Thanksgiving Countdown – 8 Smart Things You Should Do Right Now To Get Ready

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Don’t wait until the last minute! Here are eight smart things you should start working on right now to prepare for Thanksgiving so that you can enjoy a stress free day.

The Thanksgiving countdown is on!  Between decorating for fall and thinking ahead to Christmas, this holiday manages to sneak up on me every single year. It’s especially bad when Thanksgiving is later in November, like this year.  Trust me, that’s not a good thing when you are the one hosting the meal!

Thanksgiving tablescape using pumpkins and traditional fall colors
For many of us, Thanksgiving is the official kickoff of the holiday season and it will be here before you know it!  Do you find yourself getting caught up in the holiday frenzy?  Do you become stressed out and unable to enjoy the celebrating going on around you?  Boy, that used to be so me.  Two words on how to avoid that – PLAN AHEAD.

I learned a long time ago, that the secret to being fully “in the moment” and actually enjoying the holiday, in spite of all the work, is to give myself plenty of time and to make preparations early.  I’ve come up with eight common sense tips for what you can do right now to make this your most enjoyable Thanksgiving ever!

NOW IS WHEN YOU SHOULD PUT THE GUEST LIST TOGETHER

Sure, you might have the same group of people at your Thanksgiving table every year, but now is the time to think about others too.  In the past, we’ve hosted people who have gone through some tough life events and need extra loving around the holidays.  We’ve included people who might just be passing through and we may never see again.  We’ve included extended family members who just happen to be in town.

Your guests don’t have to be in attendance for the full meal either – we have a few who just come by for dessert and coffee after eating their actual Thanksgiving dinner elsewhere.

Thanks to the current situation, Thanksgiving may look a little different for each of us this year. For example, I already know of a couple of higher risk people who probably won’t be in attendance for this year’s celebration.  I’m sure that those guests would very much appreciate a to-go dinner dropped at their doorstep!

place setting with brown placemat, white dishes and neutral linen napkin

 

PLAN YOUR MENU, MAKE A GROCERY LIST AND SHOP AHEAD

By planning your menu far in advance, you have several weeks to watch for sales at the grocery store and save some significant moola!  Go ahead and start purchasing your non-perishable items now.  Now is the time to start looking for those harder to find or specialty items too.

For example, I need gluten free cream soups for some of my favorite recipes and those have to be purchased or ordered now because I know from experience that they’ll run out.  I’ve also heard that there will be a shortage of canned pumpkin this year due to a late growing season because of excessive rain. I’ve already experienced that first hand!

In years past, I would make one huge shopping trip for everything I needed.  Not only was such a big shopping trip exhausting, I invariably forgot something and wound up sending the hubs out at the last minute to get whatever I needed.  Plus, it’s a lot easier to spread that financial hit over several weeks instead of all at once.

thanksgiving centerpiece with eucalyptus, amber bottles and mercury glass votives

CLEAN OUT YOUR FREEZER & PREPARE ANY MAKE-AHEAD DISHES THAT CAN BE FROZEN

Cleaning out your freezer now will make room for any dishes that you can prepare ahead and freeze.  Bonus – you’ll already have room in your freezer for after Thanksgiving leftovers!

Many items can be made ahead and frozen – pie crusts, rolls, homemade stock and more.  Just think how glad you’ll be to only have to pull your already prepared dish from the freezer when you’re ready to start cooking.  This is such a huge life saver for me.

thanksgiving place setting with neutral colors

PLAN YOUR TABLE & SEATING ARRANGEMENT

You’ll also need to know where you’ll seat everyone.  Do you need to rent or purchase a folding table and chairs for extra seating?  Do you need a children’s table?  Who will you seat at each table?  Do you have enough silverware, dinnerware, glasses and linens for everyone?  Do you have any items that need cleaning or replacing?  Does any silver need to be polished?

It’s so much easier to figure all of this out ahead of time!

fall centerpiece with eucalyptus garland and velvet pumpkins

PREPARE A COOKING SCHEDULE AND CHECK YOUR SERVEWARE

The key to keeping stress at a minimum is to be organized!  Review your recipes now and create a day-by-day, down to the hour, cooking schedule for the days leading up to Thanksgiving, as well as for Thanksgiving day itself.

My cooking schedule includes the name of the dish, amount of time needed for prep and time and temp needed for cooking (don’t forget to allow time for pre-heating!).  I start with the time that I want to actually serve dinner and work my schedule backwards from there.

When my schedule is finished, I’ll know exactly what time I need to start preparing each dish and what time to place it in the oven, what time to start preheating the oven and what dishes I might be able to bake together.

Once I’ve determined what I’ll be preparing, I go a step further and pull out whatever serving pieces I’ll need.  Each serving piece will get labeled with a sticky note as to what dish it will hold, including adding the serving spoon or fork to the dish.

