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Thanksgiving hostess timeline

How to time your Thanksgiving dinner - from

So you’re hosting Thanksgiving this year, and just thinking of all that still needs to be done is enough to send you running to Boston Market to reserve an entire holiday meal for Thanksgiving Day pickup. Don’t stress—you can do this! With an organized timeline and lots of preparation, you can pull off holiday entertaining like a pro.

Thanksgiving Dinner Timeline from

Thanksgiving Hostess Timeline

Use this timeline as a guide for all your holiday hostess to-dos, and enjoy less stress as the big day approaches!

2 Months Before:

Extend Dinner Invitations

Invite family and friends to your home for Thanksgiving dinner, and ask for an RSVP no later than three weeks before Thanksgiving Day in order to allow yourself plenty of time for the proper planning. While mailing out formal invitations are not necessary, they can be a fun way to get guests into the holiday spirit!

Find cute Thanksgiving invitations on Etsy >

1 Month Before:

Create Your Thanksgiving Playlist

Whether you choose a holiday CD, or compile a variety of music for your gathering, get this to-do out of the way now so that you can check music off your list early.

3 Weeks Before:

Finalize Your Guest List

Collect up all those RSVPs and email/call/text the stragglers who have yet to respond, in order to finalize your guest list. If you’re planning a formal sit-down dinner, consider how many people you can comfortably seat around your dinner table. Keep in mind that you can accommodate more guests by serving buffet-style, which allows you to spread guests out and use more creative seating arrangements such as your breakfast bar or living area.

Plan Your Menu

Decide what you’ll be serving up for dinner this Thanksgiving, taking into consideration the appetizers, turkey, salads and sides, desserts, breads, and beverages. If you’re allowing guests to bring dishes, delegate early and find out what they’re bringing, so you know exactly what will be served on the big day. Also, make sure your guests are in the loop about how many people are expected for dinner, so they know how much to prepare.

2 Weeks Before:

Take Inventory of Your Serving Ware and Kitchen Essentials

Now’s the time to make sure you have all the kitchen tools and serving items you’ll need for Thanksgiving dinner.

If this is your first time cooking the turkey, make sure you have these cooking tools: carving set and carving board, baster, fat separator, roasting pan, poultry thermometer, and roasting rack.

For serving, don’t forget placemats, linens, dinnerware, silverware, glassware (for water, cocktails and wine), cocktail napkins, trash bags and more.

Create Your Grocery List

Create an organized list of all ingredients you’ll need for all the dishes you’re providing. And don’t forget about drinks and ice! Consider offering a couple of signature cocktails, plus the staple beers and wines as to not get carried away with having to stock a full bar to accommodate everyone on your list.

Divide up your list into perishables and non-perishable items, since you’ll tackle these lists separately later in your timeline.

Need help planning out dinner portions? Use this helpful guide >

Order a Turkey

Now that your guest list is finalized and your menu is set, it’s time to order your fresh turkey. A common rule of thumb is to plan for 2 pounds per adult and 1 pound per child.

(If you’re opting for a frozen turkey, skip ahead: you’ll tackle that bird 3-4 days before Thanksgiving Day.)

Decide on Décor

Once you’ve decided on a sit-down dinner versus serving buffet-style, you can start to plan out for your decor. Consider hanging a festive fall wreath at your front door to welcome guests as they arrive, and think about centerpiece ideas.  If you plan on having fresh flowers, now’s the time to place your order!

Need inspiration? Check out these table setting ideas >

Learn how to make a DIY cornucopia centerpiece >

Pick Out Your Outfit

The last thing you’ll want to stress about on Thanksgiving Day is what to wear, so plan your outfit early—jewelry, shoes, and apron included, and make sure everything is just right. This way on Thanksgiving morning all you need is makeup and hair and you’ll be all set. Avoid long, dangly jewelry that may get in your way when you’re in the kitchen your serving guests. Also, remember that you’ll be on your feet all day, so find comfortable footwear that doesn’t sacrifice your hostess style… after all, the turkey may be the star of this show, but you’ll be the runner up!

1 Week Before:

Make Room in the Fridge and Freezer

Very soon you’ll need all the freezer and refrigerator space that you can get, so eat up those leftovers, consolidate those condiments, and start reserving some room. Toss out anything that’s expired, and use this time to get each shelf organized.

Prepare Make-Ahead Items

Now’s the time to start preparing make-ahead food items like your pie crust, dips, stock, and dinner rolls, all of which will be god-sent once you’re days away from Thanksgiving and all that’s left to do is bake and warm. Vegetable soups, like butternut squash, pumpkin, or split pea, can all be made ahead of time then frozen as long as the recipe doesn’t call for cream or eggs. Cookies and brownies also freeze well, and can be great time-savers if you get them out of the way now.

The key to good gravy is using a homemade stock—and the best part is, it’s easy to make and great for freezing. Learn how to make homemade stock > 

Try this make-ahead dinner roll recipe that can stay refrigerated up to 5 days before serving >

Shop for Non-Perishables

Remember that shopping list you created last week and divided up into perishables and non-perishables? It’s time to go ahead and make a grocery store run for all your non-perishable items including canned and dry goods, paper goods, cleaning supplies, and anything you’ll need to complete your décor.

Pick Up Your Pre-Ordered Items

If you ordered a fresh turkey, fresh flowers, or anything else that requires pickup, go no and cross those to-dos off your list!

3-4 Days Before:

Defrost Your Turkey and Buy Perishable Ingredients

If you’re buying a frozen turkey, buy it now and start thawing since the process takes time and patience.  Butterball recommends thawing in the refrigerator by setting the bird breast side up in an unopened wrapper on a tray in the fridge. Allow one day of thawing for every four pounds.

Tackle that remaining grocery list with all your perishable items… you’re so close now!

2 Days Before:

Set the Table

Lay out your place settings, finalize your centerpiece, and set out place cards if you’re arranging a formal seating plan.

Learn how to set a casual Thanksgiving table >

Learn how to set a formal Thanksgiving table >

1 Day Before:

Prep Side Dishes and Ingredients

Start preparing casseroles and side dishes, bake, let cool, and refrigerate overnight so that all they need tomorrow is heating. Start chopping veggies for your salad and store in individual bags, ready to mix tomorrow right before the guests arrive.

Thanksgiving Day:

The Final To-Dos

Chill beer and wine, heat and garnish the dishes you’ve prepared ahead of time, thaw your dinner rolls at room temperature, and display those desserts—guests will be here any minute! Get your playlist going at a volume that doesn’t force people to talk over the music, light the candles, and set out beverages for guests to help themselves.

Remember to breathe, smile, and enjoy your day. Congrats, you’ve made it! Happy Turkey Day to one and all!

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