Thanksgiving Day Checklists: Thanksgiving Planning Made Easy

These free printable Thanksgiving Day Checklists will help you have the perfect Thanksgiving feast without stress!

Note: To download the Thanksgiving Checklist and Cooking Schedule printables, look for the yellow download boxes partway down this page!

Even though Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday in November every year, and most people think they have plenty of time, it’s never too early to start planning! Whether you’re hosting an intimate dinner with just a few guests, or a sprawling affair for the extended family, hosting a Thanksgiving dinner requires a lot of planning and preparation!

But don’t you worry, because I’m here to help you through it! I’ve written my Ultimate Thanksgiving Checklist that will help you keep track of everything from start to finish, so you can have your best “turkey day” ever! :-)

This checklist begins three weeks before Thanksgiving Day, which means you can start preparations right away!

The Ultimate Planning Checklist For Thanksgiving Dinner

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Three Weeks Before Thanksgiving

  • Invite Your Guests. Make sure your guests have been invited and get those RSVPs! Be sure to find out how many adults you’ll have and how many kids they’ll be bringing with them.
  • Ask About Allergies. Find out if your guests have any food allergies and dietary restrictions so you can account for them in your menu. (Hosting gluten-intolerant guests? You can’t go wrong with my Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pie Cake!)
  • Inventory Your Place Settings. Once you know how many dinner guests you’ll have, make sure you have enough place settings for everyone. This includes table space, placemats, chairs, plates, glasses, flatware, etc.
  • Gather Necessary Supplies. Once you know what you have and what you need, call around to your verified guest list and see if they have extra folding tables, chairs, and place settings you can borrow for the big day. If you love being a hostess and get excited at the prospect of filling your home with friends and loved ones, you may want to consider purchasing those folding tables and chairs and place settings.  That way, you will always have them when you need them.
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Two Weeks Before

  • Plan Your Menu. Gather up your traditional recipes, or hunt down new ones if you want to try something new this year! If you plan on branching out, I suggest doing a test run a week or two before.  Here are some of my personal favorites:
  • Hand Out Assignments. Once you know what you’re going to make, recruit help if necessary. Guests are usually happy to help out, so don’t be afraid to ask your guests to help out with the cooking!
  • Make Turkey Arrangements. Order your fresh turkey, or buy your frozen turkey and put it in your freezer. A good rule of thumb for size/weight is one pound per person for whole birds and 3/4 pound per person for bone-in turkey breasts.
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One Week Before

  • Start Prepping Tableware. Start getting your table ready. You don’t have to set it up yet, but this is a good time to wash your tablecloth and napkins and polish up any silverware you’ll be using.
  • Gather Your Dishes. Round up all the serving dishes and utensils you’ll need, like your roaster (and if you don’t have an electric roaster, this is the time to get it), carving knife, platters, and any special occasion serving dishes, and wash them if necessary.
  • Start Thawing Your Turkey. For your turkey to thaw properly in the fridge, you’ll need to allow one day for every 4 pounds it weighs. When in doubt, start thawing early-it’s better to have it thawed out a day ahead than to get behind!
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Three To Four Days Before

  • Delegate Cleaning Tasks. Round up your “cleaning crew” (mine is my husband and youngest sons) and delegate any chores that need to be done. Focus your efforts on the kitchen, dining room, and guest bathroom.
  • Buy Perishable Ingredients. Shop for your perishable ingredients, like fresh produce and fresh herbs.
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Two Days Before

  • Make Pie Crusts. Prepare your dough from scratch, or thaw out any frozen dough you’ll be using.
  • Make Custard Pies. Prepare and bake your gluten-free or basic pumpkin pies and other custard-y pies and store them in the fridge. (Hold off on making your fruit pies or pecan pies, as they don’t keep as well.)
  • Make Rolls. Fresh bread and dinner rolls will keep for a couple of days.
  • Make Dips & Dressings. Things like dips, salad dressings, soups, cranberry sauce, and even mashed potatoes will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.
  • Assemble Casseroles. Assemble your sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, and oven-baked stuffing/dressing and store them in the fridge. All you’ll have to do on the big day is bake them!
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One Day Before

