so you’re ready to get cooking.
Assign helper tasks: Put someone in charge of greeting guests and helping with coats. Task an adult with keeping the bar/beverage service stocked. Put an older child in charge of ensuring the bathrooms always have toilet paper and dry hand towels.
Wash as you work: Keep a sink of hot, soapy water available to clean things as you use them. If you have a dishwasher, load it as you work, then run and empty it as needed. If you’ve got guests hovering around in the kitchen, have them pitch in with these tasks. Often, family members are delighted to be of use.
Enjoy your meal: The entire point of getting organized for Thanksgiving in advance is so that you can enjoy the meal, too. Join your guests for a beverage before dinner, savor your meal and the delicious desserts you made, and feel the gratitude this day is all about.
Organized Thanksgiving Preparation Checklist
Use the checklist below to stay on track with planning and organizing Thanksgiving Dinner this year.
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