Thanksgiving Planning Guide: Get Ready for the Big Day

The countdown is on: You have less than three weeks to get ready for Thanksgiving! Whether you’re hosting a crowd or just a small gathering, getting your prepping and planning started early can help relieve stress on the big day. (We promise.) Below is a handy-dandy checklist and timeline to help you get started.  a Thanksgiving centerpiece

You can get started on these to-dos now …

• Working up the guest list and send out invites. 

• When they RSVP, your guests will likely ask you, “What can I bring?” so it helps to at least have a preliminary menu planned. If your guests are traveling far, ask them to bring something they can make ahead and that’s easy to transport like wine, beverages, cookies or even cranberry relish.

• Next, think seating logistics. Is your table big enough? Do you have enough chairs? If not, see if you can borrow from a friend or neighbor, or if you’re having a really big crowd, call a party rental place – now!  Also, if you know your guests will be watching football, make sure you have a plan for extra seating in the TV room.  

• Plan your dining table. Start from the bottom up, so first decide on what table linens you’ll be using. If necessary, take them to the dry cleaners. Determine your place settings: plates, chargers, silverware, glassware, etc.

• What about centerpieces? You’ll want a little decoration for your dining table, buffet table and perhaps living room. No need to spend a lot of money or time. You can probably use what you already have lying around the house. Here are some ideas for creating cheap and easy centerpieces, candles and floral displays made from upcycled stuff.

• Now is the time test out new recipes. If they don’t turn out perfect but are still edible, bring them into work and leave them in the kitchen — there’s always somebody who will eat it.

Two weeks before Thanksgiving, put these items on your to-do list:

• Decide what serving dishes and platters you’ll be using. If you don’t have enough, again, ask friends and family if you can borrow. Or browse secondhand stores and antique shops for retro or kitschy Thanksgiving serving dishes — they’ll add a little fun and style to your table.

• Make place cards. No, this is not a time-consuming task that only super-creative people can do. We’ve made it easy. Download one of these PDF templates and fill in the names of your guests and then print. Couldn’t be easier and guests are bound to be impressed. (Plus, having assigned seats will ensure you don’t have to sit next to somebody you don’t want to.)

• You should have your menu set and grocery list started. Make it easy on yourself and include dishes that are foolproof and some items that can be served at room temperature. Buy the canned goods and non-perishable items now. Don’t procrastinate on this one; you know the stores always run out of canned pumpkin and cranberries a few days before Thanksgiving.

• Stock the bar. Remember to add garnishes like lemons and cherries to your shopping list. Be sure to have enough beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages. According to , on the average, one bottle of wine will yield about five glasses. 

• Start cleaning the house. Wipe down the baseboards, get the cobwebs out of the corners and make extra room in the coat closet. (Get more cleaning tips from the pros.)

With one week to go, here’s what you need to do:

• Determine what you can prep or cook in the days prior to Thanksgiving.

• Create a “day-of” timeline. Make a list of your menu items and calculate how long each one takes to prepare and cook, then work backwards to create a schedule for Thanksgiving Day. Make note of what time to start prepping each dish and what time they need to go in the oven. For example, if you plan on eating around 4:00 p.m. and your turkey takes four hours to cook and your green-bean casserole takes 45 minutes to bake, set your timeline to put the turkey in the oven by noon and green-bean casserole by 3:15. This sounds a bit overkill, but it will make the day less stressful.

• Gather up all the stuff your friends agreed to lend to you. Get the linens from the dry cleaner, or iron what you washed at home.

• If you’re planning on a special floral arrangement or want a particular kind of flower for your centerpiece, go to the florist and see what they have. You could also drop by the grocery store and create a great look using these easy flower-arranging tips. Or to make it easy on yourself, arrange to have the flowers delivered the day before Thanksgiving. You could display flowers in one of these easy-to-make Thanksgiving vases.

• Clean out the fridge. Get rid of leftovers and all the expired stuff – you’re going to need the extra space in there.

Clean around the house a bit more.

A couple of days before Thanksgiving:

• Buy all the perishable goods and prep what you can in advance. 

• Set up the bar. Wash the glassware and place it upside down on the bar.

• If the turkey is frozen, throw it in the fridge so it will have enough time to defrost. says you can make pumpkin pies, pumpkin cheesecake, rolls, breads and cornbread for stuffing a few days ahead, refrigerate them and warm them up before serving. But, apple or pecan pies don’t do as well when made too far in advance — the crust doesn’t stay flaky and crisp.

The day before:

• Set the table.

• Do the last minute cleaning like dusting, vacuuming and bathrooms. 

• Assemble casseroles, like sweet potato or green bean. These can be stored uncooked in the fridge then baked on Thanksgiving Day.

• Chill the wine and beer.

• Bake the flaky-crust pies the night before Thanksgiving.

On Thanksgiving morning:

• Tune into the parade on TV and start prepping the food. 

• Have fun!

4 Responses

  1. Carla says:

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  2. write essay says:

    Great post about Thanksgiving tips. Many helpful websites concerning decoration and celebrating. Do you want to know more? Just ask write essay for assistance.

  3. So long to wait until the festive season and I'm getting excited already by reading this post. You can get some fabulous finds at antique shops which will add to the table. Try and get a hold of a glass or silver centrepiece that will wow your guests.

  4. [...] more tips on Thanksgiving planning, check out this DIY Network article. Remember, the main thing to remember is that even though hosting a holiday is a lot of work, [...]


About Jackie McGilvray 


When I'm not pulling together great projects and inspiring ideas as editor of, I'm watching my two adorable boys play whatever sport is in season. Or I might be ...

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