Thanksgiving table and centerpiece using traditional fall colors

 

NOW IS THE TIME TO TEST ANY NEW RECIPES

Making something new?  Try it out on your family or friends ahead of time.  I’ve been embarrassed more than once on Thanksgiving because I didn’t actually try a recipe before I served it to a big crowd.  Has that ever happened to you?

Here’s one recipe though that will.not.disappoint!  It’s my super yummy and super popular World’s Best Sweet Potato Casserole.

image of serving of sweet potato casserole

 

MAKE A SCHEDULE OF EVENTS FOR THE DAYS LEADING UP TO THANKSGIVING AND THE DAY ITSELF

Cooking isn’t the only activity that you’ll be working on to prepare for your big meal!  You will be amazed at how much smoother things will go if you have a schedule of what needs to happen on the days just prior to Thanksgiving.

Think about anything that needs to be done ahead such as washing/dry cleaning linens, making place cards, creating a centerpiece, setting the table, etc.  And now is the time to think about it – not when you’re already stressed and are more likely to forget something.

snippet of fall centerpiece with eucalyptus leaves, feathers, berries and a white pumpkin

GET YOUR HOME READY AND PREPARE FOR OVERNIGHT GUESTS

You’ll be sooo glad if you take the time during these weeks prior to Thanksgiving to give your home a thorough cleaning, especially if you’ll be hosting overnight guests.  If you devote the time and energy to cleaning now, you’ll be in a better position to give your home a quick once-over right before the big day.

snippet of a fall centerpiece using amber bottles, vine pumpkins and mercury glass

Let me say it again – the Thanksgiving countdown is on!  Do you have any other tips for getting ready for Thanksgiving or the holiday season in general?

Worthing Court Blog

 

Thanksgiving prep graphic for Pinterest

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67 Comments

  1. Marilyn Groneng says:

    Such great advice! Things I learned in a Meal Management course in college as a Home Ec major 40 years ago and many I still use today. Do you have a template you use? If so, that would be so helpful to see–mine—slips of paper here and there—have always said i was going to develop a template!

    1. Hi Marilyn. No, I don’t have a template, but that’s an awesome idea!

    2. Kathy Ryder says:

      The table looks lovely. I love all the Fall colors. This is great advice for getting and staying organized and saving my sanity!!

  2. I love your dishes! I need to get a set of new ones. What kind are those?

  3. Good rules to live by and what a beautiful table. It is a great time of the year to decorate .

  4. Great list. I am usually such a seat of my pants kind of girl…maybe this year, I’ll get it together earlier! 😉 Pretty table.

  5. Barbara Garrett says:

    Suzy your table is amazing and I think it’s your prettiest Fall table yet! Great advice and I am already in the process of getting ready. I cleaned and organized my pantry last week. 🙂 xxoo, Barb

  6. Kathy Robers says:

    Pa-leeease! You have never cooked a single dish that wasn’t’t over-the-top delicious! I couldn’t help but laugh at that comment. Now for me, my cooking DOES need to be tested ahead; but I can’t conceive of that for you.

  7. These tips are great! I am always so worn out on the actual holiday that it is not an enjoyable time for me OR my family. I am definitely going to plan ahead this year!

  8. I agree, for me writing what to do and when to do it greatly reduces my stress, plus I love crossing things off a list as they are accomplished. I would add, stock up on different size disposable containers to send leftovers home with guests.

  9. I have found that Thanksgiving is such a lot of work so what we do is order a Thanksgiving dinner from a good market, such as Wegmans. My hubby picks up the meal in the morning and then in the days prior, I add to the meal, making some of our favorite things such as our traditional stuffing, homemade cranberry sauce, etc. This really takes the stress off of the holidays for us. This year our daughter, her husband and 5 children(all aged 6 and under) will be staying with us. I want to be able to spend more of my time enjoying their company and less of my time working in the kitchen. I still want a nice Thanksgiving with yummy food so I think this will be the answer for our family. I also find that ordering the dinner actually is LESS expensive than buying so many ingredients since most of the dinner is already made. It really eases up on the shopping stress, too. I hope this may help others. I used to think I had to do it all but after many years of marriage and entertaining, I understand that the time spent with loved ones is the most cherished part of Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving to all! Thanks for your ideas, I will definitely use some of them!

  10. Your centerpiece is absolutely stunning! Thank you for these wonderful tips – we will be hosting lots of family this year in our new-to-us home, so these will come in handy!

  11. Thanks so much for the good tips. I usually get stressed out before company arrives because I always have a long list of things that I want to accomplish and I invariably never get everything crossed off. I do not begin early enough like you suggest and I need to learn to do a much better job of that. I’m learning that the most important thing I need to do is concentrate on my guests having a good time when they arrive. I have to remind myself that everything does not have to be “perfect” in order to enjoy each other’s company.

