Skip to Content

Thanksgiving Timeline: How to Manage Food Preparation

Sharing is caring!

Thanksgiving Dinner

Wondering how to manage your time when it comes to preparing Thanksgiving dinner? I have created an outline that will take the stress out of planning. By starting to prepare food two days before the holiday, you will be able to sit back and enjoy Thanksgiving with your guests.

I singlehandedly prepared a full Thanksgiving meal for my friends, following the steps below. The goal is to only do some minor food prep once guests arrive at your home, and to allow time to clean up before guests arrive. The only things you should be doing once guests arrive are heating up side dishes, assembling some simple appetizers, making gravy, and carving the turkey.
At Least 4 Days Before Thanksgiving
Buy your turkey. You need to get this early because if you end up getting a frozen turkey it might need 3-4 days to thaw out in your fridge. The other option is to order a fresh turkey from your butcher.
While you are at the store, pick up a first round of Thanksgiving groceries. This is when I pick up wine and ingredients that can be stored at room temperature.
3 Days Before Thanksgiving
This is when I focus on decorating. I work on a tablescape, make placecards, and this year I bought air plants and succulents.
I also cleaned out my fridge to make some space.
2 Days Before Thanksgiving
Make sure you have all the groceries you will need, since tomorrow you will begin major food prep. Then make your mashed potatoes. I store them in a large square container, and transferred them to a casserole dish on Thanksgiving morning. The square container fit in my fridge more easily.
Clean up your home to prepare for guests.
Roast Thanksgiving Turkey
1 Day Before Thanksgiving
Prepare Cranberry Salsa – it is best when it is made a day ahead. Then make your stuffing, butternut squash, and your pies.
Before bed, unwrap your turkey, remove the giblets and neck from inside the bird, and rinse the turkey. I recommend doing this the night before so that you can check to make sure the inside of the bird has thawed. Also, unwrapping the turkey and letting it chill in the fridge overnight will result in a crispier skin.
Run your dishwasher.
Create an outline for Thanksgiving. First calculate how long your turkey will need to cook. Turkeys take 10 – 15 minutes per pound to cook, and you will want the turkey to rest for 30 minutes before carving. You will likely want to be taking the turkey out of the oven about 45 minutes after guests arrive. This gives people time to arrive and snack on appetizers before dinner is served. Use this to determine what time you want to put the turkey in the oven. Make sure you are up 90 minutes before you want to put the turkey in the oven.
Cranberry Salsa is a fun alternative to cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving, and it is easy to prepare.
Thanksgiving Day
Get up at least 90 minutes before you want to put the turkey in the oven.
Start off by removing the turkey from the fridge. Give the turkey an hour to come closer to room temperature before cooking. This helps it cook more quickly.
Then empty your dishwasher, and set the table. Fill a cooler with ice, beer, and white wine, and put it out of the way of the kitchen. Create a little drink station by the cooler with glasses and wine keys so that no one needs to go into the kitchen to get a drink.
Preheat your oven, prep your turkey, and put it in the oven. Find detailed instructions here.
Depending on the size of your turkey, it will take 2 1/2 – 4 hours to cook. As soon as I put the turkey in the oven I changed and got ready for dinner.
Once you are dressed and ready for dinner, prepare the appetizers. Start with preparing the sweet potato bites since you want those to bake for 45 minutes before your guests arrive.
Then prepare the stuffed mushrooms and put them in to bake 15 minutes before you expect guests to arrive.
Half an hour before you expect guests to arrive, pull all the side dishes out of the fridge and let them come to room temperature.
Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms from above
Once guests arrive, assemble the sweet potato bites, and serve the mushrooms. Place all the side dishes in the oven.
Once the turkey has reached 165 degrees, remove it from the oven and wrap it with foil. Pour all the drippings into a clear container.
Make the gravy while the turkey rests.
After 30 minutes, carve the turkey, remove the side dishes from the oven, and it is time to eat!
Before you sit down to eat, reduce the heat of your oven to 225 degreees and put any pies in to warm up.
Bourbon Butterscotch Pie, a bourbon butterscotch pudding pie with a shortbread crust via The Kittchen
And if you need any Thanksgiving recipes, here is a link to my favorites! Happy cooking everyone!


Friday 13th of November 2015

I love this post! Timing is always my downfall :)

Easy Guacamole without Cilantro Story Bacon Cheeseburger Stuffed Peppers Story German Apple Strudel Story Spicy White Chicken Chili Story Roasted Tomato Tortellini Soup Story