Are you feeling overwhelmed by hosting Thanksgiving Dinner? Use this printable checklist to get ready a little each day, and you’ll have time to enjoy the holiday, too.
This Thanksgiving preparation checklist divides the work over ten days. I’ve found doing a few tasks each day to get ready for the holiday is a lot less stressful than trying to get it all done the day before. Every time I’ve taken that approach, I’ve been stressed out and grumpy by the time guests arrived.
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, 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.
Should You Deep-Clean Before the Holidays?
Whether to deep clean before holiday guests arrive or not is a personal decision. If you’re expecting company you don’t know well or are anxious about impressing, this Thanksgiving preparation schedule includes deep-cleaning tasks. Following the checklist can help you pace things so you don’t get worn out. If you’re more laid-back, wait until the day before to tidy up your place. There’s no right way: it’s your home.
10 Days to Go: The Big Picture
Plan Your Menu
Thanksgiving Day is not the time to try out new recipes — you don’t know how they’ll turn out. If you don’t have family favorites that you know how to cook, try sites with reviews like Food.com or AllRecipes.com, or ask a trusted friend.
Deep Clean Your Kitchen
For some reason, guests love to hang out in the kitchen. If you are worried 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 later. But don’t feel like you must deep clean before the holidays: it’s your home and your holiday to enjoy, too.
9 Days to Go: Divide and Delegate Cooking
Delegate Side Dishes and Desserts
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. To avoid crowding, ask them to bring oven-ready contributions. Keep track, so you don’t wind up with six green bean casseroles and no mashed potatoes.
Make Two Grocery Lists
Separate your Thanksgiving grocery items into perishable and nonperishable items. You don’t have to shop for anything yet, but you’ll have time to add things to the list if needed. The one exception is if you need a large frozen turkey, buy it now. Later, they’ll be in short supply.
Clean the Guest Room
If you’ll have overnight guests, now’s the time to clean the guest bedroom. You might also want to deep-clean your guest towels, so they smell fresh or replace any ratty ones.
8 Days to Go: Cookware and Guest Bathroom
Plan Your Cookware and Serving Dishes
With your menu in hand, decide what you’ll need for 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 also have any gadgets you need.
Clean the Guest Bathroom
A sparkling clean bathroom is a courtesy to guests whether they stay overnight or not. And, let’s face it, sometimes guests snoop through cupboards. If you’re concerned about what they’ll find or think, do a thorough bathroom cleaning and organizing now.
7 Days to Go: Planning and Cleaning
Plan Your Table Decor
Check your holiday tablecloth and cloth napkins for stains. Go ahead and launder them but hang them directly out of the dryer on clothes hangers so they don’t wrinkle. This is also the day to order your floral centerpiece and brush up on how to keep those flowers fresh..
Clean Your Home
Some people clean the house before having guests, while others like to wait until guests depart. There’s no correct answer, so do what makes you most comfortable. If you plan to clean, however, today’s the day to do it. Get rid of cobwebs in the corner, dust everything thoroughly, clean the baseboards, then vacuum wall to wall or mop the floors. If you’re more laid-back, just clean the rooms where guests will hang out and get rid of stains and smells on your sofa.
6 Days to Go: Shop and Make-Ahead
Shop, Make, and Freeze
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. Then make and freeze 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.
Check Seating and Safety
If you’re hosting a large group, make sure there’s enough seating. Rambunctious kids need space to move. Elderly family members need walkways without tripping hazards. So make sure your area rugs don’t slip, there aren’t cords left where someone could trip, and there’s plenty of space to walk between the sofa and coffee table. You might also want to put breakables out of the way and secure lower cabinet doors if expecting young children.
5 Days to Go: 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 hard and soft beverages, mixers, and garnishes today, along with ingredients for punch if you’re serving one.
4 Days to Go: Defrost and Dish Prep
Begin Defrosting Your Turkey
Defrosting takes longer when your fridge is crammed with other holiday food because everything stays colder. Start defrosting turkey four days in advance. 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. (Here’s my goof-proof recipe for the perfect, juicy turkey every time.)
Plan Table Seating
Holiday gatherings can get tense if the wrong people sit next to each other, especially if they tend to be vocal and intense about disagreements. Head off this possibility by drawing up a seating chart and making place cards, so everyone knows where to sit.
Clean Your Holiday Dishware
Wash your holiday dishes, even if you’ve had them in storage all year. Once they’re dry, mark each one with a sticky note, so you know what you plan to serve in it. Get rid of any weird smells on your glassware and buff them with a lint-free towel until they sparkle. It’s a good idea also to do a trial run by arranging the dishes on the table or counter where you’ll be serving. Borrow or rent additional tables if you don’t have enough space.
3 Days to Go: Shop and Spruce Up
The Final Shop
Make room in your refrigerator and give the shelves a quick wipe. Then pick up any remaining items on your list, including the centerpiece or flowers you ordered.
Guests will need a place to hang coats and purses when they arrive, so make space in your coat closet. Tidy up your entryway, too. If it’s snowy where you live, make sure you’ve got a supply of rock salt and a shovel near the door so you can keep the front walk clear.
2 Days to Go: Confirm and Coordinate
Check the Side Dishes
Transfer any food you’ve made ahead to the refrigerator so it has time to defrost. Then get in touch with everyone bringing side dishes or desserts to confirm their plans haven’t changed. This way, you’ll have time to change the menu if needed.
Set Out Your Recipes
Lay out every recipe you plan to use so you don’t have to hunt for them tomorrow. If you keep recipes on your phone instead of printing them, make sure you’ve got a resealable bag you can slip it in to protect it from spills.
Get the Beverage Bar 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 bar for those who don’t drink adult beverages.
1 Day to Go: Prep and Tidy
Get Started on These
If you’re going to brine your turkey, now’s the time to do it. Most stuffing or dressing recipes call for stale or dry bread, so set slices of bread or cubes of cornbread on paper towels out of the way. Don’t cover them, though, or they won’t dry out. Then get onto chopping ingredients like carrots and onions and set up your relish plate. Make dips ahead of time, too. Some, like my homemade pimento cheese, need time for the flavors to meld. Go ahead and bake pies today, too.
A Final Tidy
Whether you deep-cleaned earlier or took the laid-back approach to hosting Thanksgiving, today’s the day to dust tabletops, fluff sofa pillows, and vacuum the high-traffic areas. Give the bathrooms a once-over, too. Also, ensure you’ve got plenty of toilet paper, hand soap, and guest towels set out. Then lay your Thanksgiving tablecloth and set the table. Spread a sheet over the dishes to keep things dust-free, and you’re all set.
Thanksgiving Day Schedule
Ease Into the Day
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.
Clean As You Cook
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.
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.
Enjoy Your Guests!
The entire point of getting organized for Thanksgiving in advance is so that you can enjoy time with your guests and the meal, too. Leave time to visit, sip a beverage before dinner, savor your meal and the delicious desserts you made, and feel the gratitude this day is all about. Happy Thanksgiving!
Printable Thanksgiving Checklist
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