Popular in Thanksgiving Planning Tips

Thanksgiving Cheat Sheet

Whether you're a first-time holiday hostess or just looking for a better way to plan, our day-to-day timeline will help you throw a fabulous Thanksgiving party with ease.


    Everything in this slideshow

    • Getting Started

      The party playlist, the perfect place settings, the pumpkin pie -- we'll show you how to throw a stress-free Thanksgiving in style. We've started our guide in early November, taking you all the way through Thanksgiving (and a few ideas for the days beyond!). Read on for freebies, checklists, recipes, and activities for the whole family. It's sure to be your best Thanksgiving ever!

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    • Early November: Print this Checklist

      From early November on, we've got you covered. Our nifty checklist, free downloads, and 14 low-effort recipes are perfect for satisfying hungry guests before and after the Thanksgiving feast. This is where it all begins!

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    • Early November: Contact Friends and Family

      What's a party without guests? Reach out to family and friends early on to establish a head count, contacting them via e-mail (it's quicker) or through handmade invitations (it's more special). Make sure to ask about allergies or special dietary needs. And for guests staying overnight, find out dates and times of arrival.

      Editor's Tip: Don't wait to reserve your bird! If you're ordering a fresh turkey from a local farm or market, place your order now.

    • Early November: Brainstorm the Menu

      Ah, the fun part: the food. Flip through cookbooks old and new, and bookmark your favorite recipes. Make photocopies and set them aside in a binder to stay organized and keep the original recipes clean. Remember to note any dishes your guests are bringing. Now is also the time to ask Grandma for her secret stuffing recipe!

    • Early November: Make this Wreath

      Impress Thanksgiving guests at the entryway with this lush pear-and-moss wreath, then leave it up through Christmas for easy transitional decor. (And if you're in a pinch for a table centerpiece, this wreath will do the job glamorously -- just add a few candles to its center!)

    • 2 Weeks Ahead: Gather Decor

      While waiting on guests' responses, visualize what your party will look like -- whether it's making pumpkin centerpieces or dusting off those special-occasion-only plates. Consider color scheme, too. Fresh and festive is best.

    • 2 Weeks Ahead: Finalize Guest List and Menu

      Make a few quick calls to follow up with anyone who hasn't responded, then take a second look at your menu, considering both number of guests and any special food needs. Map out a cooking timetable to ensure all dishes are done when needed, and note which dishes will be made ahead of time.

      Editor's Tip: If you'll be cooking to accommodate food allergies, now is a good time to purchase specialty ingredients online or in stores.

    • 1 Week Ahead: Stock Guest Rooms

      Win a four-star review by pampering overnight guests with more than just the essentials. Purchasing their favorite coffee or placing a chocolate on their pillow will let them know how happy you are to have them.

      Editor's Tip: For an easy way to inform guests about need-to-know info (like the wi-fi password and household tips), just print and place our helpful guest room door hanger on their doorknob. You'll find it on page 3 of our free guide!

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    • 1 Week Ahead: Take Inventory

      Double-check your home to make sure you have enough of everything for everyone. Think napkins, plates, serving bowls, name cards -- even ice! Wash bed linens, towels, and blankets for overnight guests. This is a good time to wash or dry clean your table linens, too!

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      Weekend Ahead: Go Grocery Shopping

      With a notebook in hand, peek through your pantry, liquor cabinet, and fridge -- write down any items you'll need to buy (remember to consider weekend meals!). Turkey should be first and foremost, if it isn't already ordered. Consider purchasing perishables like milk and fresh fruit a day or two before the party so they don't go bad.

      Editor's Tip: if you're purchasing a frozen turkey, allow it to thaw in your fridge for 24 hours for every 4 pounds of turkey (so a 16-pound bird needs four full days to thaw). You can keep a fully thawed turkey in the refrigerator for up to four days before cooking.

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      Weekend Ahead: Plan Activities

      Kiddos coming? Not to worry! Simple board games, cards, and coloring stations are sure to keep the little ones entertained. Get extra festive by crafting place mats in the shape of turkeys -- or better yet, let the kids craft them!

      Editor's Tip: Throw in a hard-to-solve jigsaw puzzle and a few classic board games to keep older kids (and even adults) happily occupied.

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      Weekend Ahead: Create a Playlist

      A party without music? Unthinkable! Use preholiday downtime to craft the perfect playlist. Play a mix of current and classic songs to appeal to your entire Thanksgiving Day crowd.

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      3 Days Ahead: Clean the House

      Cleanup is quick and painless if you take it in strategic small steps. Start by room, paying particular attention to those your guests will wander most: the living room, dining room, and bathroom. Take 10 minutes to tidy up, 10 to dust, and 10 to vacuum. Your house will be spic-and-span in no time!

      Editor's Tip: Remember to wash your good plates and wineglasses now, if they've become dusty in storage.

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      3 Days Ahead: Prepare Party Favors

      Send guests home with something sweet, such as these adorable turkey cupcakes. Use a made-from-scratch recipe or decorate a batch of plain store-bought cupcakes -- either way, your guests are sure to sport a thankful smile.

