Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and if you are hosting, chances are you are starting to think about your to-do list. As Thanksgiving approaches, starting your countdown now can go a long way in alleviating your stress. There are many small things you can do each day from now until next Thursday, making the day more enjoyable and less overwhelming if you are hosting.
Being a planner by nature, and having hosted Thanksgiving for over a decade, I wanted to share my own Thanksgiving countdown broken out by day, starting the weekend before. There really is no way around it -Thanksgiving is a lot of work, and no doubt it can be stressful. But getting a plan in place and doing a few key things in advance can make all the difference. After all, it is a holiday built around spending time with those we love, and we want to have fun along with everyone else!
So let’s get into the day to day to do’s that have been part of my Thanksgiving readiness plans for years.
We have also included a printable version of the countdown to make it easier to check things off as you go. You can find it at the bottom of the post.
Our Thanksgiving Countdown:
First, some important advice-don’t do it all yourself.
Hosting doesn’t mean you are supposed to do everything. If you haven’t already, reach out for help and coordinate who’s bringing what. If you’re cooking for a big group, consider starting an email chain or Facebook group. It is much more efficient than phone calls and tracking who said what. Let your guests pick items from your list — be it appetizers, wine, desserts, or rolls. This keeps things organized and avoids duplicates.
Now on to the day to day countdown…
I try to get a fair bit done during the weekend before. Although it does make for a busy weekend, it also helps get those holiday vibes going!! It also makes me feel calm as I am getting organized well before Thursday.
- Get the turkey organized: If your turkey is frozen, determine when to start the defrosting process. The general guideline is to allow 24 hours for every 4 to 5 lbs. So, if you have a 20-pounder, you would need to start defrosting 4 to 5 days in advance. Not bought your turkey yet? Head out this weekend and get that organized!
- Create your master list: I always create ONE list with sections for everything I need (food, supplies, items to borrow). Remember things like non-alcoholic drinks, paper goods, dinner rolls, ice, and any staples (i.e., butter, spices, etc.) you may need. Also, think through what you might need at the table that you don’t use every day, such as candles, a gravy boat, a large enough platter for the turkey, etc.
- Delegate specific time consuming tasks: Each year, I make sure someone is the designated potato masher and gravy master. Both of these items are important parts of the meal, and they both take focus. My brother-in-law does the gravy while my husband is carving the turkey, and my son often takes over the potatoes (his favorite side dish at the table!).
- Get Your Grocery Shopping Done: I typically tackle the bulk of it early Sunday morning, reserving Monday for any last-minute items. My goal is to avoid the rush and stress of grocery shopping the day or two before Thanksgiving. Plus, getting everything done in advance will be necessary to move through the rest of the countdown!
- Check Your Supplies: Make sure you have all the tools of trade ready BEFORE Thursday am. Since we use some things on Thanksgiving that we don’t use all the time, it’s easy to forget. Here are some of the ones we find essential:
- Turkey baster
- Meat thermometer
- Pan large enough to roast turkey
- Sharpened carving knife
- Gravy boat (an easy thing to borrow if you don’t have one)
- Salt & pepper shakers filled
- Napkins for the table and appetizers
Monday: Set the Scene
- Set your table: without question, this is one of my favorite parts of the holiday- setting a thoughtful and beautiful table. Each year I try to do something a bit different to keep it interesting and a surprise. When you do this in advance, you really can savor the whole process of making your table look festive and beautiful. Rushing to set up the table takes the joy right out of it. I also have time to adjust and tweak the table decorations leading up to Thursday.
- Another big bonus of setting the table well in advance: it makes the whole house feel festive! Every time I walk by the dining room table, I am reminded that the kids are coming home from college and that friends and family are coming. It makes my heart happy!
- If you have kids, you can also enlist their help with folding napkins, placing utensils on the table…whatever you think is appropriate.
- Finalize any decorating: If you typically put out special Thanksgiving decorations for the day or like to have extra candles around the house, get those organized now so you can enjoy them longer and have one less thing to do the day or two before.
