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Countdown to Thanksgiving 2014

Whether you’re serving your first Thanksgiving dinner or you’ve served Thanksgiving dinner every year for many years, putting together a timetable and plan is really important.

Planning ahead, beginning at least three weeks in advance, can help you have a successful, stress-free Thanksgiving celebration. Here are some general tips to consider:

  • Make and use lists – a list of guests, a list of ingredients for the recipes, and another list of what to do prior to serving the meal.
  • Remember you can combine suggested preparation steps to make timing work better for keeping on schedule.

Here is a timetable and plan for putting together and serving a classic Thanksgiving dinner with some fun new menu twists.

Three weeks before

  • Invite your guests. Make a simple phone call, send a quick e-mail or invite guests in person. Another idea is to use a Web-based program, such as Evite for invitations. Remember to ask for a confirmation (RSVP) from your guests, so you know how many guests to expect.
  • If guests offer to bring a dish for the meal, don’t be shy! Let them. Make some suggestions and ask them to let you know what they are bringing in advance so you can plan accordingly.

Two weeks before

  • Decide where you will serve the dinner. Determine if the meal will be served family style at the table, as a buffet, or in courses. The number of guests and the room available will help determine where you serve the meal.
  • Decide on the tablecloth that you’ll use, as well as napkins and dishes, including serving pieces. Begin thinking about what you will use for a centerpiece.

One week before

  • Put together the grocery list for the dinner.
  • Shop for nonperishable ingredients and a 12- to 14-pound frozen turkey, unless you want to serve a fresh turkey. It seems obvious, but remember to place the frozen turkey in the freezer.
  • Make place cards for the table. Print Thanksgiving designs on labels and then apply them to harvest-colored tag board so the place cards will stand up, tent-fashion.

Five days before

  • Remove the turkey from the freezer and place it into a 13x9-inch baking pan. Place it in the refrigerator and let it thaw gradually until Thanksgiving Day.

Three days before

  • Shop for perishable ingredients for the meal. This is the time you should buy a fresh turkey if you did not purchase a frozen turkey earlier.

Two days before

  • Bake Honey Potato Rolls. When they are baked and cooled, place them into a resealable plastic food bag and freeze so they are fresh on Thanksgiving Day. Or, you can purchase dinner rolls at the supermarket.

One day before

  • Bake pies. Two favorites are Classic Pumpkin Pie and Southern Pecan Pie, but consider offering your guests some new soon-to-become-favorites: Streusel Pumpkin Pie or Mini Pumpkin Tarts. Cool pies to room temperature and then cover with plastic food wrap. Store in the refrigerator. If you are making whipping cream for topping, make that ahead too if you want to. Whipped cream will hold well overnight. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator. Or, you can make it just before dinner.
  • Set the table with dishes, glasses and silverware. Also, get out serving dishes and serving utensils. Remember to include salt and pepper on the table.
  • Make your centerpiece. Use flowers and small pumpkins and other harvest-like decorations. Or, you can always purchase a ready-made centerpiece.
  • Peel potatoes for our classic Homestyle Mashed Potatoes recipe. (Better yet, ask someone to help out and do this for you.) Cover the potatoes with cool water so the potatoes don’t discolor. Put the bowl of potatoes into the refrigerator. 
  • Prepare Cheesy Carrot & Bacon Bake following the make-ahead instructions in the Recipe Tip.
  • Make the dressing and caramelized almonds for the Almond, Blue Cheese & Cranberry Salad. Refrigerate the dressing and store the almonds in an airtight container.

Thanksgiving Day

  • Panic and leave town. (OK, just kidding. Sort of.)


  • Remove the turkey (you did get a turkey, didn’t you?) from the refrigerator, rinse it and pat it dry. Make sure you remove the bag of giblets that are packaged inside the turkey. Rub salt around the inside of the turkey.
  • Determine the time to begin roasting the turkey by the time you plan to serve the meal. Learn more about specific turkey roasting information. Tip: Remember to allow at least 20 minutes to let the turkey stand at room temperature after roasting and before slicing. The meat will then slice more easily.
  • Except for the dressing and nuts, combine the salad ingredients for the Almond, Blue Cheese & Cranberry Salad. Cover and refrigerate until serving time.