  • Set The Table. Put out placemats, plates, utensils, and whatever else you plan to have out on the table.
  • Make Remaining Pies. Finish any remaining baking you still need to do, including making your fruit pies and pecan pies.
  • Pick Up Fresh Turkey. If you ordered a fresh turkey, pick it up from the store or butcher.
  • Make A Cooking Schedule. Coordinating a number of different baking, roasting, and cooking times take planning! Use my printable cooking schedule planner (see below) to make a plan for when you’ll cook what.
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Thanksgiving Day

  • Stick To Your Schedule. Get your turkey in the oven nice and early to make sure the rest of your schedule can go according to plan.
  • Get Ready For Dinner. Shower, get dressed, and do whatever else you need to do early in the day. The later it gets, the less time you’ll have for yourself, so plan accordingly!
  • Tent The Turkey. When the turkey is done, tent it with a big piece of tin foil. Allow the turkey to rest for at least an hour before serving.
  • Finish Cooking. Finish baking or heating up any side dishes, including stuffing, mashed potatoes, rolls, and casseroles.
  • Make Your Gravy. Many Thanksgiving dishes taste delicious even if they’re not piping hot, but gravy is NOT one of them. Make your gravy as late as possible to ensure it’s hot when the meal is served.
  • Serve The Food. Recruit help to get all of the food into serving dishes and set it out on the table or countertop. Then let everyone know you’ll be serving yourself first because you absolutely deserve it! :-)
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Download The Thanksgiving Checklist & Cooking Schedule

I put together a printable version of the checklist I outlined above. You can download a copy of it for FREE by clicking the link in the box below.

Thanksgiving Planning Checklist

This printable checklist will help you plan out every aspect of your “turkey day” gathering so you can enjoy it stress-free!

A clipboard displaying a detailed Thanksgiving Day checklist.

Download The Checklist

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I also made a printable cooking schedule that you can fill out to help you stay organized (as I mentioned above under “One Day Before.”) You can download that below!

Thanksgiving Cooking Schedule

Download a printable cooking schedule you can use to ensure every dish gets cooked, baked, and roasted to perfection.

Thanksgiving day checklist with printable cooking schedule.

Download The Schedule

BONUS: 9 Useful Thanksgiving Tips, Tricks & Hacks

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1. Plan For Leftovers

We’re a food-loving bunch, so we almost always end up making more food than we’re capable of eating at dinner. But more food means more leftovers, and that’s never a bad thing in my mind!

Plan ahead for leftovers by stocking up on disposable containers ahead of time. Restaurant supply stores offer a variety of sizes and styles for just a few cents each, and if you’re feeling fancy, you can even spruce them up with a few cute labels!

2. Bring A Cooler

Whether you’re hosting your own Thanksgiving dinner or attending one, having your cooler on hand can be extremely useful! Use it to keep dishes warm before dinner, and fill it with soapy water after dinner to soak dirty dishes.

3. Freeze Some Grapes

Offer up frozen grapes instead of ice if you’ll be serving sparkling wine or cider. Not only are they a festive touch, but they won’t water down your drink as they thaw!

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4. Hide Pie Imperfections

I don’t bake pumpkin pies very often (I like pumpkin variety), so they rarely turn out picture-perfect. If I’m feeling particularly self-conscious about the cracks, dimples, or other imperfections, it’s easy to hide them!

I just slice the pie up before dinner and top each piece with a big dollop of whipped cream. It saves me a bit of time after dinner, and as far as my imperfect pie goes, no one’s the wiser! ;-)

5. Fix Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce is an important part of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner because it’s tart and tangy flavor helps cut through all the richness of the other dishes. But it can be hard to get just the balance of sweet and tart just right.

If your cranberry sauce isn’t quite tangy or tart enough, a splash of lemon juice will fix it right up!

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6. Make The Gravy Last

As I mentioned previously, it’s important to make your gravy last. Even if all your other dishes are a bit lukewarm by dinnertime, the hot gravy will ensure it all tastes amazing!

7. Counter Turkey Dryness

Sliced turkey can start to dry out at an alarming rate. To make sure your turkey stays moist until everything else is ready, sprinkle a few tablespoons of hot chicken stock over the top of it.

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8. Eliminate Gravy Lumps

There’s no excuse for lumpy gravy when cooking, especially when it only takes a few seconds to fix it. Just run your finished gravy through a fine-mesh sieve or strainer to remove the lumps and ensure your gravy is silky-smooth.

9. Rescue Mashed Potatoes

There are a thousand little things that can go wrong with mashed potatoes. Keep this simple Plan B in your back pocket in case your mashed potatoes just aren’t turning out right!