Tuesday: Prep Veggies and Make Stuffing
- I always make butternut squash, mashed potatoes, green beans, and creamed onions for Thanksgiving. These are all much better to get prepped in advance. Get your family to help, and then store them in airtight containers in the fridge, and then on Thursday morning, the veggies are ready to be cooked with no peeling or prepping required. There is less mess and it is a huge time saver.
- I always find the stuffing is one of the most time-consuming elements of the meal. I love to have this out of the way a few days in advance.
Wednesday: The Day Before
- Organize Serving Dishes: Each year, I pull out my serving dishes and line them up on my dining room table, along with the appropriate serving utensils. I then drop a note in each one, saying what side dish goes in each dish. During the final moments of getting everything on the table (usually the most hectic part of the day), I don’t want to think about this, and anyone helping in the kitchen can follow the notes rather than ask you. Searching for your serving dishes with a crowd in the kitchen, saying excuse me repeatedly to get into the cabinets while getting everything out of the oven/off the stove can stress even the most experienced cook.
- Finish desserts and pies: if you are making your own desserts, plan to have them finished the day before. Or, consider taking a trip to your local farm stand and picking up some fresh pies. Buying desserts or asking guests to cover this part of the meal is a great time saver.
- Prepare the “Can I Help?” list. Guests frequently offer help, but without specific tasks in mind, it’s tempting just to say you’re all set. Avoid this with a ready list of simple, quick tasks (like lighting candles, filling water glasses, or warming rolls). This way, when help is offered, you’re prepared to delegate without a second thought. Write it out beforehand and post it on your fridge.
- Clear off your counter space: Move unnecessary countertop appliances, such as toasters, blenders, etc., to other locations before Thursday so you have plenty of room to work and stay organized.
Thursday: Thanksgiving Day!
With all of the above done in advance, you should be in good shape on Thursday am. Here are my typical to do’s for Thursday:
- Get all the pots and pans needed to cook the veggies (already prepped), fill them with water, and have them ready to go on the stovetop.
- Know your “start the turkey” time and put a timer on your phone or oven so you don’t forget. You will be busy, but it is not that hard to remember an hour after it should have gone in the oven.
- Cook your stuffing an hour or so before you are ready to sit down. If you don’t have room in your oven, cook it in earlier in the morning and warm it up before you sit down.
- Line up all your supplies within reach for making the gravy and mashed potatoes (flour, seasonings, potato ricer or mixer). Again, you don’t want to dig around in your cabinets right before sitting down.
- If you are making whipped cream for desserts, chill the bowl you will use. It makes the process go faster!
- Finally, with everything in place, go for a walk with your family, have a relaxing shower, and get ready to celebrate this festive and fun day!
A Few Final Suggestions:
Make it Meaningful:
Thanksgiving is about being thankful, after all. It’s meant to be about sharing time with family and friends and being thankful for our blessings. It’s easy to forget that in all the shopping and chopping, Thanksgiving is a holiday that’s meant to be enjoyed.
Here’s a sentimental touch that is easy enough to bring meaning into your holiday: ask your kids (and adults, too) what they are most thankful for and have each person write it on the same piece of paper. Pop it into a frame and display it on your table or in a prominent spot in your kitchen for your guests to enjoy. It then becomes a beautiful keepsake to save and take out each year.
You could also buy a special family journal and have family members write in it each year, and the younger kids could draw pictures. It’s an easy way to create wonderful family memories and does not require much effort. When my son was four, he wrote down “apples, the earth, and his brother”, drew cute little pictures, and I ended up getting it laminated. I take it out every year on Thanksgiving, and it is one of my favorite Thanksgiving keepsakes.
Drop the quest for the perfect holiday meal. True, Thanksgiving is a day that is primarily focused on food. It’s also important to remember it’s not all about the food. It is ok if your turkey does not turn out how you hoped, your mashed potatoes turn out lumpy, or you forgot a particular ingredient at the store. Just let it go- no one really cares or notices these things nearly as much as the host. Personally, I have really struggled with this one, but over time and with more holiday experiences, I know this to be true. Buy yourself some flowers as a reminder (what better excuse could there be?), consider preparing the fireplace for a friendly fire after dinner, or get your holiday pj’s out and ready to put on after all the guests have gone. You will have time to reflect on the day and all that you are thankful for!!!