One to two hours before

  • Remove Cheesy Carrot & Bacon Bake from the refrigerator so it can stand at room temperature for 1 hour and will be ready to place in the oven about 45 minutes before serving time. Sprinkle the carrots with crushed croutons just before baking.
  • Prepare Bread Sage Stuffing and Lemon Pepper Roasted Brussels Sprouts. Plan to place the casserole with the stuffing into the oven about one hour before serving time and add the Cheesy Carrot & Bacon Bake to the oven about 15 minutes later. You may need to adjust the baking temperature or time to compensate for several dishes being in the oven at the same time..
  • For Homestyle Mashed Potatoes, drain water from peeled potatoes (you know, the ones that someone else peeled). Cook potatoes about 45 minutes before serving time. This will allow enough time for the potatoes to cook until fork tender and also to mash the potatoes.
  • Place the Lemon Pepper Roasted Brussels Sprouts into the oven about 30 minutes before serving time.

20 minutes before

  • Ask someone to carve the turkey. (Don't be shy, someone is surely willing to help.)
  • Place the butter dish on the table. The butter will be slightly softened by serving time.
  • Whip the whipping cream for topping the pies if you didn’t do so the day before.
  • Toss the salad with the dressing and nuts.
  • Place all the food in serving dishes.
  • Ask your guests to come to the table.
  • Relax – you’ve earned it – and enjoy! (There, aren’t you glad you didn’t leave town?)



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• Comments •

Love the time table, and the tongue in cheek giggles. I have, however, found my bird to fit in an 11x15 pan, not a 9x13. What do I do with his legs in such a small pan? ;-)
Could you give me a time table for how long to cook extra legs, as our group loves the dark meat, I have to get one with six legs. It is a strange looking bird.
I have solved the problem of no room in the oven for side dishes by utilizing a large electric roaster. It will fit at least four extra dishes and is easily controlled as an oven.

Thanks for permission to panic and leave town!

Posted Nov 11 2014 by Di
Test Kitchen Comment


Remember to make use of a meat thermometer when roasting the turkey. For turkey legs roast them at 325 degrees F. for 60 - 75 minutes/pound.
Posted November 17, 2014

I LOVED the much needed humor you added! "Panic and leave town..." So many countdowns I've read are so rigid, and if you're looking for help, you're likely nervous anyway! And you followed up with, "you did get a turkey, didn't you?", which was actually a comical confidence booster. It made me relax, and say, "see, ya got a turkey, just prepare it right, and you'll be fine!" Thanks so much, and thanks to my late Mother for everything she taught me. With the help of your contribution here, Becky, maybe I'll remember it all! : ) Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted Nov 23 2013 by Linda

Thanks Becky for providing this timetable and breaking down all these little important steps ..helps to control the Thanksgiving madness that usually occur in my home :).Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted Nov 22 2013 by Jacky

If the turkey is in the oven, how are you supposed to put all the other things in there to cook, as well?

Posted Nov 19 2013 by Myra
Test Kitchen Comment


It can be difficult and often takes some planning. I have also par-cooked a vegetable or another side dish so that it would not have to be in the oven as long before serving.
Posted November 25, 2013

I make almost all the sides the day before except for potatoes. That way all I need to do is warm up everything and have more time with my family.

Posted Nov 19 2013 by Robin

I just printed the planning ahead timetable. I've been cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the last few years and haven't been able to time everything to be ready at the same time. Also, the more I can get done earlier, the better. I usually am working both the day before and the day after the holiday, so time is at a premium for me.

Posted Nov 19 2013 by Susan O'Leary

I am so happy to find this article! I needed a guide like this and am printing it up right now! Thanks!

Posted Nov 18 2013 by P.R.

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    Hi, I'm Becky. I'm eager to share my best ideas and favorite recipes from my 20+ years in the Land O'Lakes Test Kitchen. I'm also excited to help with any questions you have about cooking and baking with Land O Lakes® products. Some of the questions and answers will be published in our newsletter, The Measuring Cup®. Please use the short form below to ask your questions, or share your tip or memory.

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