Preparing For Thanksgiving Dinner? Here's How

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If you plan on hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year, make sure you're completely prepared by following this essential checklist for Thanksgiving dinner.

Inviting Guests

One of the first things you'll want to take care of when planning your Thanksgiving dinner is creating the guest list. Decide which family members and friends you'd like to invite, and be sure to take into consideration any guests they may want to bring. As tempting as a large gathering may be, do not invite more people than your home can handle. Once you've decided on your list, send out invitations as soon as possible. Six to three weeks in advance gives guests time to plan and prepare where they would like to spend their holiday. Also, sending out invitations early means receiving R.S.V.P.'s early as well. Once you know the confirmed guest count, you can move on to the next step of creating your menu.

Creating A Menu and Buying Food

Your Thanksgiving menu is largely dependent on you and your guest's personal tastes, as well as how many people will be attending your dinner. When creating your menu, be sure to consider the time each dish will take to complete. For small Thanksgivings, complicated dishes may be worth the effort. However don't plan on making time consuming, elaborate dishes for large gatherings that will require lots of food.

  • Turkey: If you plan on ordering your turkey, be sure to do so at least one week in advance. Otherwise, plan to pick up your turkey one week in advance for frozen birds, or several days in advance for fresh birds.
  • Check For What You Already Have: Before creating a list of tools and ingredients you need to buy, review everything in your kitchen. You may already have more spices, mixing bowls and serving spoons than you realized.
  • Gather All Your Ingredients: Print or write out the ingredients for every recipe you plan to make for Thanksgiving. Check off any items you already have, then plan to purchase any long lasting ingredients like spices or sauces at least one week in advance. Wait until several days before to buy perishable ingredients like meats and vegetables.
Ready for Planting Finished Product

Freezing/Refrigerating Food

Once you have purchased your Thanksgiving dinner foods, it's important to keep them fresh until the big night.

  • Frozen turkeys can continue to be stored in your freezer until several days before Thanksgiving. The larger the turkey, the longer it will need to defrost in your refrigerator.
  • Keep produce in a produce crisper drawer inside your refrigerator until Thanksgiving. Purchasing them as close to the holiday as possible will help ensure their freshness.
  • Fresh turkeys can be placed in the refrigerator for up to two days, though storing them any longer can result in reduced quality, and the bird eventually going bad.

Gathering The Correct Tools

The week before Thanksgiving, go through your kitchen cabinets and drawers, reviewing the necessary tools required for each item you will cook. Most Thanksgiving dinner recipes will require the following kitchen tools:

  • Roasting Pan
  • Baster
  • Meat Thermometer
  • Sharp Knives
  • 1 and a half plates and glasses for every guest (not everyone will want seconds, but be prepared)
  • Vegetable Peeler
  • Corkscrew
  • Measuring Cups
  • Mixer
  • Serving Plates & Utensils (don't forget bowls and spoons for gravy and sauces)


Aside from food preparation, a warm and welcoming home is the best part about Thanksgiving dinner. Before placing decorations around your home, be sure to clean each area of the house guests will use. Pay special attention to bathrooms and sitting areas like the living room, family room and dining room. While you do want to clean the kitchen, save the heaviest cleanup for after Thanksgiving.

Set The Table

The day before Thanksgiving, set up your dining table. This will give you time to dust off formal tableware, notice any utensils, plates or cups that have been damaged or gone missing and save you from the time consuming process the day of. Hurrying to set the table in between cooking the turkey, stuffing, potatoes and pie will create more hassle than necessary.

Make Ahead Dishes

Finally, make any dishes you can the day before Thanksgiving. Many appetizers and sides can be mixed/baked/created well in advance of being serving without going bad. Simply store them in the refrigerator until the time they must be served or reheated in the oven.

  • Chop vegetables the day before and store in air tight containers in the refrigerator.
  • Make pie dough the day before and freeze or refrigerate.

Start Early

Depending on when you asked guests to arrive, you may need to begin cooking Thanksgiving dinner that morning. Slow roast turkeys can take up to seven hours to fully bake, making planning ahead an essential step. Plan to wake up, and begin preparations at least six hours before guests will arrive. The day of, you will need to cook, finish up any last minute cleaning, and get yourself ready, so schedule plenty of time.

Last Updated: April 10, 2013
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About Alexandra Kerr Through Ideal Home Garden, Alexandra covers topics ranging from interior design to home improvement, gardening and cuisine. Having a passion for cooking and entertaining in her own life, she hopes to communicate her love of home design and decorating with her readers. 

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