Thanksgiving Timeline: Your Low-Stress Game Plan to Get Ready for the Big Day

Whether you have months to plan or only days, this schedule will help to ease your culinary and celebratory confusion.

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The first week of November


Reach out to family and friends to establish a headcount. Once you’ve got an idea of your guest list, pre-order your bird. You’ll want about a pound per person. Next, decide on the rest of your menu and prepare two grocery lists—one for nonperishable items to purchase now and one for perishable items to purchase a few days before Thanksgiving Day. Also try these ways to destress at work to get ready for the holiday.

Two weeks before Thanksgiving


Before things get hectic, set aside a few minutes to consider your party’s décor. You’ll want to create a festive autumn atmosphere through warm colors and elegant decorations. (Try one of these no-carve pumpkin ideas.) Pull out the tablecloths, napkins, and dishes you plan to use and make sure everything is clean and in working order.

One week before Thanksgiving


Consider brainstorming fun activities for your youngest guests. Custom place mats that feature each child’s name and a coloring activity are a great option (although they do require advance planning). A puzzle or board game station is another idea. Here are more Thanksgiving activities for kids you can try.

The weekend before


It’s cleanup time! Get the entire family involved in giving the house a scrub. Your Saturday-morning chores will never yield such sparkling results. (Process a bit slow-going? Try one of these fast cleaning fixes to get rid of the grime.)

Four days ahead


Buy remaining grocery items and pick up the fresh turkey if you ordered one. If you bought a frozen turkey, take it out of the freezer to thaw. You’ll need 24 hours for every four pounds of turkey. Finally, check in with guests to ensure you’re aware of any last minute cancellations or plus-ones. Before the big day, read up on these common Thanksgiving Day mistakes and how to avoid them.

The day before

iStock/Vitalina Rybakova

Set the dinner table and a self-serve bar, and assemble your centerpiece and decorations. Prepare as much of your menu as possible—think dips, glazes, dough, stuffing, gravy, desserts, and casserole (assemble the casserole, but don’t bake it until Thanksgiving Day). This is how to fix common Thanksgiving food mistakes.

Thanksgiving Day morning

iStock/Sergiy Serdyuk

Preheat the oven and get your turkey started. A large bird can take up to four hours to cook. While the turkey is in the oven, prepare any remaining side dishes. You’ll also want to make sure the dishwasher is empty, so any dirty dishes and cookware can go straight in. (These are the funniest Thanksgiving help-line calls operators have ever received.)

Just before guests arrive

iStock/Natalia Van Doninck

Your house smells delicious, the table looks great, and most the food is either prepared, cooking, or ready to be heated as soon as the turkey’s out of the oven—congrats! Pour a glass of wine and arrange your appetizers. (Hosts, make sure to do these 11 little things before guests arrive.)

While the turkey rests

iStock/Andrea Skjold

Once your bird is out of the oven, begin to heat or reheat your side dishes. Tip: Consider this process while you plan your meal and look for recipes that use the same oven temperature. That way, they can all cook at the same time.

After dinner


You reached the finish line! Serve your desserts and breathe a sigh of relief. (Looking for a stress-free Thanksgiving? Get our FREE guide for an unforgettable Thanksgiving. You'll get easy recipes, kid-friendly crafts and games, inspiring traditions, and more ideas for the best holiday yet.)

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