  12. Great tips, Suzy! I have been hosting Thanksgiving for several years and planning is so important! And the table is gorgeous! Pam @ Everyday Living

  13. Debi Foley says:

    Great help for planning. Getting started now

  14. Nancy Carroll says:

    Your centerpiece is beautiful. Can’t wait to see the entire table! So will you have the entire house…except the dining room…. decorated for Christmas at Thanksgiving? LOL

    1. How about the whole house INCLUDING the dining room decorated for Christmas?!?

      1. Nancy Carroll says:

        Oh my gosh!! You’re kidding!!!

  15. I’m not planning a big Thanksgiving this year – daughter and son-in-law’s turn to spend it with his family. I may have my son and his girlfriend, but they may be going to her family’s dinner (I really need to find out, don’t I? Lol.) Your tips are really great, though, and I’ll begin by getting that guest list completed.

  16. Angela Saver says:

    Great tip to clean out the freezer! That will be such a great help when prepping our Thanksgiving meal & trying to find room for everything!

  17. Since my stepsons and daughters in law have other commitments on Thanksgiving day, we do ours the weekend before. We don’t make a traditional bird and fixings, we do chili two ways, homemade bread, vegetable tray, fruit tray and something yummy for dessert. Everybody contributes something for the meal. Since we have young grandchildren, I cover the table with brown paper and add crayons and people have fun drawing pictures to amuse each other. We want it to be a fun relaxing time to enjoy each other. I also start my Christmas decorating. I put up the pre-lit tree for the grandkids to decorate … and anyone else can pitch in.
    On actual Thanksgiving day, I make a smaller traditional meal for four, roast turkey breast, apple walnut dressing, winter salad, roasted vegetables and pumpkin pie of course! I do set the table the day before and make the dressing and prep any vegetables. On the day, I just have to roast the breast, bake the stuffing and roast the veg. That way we get leftovers.
    It’s not for everyone, but it works for us.

    1. That sounds perfectly wonderful, Patricia! I love that you set your tree up and let the grands decorate it. Would you mind sharing the recipe for your apple walnut dressing with me? I’ve had such a terrible time finding a dressing recipe that I truly love and this sounds delicious! 😀

      1. Suzy, I don’t have an actual recipe … I just made it up years ago. But I can describe the steps.
        I saute the onions and celery with chopped apples (I leave the peel on) until translucent. I use dried bread cubes with seasoning … usually cornbread. I used to make my own thin sheets of cornbread until I thought “why?”.
        Mix in the cooked mixture and fold in chopped walnuts (for crunch) and add good chicken stock until just right. I taste the mix and correct seasoning as needed.
        It sits overnight until T day and goes into the oven then.
        If you’re not comfortable without a recipe, I’d follow a good basic recipe and just add the cooked apples and walnuts.
        I hope this helps.

        1. Thank you so much, Patricia. I’ll give it a whirl. Happy Thanksgiving!

    2. Dee Dee Neil says:

      Wonderful, thank you for the ideas! A couple years back I created a spreadsheet with Thanksgiving meal items to purchase by categories such as fresh, frozen, meat, bread with 3 columns: need, have, buy. It took some time but incorporates all our favorite dishes so nothing is forgotten (yes, my husband still makes last minute jaunts to the store)!

  18. Linda Charlton says:

    I love the tablescape. And I have those same s&p shakers.

  19. Sandy Hunter says:

    Some very good ideas!

  20. elizabeth says:

    Beautiful table. I just love this time of year!

  21. Jean from Georgia says:

    Beautiful dining table arrangements.

  22. Thank you so much for posting this–just a little time and organization upfront and Thanksgiving will be so much easier! One thing I am going to do this year ahead of time is to make gravy and freeze it and to also make the fresh cranberry sauce and let the flavors meld in the frig a few days before. I have my college kiddos coming home early, co that requires plenty of make ahead meals like soup and chili!
    Thanks so much for your blog–it is one of my favorites!!

  23. Diva Kreszl says:

    I am a little late reading this post but you certainly have some great tips for a stress free gathering. I plan to use your ideas throughout the holidays!

  24. Great tips! I always create a list of recipes along with their oven temperatures, time in and out of the oven, and put sticky in notes in all of my serving dishes ahead of time. That has really saved my sanity on the big day! Thanks, also, for the yummy-looking sweet potato casserole. I had been looking for a new recipe for it, and yours is it!
    Have a Blessed Thanksgiving and thanks for the opportunity!

  25. Got to save these ideas!

  26. Michelle Scott says:

    Love it. Thank you!

