Organization and Planning Tips for Thanksgiving Dinner

Organization and Planning Tips for a Stress-free Thanksgiving Dinner

Last week I shared my Thanksgiving dinner menu. Making my menu early allows me time to find the best deals on the ingredients I will be using to make the meal. I don’t just  plan my menu plan early, I also start organizing for the party early too. The most important ingredient in a successful dinner party is a relaxed hostess. Planning ahead allows me to be more relaxed ensuring happier guests.

Preparing for Thanksgiving Day

A week before Thanksgiving:

I start preparing my house. If my in-laws will be coming for the holidays I will begin by deep cleaning, so all I have to do is light touch ups the day before Thanksgiving.

Even if my in-laws are not coming, I clean out the refrigerator and organize it. This ensures I have plenty of space to work with.

Order flowers or make a plan for creating my own Thanksgiving Centerpiece.

Check to make sure I have candles.

I double check my menu plan to see what ingredients I still need to buy.

Two days prior:

I check the crystal for water spots and clean the silver.

I also iron the tablecloth if necessary and make sure I have enough matching napkins.

I do one last check to make sure I have absolutely every ingredient that I will need.

The day before Thanksgiving:

If my turkey is frozen, I pull it out of the freezer and place it in the refrigerator to thaw.

I set the table. Turn glasses upside down, so they don’t collect dust.

I pull out all the serving dishes and serving spoons that will be needed and set them on the buffet.

I make the Corn Casserole, Cranberry Orange SauceChocolate Pecan Pie, and Pumpkin Pie the day before. Then I just have to reheat the casserole and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving day.

I make the croutons and cook the rice for the Wild Rice Stuffing. Then it can be easily assembled on Thanksgiving morning.

I make fudge and assemble a veggie tray.

Place water, sparkling cider, and white wine in the refrigerator to chill.

On the morning of Thanksgiving:

I place the turkey in the oven.

I bake the wild rice stuffing in a casserole dish rather than in the turkey, so our vegetarian guests can eat it, but also because the turkey cooks faster with an empty cavity. I assemble it in the morning, place it in the refrigerator, and bake it just before dinner.

I make the mashed potatoes and keep them warm in a crock pot. Here are more tips for making perfect mashed potatoes.

I make sure the dish washer is emptied very early in the morning, so I can add dirty dishes immediately. This keeps the kitchen looking tidy.

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but once the turkey is in the oven, I go to Kmart because they always have an awesome sale on Thanksgiving day  and they usually have a great deal on one of the toys I plan on buying for one of the kids on my list. It always freaks my husband out, but I can do this and not mess up my schedule because I started planning a week early.

Late Morning/Early Afternoon:

When I get home from shopping, I shower and dress in my party clothes. Put on an apron and prepare the last few items: Pumpkin Pie Spiced Sweet PotatoesGreen Beans with Garlic, and Vanilla Whipped Cream.

Get the coffee maker set up, so all I have to do is push start when it is time for dessert.

Then I take off my apron, and allow myself a few minutes to relax as I prepare for guests to arrive. Guests usually arrive an hour before dinner is served, so I will invite people into the kitchen to chat while I do the last minute items.

The last minute:

35 – 40 minutes before dinner is served I reheat the Corn Casserole and cook the Wild Rice Stuffing

Turn the glasses over. Fill water goblets with water and wine glasses with cider or wine.

The turkey usually comes out of the oven 15 minutes prior to dinner allowing me time to heat the rolls and make the gravy, while my husband slices the turkey and my children arrange the other dishes on the buffet.


We take a break between dinner and dessert providing me with time to reheat the pumpkin pie and make coffee.

Most important tip for a great Thanksgiving dinner: Don’t stress!

Thanksgiving always involves a huge feast, there is no need to worry if a dish doesn’t turn out as you hoped. I stick to tried and true recipes to help prevent epic fails on holidays, but things happen and we all have a disaster or two. Laugh at the disaster and take a picture if you are a blogger. Readers love reading about epic failures. :)

There is not an official start time, so if your turkey is taking longer to cook, put out more appetizers. Or announce that you are serving the meal in “courses”.

The parade and game will be on in the family room, but you can put on music that brings you joy while you are working in the kitchen.

Focus on your many blessings. A slightly dry turkey or lumpy mashed potatoes are pretty insignificant when you put it in perspective!

More Thanksgiving Ideas and Tips:

Do you have any tips for making holiday dinner preparations go a little smoother?



  1. robbiekay says

    My tip is to make your reservations early. 😉 In my defense, I did offer to try to prepare a homemade meal, but my husband opted for the restaurant. Hmm. That may be a reflection on my cooking skills. If I was cooking at home, though, I would use your post as my outline because otherwise I’d be totally overwhelmed.

    • says

      LOL! That is a great tip! We went out to eat one year for Mother’s Day and didn’t have a reservation – the wait was almost an hour long.

      The first year my husband and I were married we had Thanksgiving dinner at the Officer’s Club (and they sent us home with leftovers). It was quite relaxing, which is what we needed as we were in the middle of a move.

  2. says

    I’m beyond impressed that you manage to go shopping with so many dishes in progress. Although, you clearly have everything running like clockwork.
    Truly hope you enjoy the day and being close to people you love.

  3. Jenn W says

    I like the ideas in this blog, but I have to question taking the turkey out only the day before to thaw. I’ve had turkeys in my fridge for 3+ days and still had to use the cold water thaw method to get the bird ready to go into the oven since there was still ice in the cavity. Any tricks to share for that one?

    • says

      I usually start with a small turkey in the refrigerator and finish with the cold water method if necessary. If you want to thaw your turkey completely in the refrigerator, you should plan 1 day for every 4 pounds. You also want to take your refrigerator temperature and how full it is when you thaw your turkey into consideration. It is harder to thaw a turkey in a really full refrigerator.

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