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.

portion of thanksgiving tablescape with fall colors and eucalyptus in the centerpiecePin

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 even worse in those years when Thanksgiving falls later in November. Trust me, that’s not a good thing when you are the one hosting the meal!

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?  

portion of thanksgiving tablescape with fall colors and eucalyptus in the centerpiecePin

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!


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.  

dining room table with gray chairs set for thanksgivingPin

We’ve included extended family members who just happen to be in town. This year, we’ll be hosting some visitors from Holland. I’m so excited to show them what an American Thanksgiving is all about!

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.

Also, don’t forget those who are unable to cook for themselves or unable to go to someone else’s home for a special meal. 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 napkinPin


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. 

thanksgiving centerpiece with eucalyptus, amber bottles and mercury glass votivesPin

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.


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 happy you’ll be when you’re able 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 colorsPin


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 so that you can make purchases or reserve any rental items that you need!

fall centerpiece with eucalyptus garland and velvet pumpkinsPin


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

I have an hour-by-hour Thanksgiving day timeline schedule that includes the name of the dish, the amount of time needed for prep and the 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 backward from there.

Image of printable Thanksgiving Timeline WorksheetPin

When my schedule is finished, I’ll know exactly what time I need to start preparing each dish, 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 my tabletop essentials along with any 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 colorsPin


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 I guarantee not to disappoint!  It’s my super yummy and super popular World’s Best Sweet Potato Casserole.

image of serving of sweet potato casserolePin


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 pumpkinPin


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 your guests arrive.

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

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?

Thanksgiving prep graphic for PinterestPin

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  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!