Spread the potatoes in a shallow baking dish, and sprinkle a generous amount of breadcrumbs, herbs, and parmesan cheese over the top. Bake the potatoes until the top is golden-brown for a potato casserole that is sure to taste amazing!

What’s your most useful Thanksgiving tip?

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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Food & Recipes

  • I am with Nancy, I have always cooked my turkey breast down and never have dry breast meat. Really good to know about the pickle jar and silverware. Wonder if that would work for silver jewelry too. Jillee, those checklists are fantastic. I always use lists but end up with many pieces of paper….these will be great. One question though– in previous post you suggested making the gravy ahead and freezing it then in this post you have it listed as almost last thing to make. I was prepared to argue with you about gravy being made in advance as I always use the turkey juices for the gravy and couldn’t imagine pre-made gravy. So glad you came up with the right idea in this post…LOL ;-) I sure enjoy your posts, Thank You, Nora

  • Please be careful all spices are not gluten free. It’s very hard to find any that are… If your not making things in a separate room gluten can get in them… we can’t be in a room where a non gluten free pie crust is made the dust causes a gluten reaction… and you have to constantly check where things are being made, if not in a strictly gluten free factory it’s a culprit. ..

  • I keep my silver flatware in a big glass jar, the type of jar you would get pickles in. It keeps it from tarnishing and I don’t have to polish or fuss with it before using. It works like a charm and the utensils do not tarnish.

    Also, I cook my turkey (and chickens) breast side down. The last 45 minutes or so, I flip the bird (no pun there intended!) to get the breast browned. The turkey is always moist and yummy.

  • Our house has a Sunroom that we use in colder weather as a fridge. We’re usually tight on space during the holidays.Its not heated, so when the weather is cold enough we can use it for the extra stuff. If it’s very cold and snowy we can use the deck
    just outside. Coolers are also great too. It’s one of those rooms we can’t use much during winter and our extreme heat months.

  • I tend to run out of refrigerator space during holidays. This week I’m cleaning out mine in hopes that this will not be an issue. Happy Thanksgiving all!

  • One thing you left off your checklist was the Thanksgiving morning casserole. I have a recipe handed down through our family for a dish that gets assembled on Wednesday afternoon and then goes in the fridge until Thursday morning. It goes straight from fridge to oven Thursday morning, before you start cooking, and then you don’t have to worry about making breakfast for your crew!

  • My best blessing is my two twenty-something children who come home at least one day early to spend family time in the kitchen. Stress melts like butter as we laugh and share memories while they learn to make all the same dishes that have graced our Thanksgiving table for generations.

    Thank you for the wonderful checklist. I plan to include a copy of it on the shared drive digital cookbook I am creating for our family.

    • Once you open up the window for your printer, there should be an option to “Fit to Page”. Click on that option. It will automatically correct it for you. If you don’t have that option then change the printer setting from “portrait” which is the automatic setting, to “landscape” which makes it print the wide side-to-side format. Hope that helps!

  • I showed the charts to my mom, she loved it. The only thing that didn’t print was the notes section on the cooking chart , but it’s still okay. We have several family members who live not far Sisters and brother who help with some of the food. Plus another brother who’s family comes from Virginia. I know what you mean about foods. Between my food sensitivities and Sister in laws special diets it’s definitely a challenge.

  • Love that you have put all this together. I use scraps of notebook paper and will definitely use your time table sheet from now on!
    We serve a large group and have for years. Many years ago, the biggest disaster was the gravy. Turkeys are done on the grill so drippings are always “iffy”. After the thanksgiving-gravy-disaster, I found a recipe for make ahead gravy using turkey wings. I make the gravy a couple of weeks ahead of time. freeze it and them pop it in a crock pot. For me, the stress of Thanksgiving Dinner is non-existent

    Thanks for all you do Jillee–I look forward to my morning cup of coffee and your blog each morning!

    Thanksgiving Blessings to you and yours!

    • Blend together 15 oz. pumpkin puree, 12 oz. tinned condensed milk (not sweetened), two eggs, 3/4 c. sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. each salt & ground ginger, and 1/4 tsp. cloves. Pour into an unbaked pie crust and bake for 15 minutes at 425 (F), then turn oven down to 350 (F) for 40-50 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Let cool, then serve or refrigerate until serving. Happy Thanksgiving!

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