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      3 Days Ahead: Make and Freeze Soup

      Need an easy, satisfying meal to feed guests as they arrive on Wednesday -- ideally one you can make ahead, freeze, and reheat? Think soup. Simmer the ingredients together now, then store it away in your freezer to save valuable space in your refrigerator. Warm up soup in a slow cooker or on the stove top to provide guests a fuss-free, fragrant welcome. Try our creamy Chicken Potato Chowder recipe below, or see page 4 of our free guide for two more scrumptious soups.

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    • 16 of 26

      2 Days Ahead: Set Up the Bar

      A self-serve bar leaves you free to check on food and mingle with guests come party time. Find a convenient spot close to the dining table to set out clean glasses, pitchers, and ice buckets. Fill them with one or two signature drinks. We recommend apple cider studded with cinnamon sticks. Leave it up to guests to spike them!

      Editor's Tip: If limited space prevents a table-side bar, try making a big-batch wine cocktail that stores easily in the fridge (and tastes better over time!). Pour it when guests arrive Wednesday night, and let guests help themselves throughout the weekend. Check out our recipes for sweet, boozy sippers on pages 7-8 of our free guide.

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    • 17 of 26

      2 Days Ahead: Set the Table

      Make serving extra easy with a planned layout. Fill the dining table with your chosen serving bowls and glasses, placing food labels in the proper dishes. If you're buying flowers for your centerpiece, remember to pick those up today.

      Editor's Tip: Set glasses upside down on the table to keep them dust-free before the feast.

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      1 Day Ahead: Prepare Make-Ahead Recipes

      Check a few dishes off the menu by preparing them a day in advance: think dishes that keep well, like stuffing, dough for rolls, and gravy. Prepare as many recipes and ingredients as possible. This includes chopping veggies for tomorrow's salad. Be sure to rub the turkey with desired seasonings on this day to marinate overnight.

      Editor's Tip: Don't forget to run the dishwasher so it will be empty and ready for party dishes.

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      1 Day Ahead: Make the Pumpkin Pie

      Perfect pumpkin pie can be made a day in advance. Not only will it make prep on Turkey Day less stressful, but it also tastes better after it's chilled overnight. Any toppings (pecans, please!) can be sprinkled atop just before serving.

      Bonus: Watch for tips to making our doubly delicious pumpkin-potato pie, plus yummy ideas for toppers.

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      1 Day Ahead: Mash the Potatoes

      Thanksgiving without fluffy mashed potatoes? Inconceivable! Luckily, these beloved spuds are easily made a day ahead and reheated in a slow cooker, saving your stove top for other dishes. Click below for our Rustic Garlic Mashed Potatoes recipe, one of our most popular recipes!

      Editor's Tip: Any mashed potato recipe can be made ahead and reheated in a slow cooker. To keep reheated mashed potatoes warm for serving, set the slow cooker on low and mix in a little milk if the potatoes appear to be drying out -- they'll stay ready to serve for up to two hours!

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      Thanksgiving Morning: Prepare the Greens

      Keep veggie sides crisp and fresh by preparing them the day of. Classics to consider making: green beans, asparagus, and broccoli. Check out our list of fabulous green sides in the link below.

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      Thanksgiving Morning: Cook the Turkey

      The minute you wake up, be sure to preheat the oven. The average weight of a Thanksgiving Day turkey is around 16 pounds per household, which takes anywhere from 3 and 4 hours to cook. After popping that bad boy in the oven, delegate carving and serving duties.

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      Thanksgiving Evening: Unwind with Movies and Snacks

      Congrats -- the hard work is over! Relax with your guests over a movie or two, and pass around a bowl of kettle corn for post-feast noshing. Look on pages 6-7 of our free guide for three quick, delicious kettle corn recipes: cashew, apple-cinnamon, and orange-chile.

      Get the free guide
    • 24 of 26

      The Next Morning: Make a Frittata

      Dish up a hearty breakfast for departing guests with a fuss-free frittata. Purchased meatballs make this satisfying breakfast or brunch a breeze to prepare, and if you have leftover chopped veggies from your Thanksgiving salad, it's even easier. Check out our Meatball Frittata recipe by clicking below, or look on page 5 of our free guide for three more filling frittatas.

      Get the free guide
    • 25 of 26

      The Next Few Days: Repurpose Leftovers

      Abundance of turkey in your fridge? Put it to good use with our collection of ideas for Thanksgiving leftovers. Click below for inspiration on turning Turkey Day staples into delish new dishes, like Sesame Ginger Turkey Wraps and Cran-Turkey Enchiladas. Let the feast continue!

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      Next Slideshow Easy and Creative Ways to Give Thanks at Thanksgiving

      Easy and Creative Ways to Give Thanks at Thanksgiving

      This Thanksgiving, enjoy these simple crafts and ideas for encouraging friends and family to give thanks. A special bonus: Some ideas help keep kids occupied while the adults are busy.
      Begin Slideshow »

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