Thanksgiving Countdown Planner
From the party activities to the perfect place settings, we'll show you how to throw a stress-free traditional Thanksgiving in style. We've started our guide in early November, taking you all the way through Thanksgiving (with 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!
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!
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 for your traditional Thanksgiving dinner, 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 Thanksgiving Menu
Ah, the fun part: the food. Flip through cookbooks old and new, and bookmark your favorite recipes. Make photocopies and pin your online picks for your Thanksgiving food checklist. 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 need of 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 as you're hosting Thanksgiving, too. Fresh and festive is best.
2 Weeks Ahead: Finalize Guest List and Menu
Make a few quick calls or shoot e-mails to follow up with anyone who hasn't responded, then take a second look at your Thanksgiving menu list, 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!
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!
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 meals for the rest of the weekend if guests are sticking around!) for a Thanksgiving dinner checklist. 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.
Weekend Ahead: Plan Activities
Kiddos coming? Get crafty! Simple coloring stations, board games, and cards are sure to keep the little ones entertained. Get extra-festive by creating place mats in the shape of turkeys—or better yet, let the kids design their own!
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.
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 wine glasses now if they've become dusty in storage.
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.
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, like our just-spicy-enough Chicken & Poblano Pepper 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. Just add chips and cheese!
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.
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.
1 Day Ahead: Prepare Make-Ahead Recipes
Check a few dishes off the menu by preparing them a day in advance. The best make-ahead Thanksgiving dinner recipes are ones that get better with time, like stuffing, gravy, and even dough for bread (like these overnight rolls). 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.
1 Day Ahead: Make the Pumpkin Pie
Pumpkin pie can be made a day in advance. Not only will it make prep on Turkey Day less stressful, it also tastes better after it's chilled overnight. Any toppings (salty pecans, please!) can be sprinkled on top just before serving.
1 Day Ahead: Mash the Potatoes
Thanksgiving without fluffy mashed potatoes, like our ever-popular Rustic Garlic Mashies? Inconceivable! Luckily, these beloved spuds are easily made a day ahead and reheated in a slow cooker, saving your stove top for other dishes.
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!
Thanksgiving Morning: Prepare the Greens
Keep veggie sides crisp and fresh by preparing them the day of. Classics to consider making: asparagus, broccoli, and green beans—like this traditional casserole.
Thanksgiving Morning: Cook the Turkey
The minute you wake up, be sure to preheat the oven. The average weight of a Thanksgiving turkey is around 16 pounds per household, which takes anywhere from 3 to 4 hours to cook. After popping that bad boy in the oven, your Thanksgiving menu timeline is almost complete!
Thanksgiving Evening: Unwind with Movies and Snacks
Congrats—the hard work is over! Relax with your guests in front of 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.
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.
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!