A Stress-Free Guide to Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner

A Stress-Free Guide to Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner

Do you have daydreams of a cozy Thanksgiving dinner with your family and friends gathered around your dining table? But does planning and cooking for such a monumental meal seem too intimidating to handle? Trust me, you’ve got this! All it takes is a plan.

I have been preparing Thanksgiving dinner for my family for years. It is my favorite day of the year, and I actually look forward to the process of preparing for it each year. The key is to start ahead of time and spread your work over a few days. Here is how I approach it:

*Note: I serve Thanksgiving “dinner” around 1:00 pm on Thanksgiving Day to allow for an afternoon of lounging and family games. If you prefer a later serving time, adjust the preparations accordingly.

A Week or Two Before Thanksgiving:

  • Plan your table setting. Take stock of your kitchen cooking equipment, such as stock pots, casserole dishes, and roasting pans. Order or borrow anything you are missing.
  • Decide if you will ask guests to bring any items or order items from specialty providers. (Desserts, appetizers, breads, beverages and snacks are great candidates for this. I also have a favorite gourmet gravy-starter and brining blend I pre-order each November.) Place any orders or requests.

Weekend Before Thanksgiving:

Plan your menu.
  • Consider your oven space and cooking times/temperatures. Plan accordingly. (Three casseroles and a turkey might be too much for one oven! Perhaps you need to plan for dishes that can be prepared on the stovetop or in a crock pot.)
  • Make your grocery list.
Get your game plan!
  • Know what you will need to accomplish during each of the next few days.
  • Have a “day of” plan for Thursday, considering cooking times and oven space.


  • Do your grocery shopping. You will beat the crowds and have the best selection of products. (If you cannot break away on Monday, you can also shop over the weekend.)


  • Place your turkey in a brining solution. Many people debate the necessity of this, but I have found it to be a huge game-changer in the flavor and moistness of the turkey. I NEVER leave this step off!
  • Pick up any breads, sweets, or last-minute items.
  • Bake-ahead if you are making desserts.


On the day before Thanksgiving, I pre-prepare EVERYTHING I can and refrigerate to just pop in the oven the next day.

  • Prepare homemade chicken broth to use in your dressing.
  • Make the dressing!
  • Make casseroles.
  • Prepare salad.
  • Set the table(s).


  • Wake early to place your turkey in the oven. Allow for the estimated cooking time for your turkey size, but always use a good meat thermometer to make sure the bird is cooked thoroughly. (Also, be sure to allow time for the turkey to rest 30 minutes to 1 hour before carving.)
  • Peel potatoes, steam veggies, and any other prep that still needs to be done.
  • Prepare a special beverage to serve when guests arrive. My family arrives a little before noon and traditionally enjoys mimosas with snacks and sweetbreads.
  • Prepare to welcome your guests and enjoy a beautiful feast!
Amy Parker
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