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Countdown to Thanksgiving Dinner
thanksgiving countdown

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 very 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 on schedule.

Here is a timetable and plan for putting together and serving a Classic Thanksgiving Dinner.

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, for invitations. Remember to ask for a confirmation (R.S.V.P.) from your guests, so you know how many guests to expect.
  • If guests offer to bring a dish for the meal, let them. Make some suggestions, and ask them to let you know what they are bringing 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 will 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. Cool pies to room temperature and then cover with plastic food wrap. Store in the refrigerator.
  • 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. (Better yet, ask someone to help out and do this for you.) Cover the potatoes with cool water so the potatoes do not discolor. Put the bowl of potatoes into the refrigerator.
Thanksgiving dinner 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. For specific turkey roasting information click here. 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.
One-two hours before
  • Prepare Bread Sage Stuffing. Plan to place a casserole with the stuffing into the oven about one hour before serving time.
  • 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.
  • Prepare Roasted Honey Carrots so they will be ready to be placed in 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 with a small amount of sugar added so it will be ready for topping the pie.
  • 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 •

I've been hosting Thanksgiving Dinner for over 20 years now and have found this post to be full of great ideas, especially for someone who is doing it for the first time. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, so even though Halloween isn't here yet, I'm out there getting new ideas for my dinner. My family will not let me change much, but I can always slip in a new recipe here and there. Which believe me, I need time to try out before the Big Day! Thanks for such a great site and the wonderful products. Happy Halloween and then Thanksgiving!

Posted Oct 13 2012 by Kim
Test Kitchen Comment


Glad this countdown to Thanksgiving dinner will be of help to you! Let us know how your dinner is!
Posted October 15, 2012

Great post! Thanks for the info, I am very nervous about putting together my very first Thanksgiving Dinner for the fabulous fam! This should help me plan it accordingly :) Do you have any posts about budgeting for Thanksgiving as well? Thanks!

Posted Nov 01 2011 by Megan
Test Kitchen Comment


Thanks fir your comments! We don't have any budgeting for Thanksgiving. One suggestion I have is to watch ads from your grocery retailer to see what items are on sale. Consider planning your Thanksgiving menu based on some of the items on sale at Thanksgiving.
Posted November 06, 2011

It is great to read that the information I shared in this article will help you. Thawing any poultry such as a turkey or chicken is best if you thaw it in the refrigerator. A 12-15 pound frozen turkey will take about 5 days to thaw. Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Posted Nov 15 2010 by Cindy

Thanks for posting this article. I got a bunch of good tips out of this that I did not know, such as, thawing the turkey in the frig for 5 days. I will certainly be using these tips when preparting my Thanksgiving meal.

Posted Nov 14 2010 by Teresa

I thought tips and suggestions might help you and other when planning a Thanksgiving dinner. It will be the best celebration ever. You won't believe how easy it is to host a celebration like this for family or friends. Remember after the pie - put your feet up and enjoy the day!

Posted Nov 07 2010 by Cindy

My husband and I are hosting Thanksgiving for the first time this year-- these instructions make it seem like a cinch! Bring on the 20 lb. bird :)

Posted Nov 06 2010 by Amanda

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