For many people, thinking about Thanksgiving dinner brings visions of turkey and pumpkin pie appearing effortlessly in front of them.
But for busy moms (who are often the ones cooking dinner) Thanksgiving can be stressful.
The reality is that Thanksgiving is awesome, but that fabulous dinner takes lots of coordinating.
So, if you’re an overworked mom looking for help with Thanksgiving planning, we’re here to hook you up!
The following free guide will break down all of your Thanksgiving tasks into bite-size pieces. You’ll be super organized so you’ll have time to get ready for the holidays and keep up with everything else!
So check out the following Thanksgiving dinner planning schedule, and breathe a sigh of relief.
(Pssst…Looking for Thanksgiving Planner Printables? Here’s ours so you can have a quick reference hanging on your fridge.)
2 Months Before Thanksgiving Day (Optional Step)
Pre-order a turkey.
You only need to start thinking about Thanksgiving two months ahead of time if you want to order a free-range or heritage turkey. If you’re not ordering a ‘special’ turkey, you can just relax for a while at the two-month point.
If you do want a heritage turkey, but it’s a week before Thanksgiving, you can still try and order one. It might not work…but it might!
2 Weeks Before Thanksgiving Day
Meal plan, invite guests, delegate cooking.
Two weeks before Thanksgiving day is the next time you need to do any planning.
Now is the time to make a meal plan, invite guests to dinner, and assign them to bring any dishes.
To make your menu, write down all the dishes you want to have at your Thanksgiving dinner. Ask yourself how much food it will take to feed all the guests you are inviting.
Then think about how much food you can reasonably make by yourself and how much food-making you need to ask other people to bring.
Once you know what you’ll be making, go ahead and find recipes for each dish. Make sure to record the recipe book you found it in, or the URL of the website it’s on.
Then you’re gonna want to invite any guests so they’ll have lots of time to prepare and carve out time in their schedules. You can invite them by text, email, phone, or in person–whatever is easiest for you.
Make sure they know what they know what dishes you’d like them to bring too (and don’t go telling them not to bring anything–you’re gonna be BUSY and Thanksgiving is no time to play supermom).
HINT: Two weeks before Thanksgiving is also a good time to quietly hide away a few of your kids best toys. In two weeks you’ll be whipping these toys out for your kids entertainment during the cooking frenzy on Thanksgiving day.
11 Days Before Thanksgiving Day
Prep dinner rolls.
11 days before Thanksgiving go ahead and make a freeze ahead recipe for dinner rolls. Rolls.
Frozen roll dough keeps really well, so you can just thaw them, pop them in the oven when it’s time, and enjoy fresh, easy rolls.
9 Days Before Thanksgiving Day
Clean out the fridge.
Today is the day to clean out fridge, pantry, and freezer to make room for the food you’ll be buying and making. Get rid of anything rotten or expired, and organize the remaining food to leave lots of space.
8 Days Before Thanksgiving Day
Buy your frozen turkey and non-perishables.
Now it’s time to buy your frozen turkey (if that’s what you’re having). Apparently, you need about 1½ lbs of turkey per person, so do the math and get the appropriate size.
You’ll also need about 24 hours of defrosting time for every 5 lbs.of turkey. Make sure to get that turkey in the fridge in time to thaw!
In the same shopping trip you can also buy drinks and other non-perishables, including potatoes, root vegetables, and ingredients for pies and cranberry sauce.
7 Days Before Thanksgiving Day
Prep the pies.
Seven days before Thanksgiving it’s time to make pies and freeze them. There are lots of Thanksgiving recipes for freeze-ahead fruit pies on the internet, like this one.
I also found a great pumpkin pie make-ahead recipe here. Feel free to use one of these recipes, or take a look for your own.
You’ll thank yourself on Thanksgiving day when you have fresh, delicious pies that you did not have to whip up that morning.
6 Days Before Thanksgiving Day
Make cranberry sauce.
At T minus six days, go ahead and make the cranberry sauce. Then you can throw it in the freezer and you won’t have to worry about it until it’s time to defrost the stuff.
Also, no one is going to judge you for just buying canned cranberry sauce. If it comes down the wire and you have to cut something out, just get the pre-made stuff.
5 Days Before Thanksgiving Day
Begin defrosting the turkey.
About five days before Thanksgiving you’ll want to start defrosting your turkey. Just to recap, to thaw a turkey in the fridge you need 24 hours for every 5 lbs. of bird. That means a 25 lb. turkey needs 5 days to thaw.
It’s a good idea to keep your turkey cold while it thaws so you don’t get yucky bacteria growing on it – no one wants food poisoning during Thanksgiving! If you have questions about how to thaw your turkey safely, check out this website.
4 Days Before Thanksgiving Day
Decorate your house.
Now that Thanksgiving is four days away, it’s time to decorate your house if you want to (Though, can I be honest? I’m mostly too lazy to do this).
If do decide to make your house look all festive then 1) I applaud and envy your ambition and 2) make sure you put those decorations up high cuz you know your kids are gonna tear them down if they can.
3 Days Before Thanksgiving Day
Prep mashed potatoes and other ingredients.
At three days before Thanksgiving, it’s time to start getting the REALLY important stuff ready: mashed potatoes. Peel and cut your potatoes and store them in water in fridge. Then, on Thanksgiving day they’ll be all ready to cook.
Today you should also prep any other ingredients that you can (for example, chop veggies for roast veggie dish).
2 Days Before Thanksgiving Day
Buy perishable ingredients, prep appetizers, and bake your pies.
Two days before Thanksgiving you should go out and buy salad and perishable stuff so it’ll be nice and fresh.
If you’re buying a fresh (not frozen) turkey, now is the time to purchase it or pick it up from the place you’ve pre-ordered it.
You can also prepare any appetizers that will keep until Thanksgiving and store them in the fridge or freezer.
You can also bake your pies today and they will still be yummy on Thanksgiving (feel free to save this step until tomorrow if you prefer though).
1 Day Before Thanksgiving Day
Bake the rolls, make the stuffing, and decide when to start baking the turkey.
If it’s one day before Thanksgiving that means it’s time for a baking and cooking blitz! It’s time to make the stuffing, bake the rolls, and decide what time to put your turkey in the oven the next day
You could also choose to bake a make-ahead turkey and steam it to reheat the next day. (I’ve done this and it worked AMAZINGLY).
After making a mess cooking, it’s time to clean your house to get ready for your guests tomorrow. I know, it’s gonna be messy again by tomorrow, but maybe if you clean after the kids go to sleep it’ll last longer?
Cook everything else, do a last minute clean, set the table, and enjoy your meal!
Okay, so it’s Thanksgiving day:
Put your husband on kid duty or cooking duty. Whatever it is, you’ll need to divide, conquer, and give specific instructions to get everything done.
Put the turkey in the oven (you need about 20 minutes per lb. for an unstuffed turkey).
If you want to free up oven space, think about using turkey roaster, instant pot, or slow cooker to make more room.
Cook all of your prepped food, make the salad, warm or bake the stuffing, and make gravy from turkey drippings.
Set the table at the last minute so young children only have time to mess it up a little bit.
Do a last minute clean before everyone arrives at your fabulous dinner!
Get Started on Thanksgiving Planning
Now that you have this great Thanksgiving planning guide, it’s time to get started on planning your Thanksgiving feast!
So give the guide a read-through and print this Thanksgiving planner printable to remind you what to do. Soon you’ll be cooking up a storm and enjoying a low-stress Thanksgiving dinner.