  27. Nancy Walden says:

    I am hosting 3 of my 5 kids this year. Fortunately for me they help with the food! There will be 17 of us so there will be a “kids table.” I’m doing the turnkey,and gravy plus gluten free stuffing. My menu has a twist this year since my grandson asked for my potato salad! So we’re having mashed potatoes, yams and potato salad–lots of carbs! I made Mexican Wedding Cookies last night using a gluten free flour mix. Yummy! I”m going to make cheesecake too. I use a custard base that is chilled rather than baked. I’ve never made it with goat cheese so it’s an experiment. I can’t eat anything with gluten or dairy in it so sometimes I have to think “outside the box!”

  28. mattsgramma says:

    Enjoyed reading how you plan and prepare ahead Suzy.

  29. Thanks for the tips and reminders – I’m hosting this year and just what I needed.

  30. Beautiful table! I’m a list maker…so a couple weeks before, I start with several. One thing I’ve done over the years…do all my prep work the day before, (cut up veggies), and place in zip loc bags in fridge. Much less stress that way! Enjoy your Day! 😉

  31. Norma Rolader says:

    You are amazing!!!! What some amazing ideas and decor !!!! Thank you so much for sharing and inspiring us

  32. Even though I make lists I tend to get stressed when hosting a holiday dinner. I never seem to get everything done. This year I will try to get an earlier start on my preparations. Thanks for the great tips!

  33. Michelle Ward says:

    Right now our Thanksgivings are simple with just my husband and kids. I will remember these tips for later on if I am a mother in law and have grandkids.

  34. I love the idea of planning ahead. When i have done so in the past I am able to enjoy Thanksgiving so much more!

  35. Ronda Manager says:

    Great checklist for Tganksgiving prep!
    Thank you!

  36. Great tips! Especially the tip about trying new recipes beforehand! Thanks!

  37. Donna Whitley says:

    Great planning list. Thank you!

  38. Julie Briones says:

    Wonderful tips… I’ve already started using some! Thanks, Suzy!

  39. Thanks for all the tips. I am having 25 people over on Thanksgiving so I need to be very organized. I will be setting up 3 tables could you suggest any table cloth ideas as I don’t have 3 matching ones? Thank you.

    1. Hi Cathy. I apologize for the delay in responding to you! This is such a crazy busy time of year for me. I know that Thanksgiving has already passed, but in the future I would just try to use three tablecloths that have colors that don’t fight with one another. You could unify the whole look by using the same dishes, napkins, glasses, etc on each table.

  40. Angela Hendricks says:

    Great tips! I am going to be doing all my shopping on Monday so I will be making a list with my mother tomorrow when I go visit her home for coffee!

  41. Norma Rolader says:

    So much inspiration for Thanksgiving setting … May you and your family have a blessed Thanksgiving

  42. Angie Chadwick says:

    Hi Suzy,

    We lived in Germany many years ago and attended an American church on one of the bases. My happiest holiday ever since has been Thanksgiving. Wonderful memories of the food prep with the other ladies and the fun and games we had following the meal. Sadly in Australia it is not a holiday for us. As I read your email I am actually preparing for Christmasand your tips are very applicable. Enjoy your wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends.

    1. Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience! Even though it isn’t a holiday there, maybe you could start a Thanksgiving style tradition with your friends/family there in Australia! 😀

  43. Your post took me on a wonderful trip back down memory lane! Those that stopped by after a holiday dinner at our house were called ‘Pop Callers. All of our holidays also included others without somewhere else to go. Your timeline and hints are exactly what my mother swore by and taught me over 50 years ago. Thank you!

    1. How sweet and I’m happy to be in such wonderful company as your mom! Mom’s rock – don’t they? 😀

  44. I smiled with the suggestion about our guest list. Where I live, we are encouraged to have only 6 people for Thanksgiving. However, we can have 20 at a funeral. A local radio disc jockey said he was going to have a funeral for his “pet turkey” on Thanksgiving Day so he could invite more.

    1. There’s no doubt that we’re living in crazy times right now!

  45. You’re so right that planning now will make it easier then. Good tips, thank you. We will be hosting both our children and grandchildren for the first time in several years, hopefully my high risk brother and his wife too. The last Thanksgiving meal we hosted in our home was 4 years ago then we met our son in a park for 2 of the COVID years. I’m excited but out of practice so again, thanks.

    1. I’m so happy that you found it helpful. Thank you for letting me know that. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family!

  46. These are great ideas. I just polished all our silver stuff. I have to make a serious list soon. One dish I served last year and was very popular was a savory sweet potato dish. It was sliced sweet potatoes, sliced onions, maybe sausage? I have to find the recipe. Even sweet potato haters loved it. Thanks for this post, I, for one, really need this reminder.

  47. How far out from Thanksgiving do you set your tables and do the centerpieces?

    1. I use two tables at Thanksgiving – the one in my dining room and the one in my breakfast room. We only use the dining room for company or special occasions, so I actually already have it set. I don’t set the table in the breakfast room until Thanksgiving morning because we use it every day, but I do already have a plan so that it only takes me a few minutes to actually set it.