A Step-by-Step Thanksgiving Checklist

father and young daughter prepping Thanksgiving dinner together

Making a list and checking it twice isn’t just for Santa Claus during the holiday season. Before the holly jolly holiday rolls around, families across the nation will sit down for the annual Thanksgiving Day feast.

But here's the thing: Thanksgiving can be a real pain. Whether you're keeping it simple or bringing in all the out of state relatives, there's plenty to do and the work starts days ahead of the actual event.

To help keep you on track and reduce your headache (note we didn't say "prevent" – we're not that powerful), use this Thanksgiving checklist. It'll help you plan and execute a Thanksgiving Day feast that is sure to impress your guests.

One Week Before

You've got plenty of time...but not that much time. The week before is all about making sure everyone is on the same page, and that your house is in good working order.

  • Clean out your refrigerator to make room for the meal and leftovers
  • Tidy up the house
  • Confirm the number of guests who will be attending the dinner
  • Determine if you have enough serving platters and place settings
  • Borrow needed supplies or shop the thrift stores

Monday

It's too early to worry about most of the food items, but if you're going the traditional route, you may need to start considering your turkey.

  • Defrost the turkey, allowing one day of thawing for every four pounds of turkey
  • Iron table linens

Tuesday

Two days out from the big day, and it's all about making sure you've got all the right ingredients and supplies in the house. Ideally, you shouldn't have to run any errands past Tuesday.

  • Do your final shopping
  • Write out a cooking schedule and timetable
  • Clear out the coat closet for guests’ coats
  • Clean the guest bathroom
  • Clean entertainment areas including the living room and kitchen
  • Plan time for any religious services or volunteer events before the dinner

Wednesday

The day before Thanksgiving is for every last thing that can be done ahead of time, clearing the way for a Thanksgiving day that's 100% focused on those core food items. For maximum Turkey Day ease, you can even roast the turkey on Wednesday and re-warm ahead of your big gathering.

  • Set the table
  • Set out Thanksgiving decorations
  • Decide on a table centerpiece
  • Prepare and refrigerate appropriate side dishes and desserts
  • Prepare and refrigerate moist ingredients for the stuffing
  • Decide what to wear and mentally take yourself through Thanksgiving Day

Thursday

It's the big day! If all goes well and you've followed your checklist, today should be pretty straightforward (and fun, don't forget that part).

  • Eat breakfast
  • Make the stuffing in the morning and stuff the turkey right before it’s ready to go in the oven
  • Roast the turkey until a meat thermometer inserted into the thigh of the turkey indicates the internal temperature is 180°F and a thermometer inserted into the breast reads 165°-170°F
  • With the turkey resting, make the gravy
  • Within two hours after roasting, remove stuffing from turkey and carve meat off bones
  • Enlist helpers to prepare the house for guests’ arrival
  • Remove prepared side dishes from the refrigerator and bake
  • Before guests arrive, delegate assignments to each family member
  • Have a great Thanksgiving!
  • Once guests leave, freeze or refrigerate any leftovers

Friday

If you're off work on the day after Thanksgiving, now's a great time to relax, clean, and reset your home and your head for the next holiday on the docket.

  • Remove any decorations
  • Enlist family members to help re-tidy house
  • Send thank you cards to people who helped with dinner
  • Check out great Black Friday deals and specials
  • Rest!

For more Turkey Day tips, check out our Thrifty Thanksgiving eBook.

Article updated November 2020

Tagged in Holidays, Advice for families, Reducing expenses

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.

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