Best Tips for Hosting a Stress-Free Thanksgiving

Let’s face it hosting Thanksgiving is a lot of work so I’m sharing my best tips for hosting a stress-free Thanksgiving Dinner.

It comes down to planning ahead with a timeline so that when Thanksgiving Day is here, you are prepared.

a beautifully cooked turkey for thanksgiving dinner

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Make a Timeline

While I’m outlining all of my best tips in a timeline format, it’s important for you to make your own personal timeline based on what and how you are planning for your Thanksgiving Dinner.

Give yourself enough time and space for self-care during this busy time. Depending on your situation, you might start your timeline at 4 weeks or even before.

With proper planning, you can have a stress-free Thanksgiving day.

This outline is strictly a suggestion of some things you might choose to do. Remember it is your choice!

3 Weeks Before Thanksgiving

Make Your Guest List

Your Thanksgiving Day might be just a small family affair or a large family gathering. It might be a Friendsgiving. It might even be something like a friend of ours does, she invites a few soldiers from our local naval base to join her family every Thanksgiving.

Invite Your Guests

This could be a formal mailed invitation, a phone call, an e-vite, or even a text depending on the formality of the day and/or who you are inviting.

Plan Your Menu

Decide what you’re going to serve. When I entertain or have a large dinner, I make my plans and then work backward with my calendar and plot out how I will execute everything.

I usually get a fresh turkey so that needs to be ordered three or more weeks out.

You can also plan what can be assigned to other guests if you prefer.

Plan an Activity

  • Board Games
  • Thankful Games
  • Word Search
  • A simple craft
  • Butcher Paper and crayons on the kid’s table
  • Make a playlist
  • Participate in a Local Turkey Trot
checking on all the necessary serving pieces for a stress free thanksgiving

2 Weeks Before

Check to make sure that you have everything you need so you’re not panicking about a bowl for the mashed potatoes at the last minute.

Make sure everything is clean if not used often. Polish the silver if you’re using it.

checking on all the silver which needs to be polished for a stress free thanksgiving

If this is your first Thanksgiving and you don’t have all of these things, consider borrowing them from a family member and/or friends who aren’t entertaining or are coming to your dinner.

Delegate: If you are providing turkey, mashed potatoes, and dressing (none of these transport well) then let others bring the side dishes.

It’s OK to be specific about what you would like them to bring. You don’t need 5 green bean casseroles.


I personally assign the desserts and appetizers to others and just make the main meal.

One time saver is to order your dinner rolls from a local bakery or even the bakery at your grocery store. I’ve found that dinner rolls can be completely sold out if you leave it up to chance. Ordering them costs the same but ensures that you have rolls.

Plan Your Table or Buffet

  • Plates
  • Cutlery
  • Glassware
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Enough Chairs
  • Extra Table
  • Name Cards (if using)
  • Centerpiece (order if you’re using a florist)
  • Table Cloth
  • Napkins

Plan Your Drink Area

You will want beverages for your guests. If you are serving alcohol, you can make it simple by just serving beer and wine. If you want a full bar there is more prep involved. I use THIS as a guide for purchasing liquor.

  • Wine Glasses
  • Cocktail Glasses
  • Coffee Cups
  • Water Glasses
  • Ice Bucket
  • Mixers & Garnishes
a perfect cocktail for a stress free thanksgiving

Plan your serving Dishes and Serving Pieces

My Mother-In-Law uses sticky notes on each dish about what will go in it. It’s a genius idea to make sure you have enough dishes.

Rather than buy more things that I find space to store in this small house, I borrow from my next-door neighbor as they head to family for Thanksgiving. I return the favor for Christmas Day when they are entertaining.

  • Platters
  • Serving Bowls
  • Baskets
  • Serving Spoons & Forks
  • Carving Knife and Fork
  • Gravy Boat

Plan Your Cooking Prep Tools

  • Roasting Pan – Big enough for a turkey or an aluminum pan
  • Meat Thermometer
  • Turkey Baster and/or Basting Brushes
  • Cooking Twine
  • Measuring Cups & Spoons
  • Pie Dishes
  • Inventory of your Cookware
  • Casserole Dishes
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Left-Over Containers
  • Potato Masher/Hand Mixer
  • Large Cutting Board
  • Cooking Utensils

Housekeeping Chores

  • Clean our Refrigerator
  • Clean oven & range
  • Clean & Organize Pantry/Cabinet
  • Organize Spice Area
  • Organize and Declutter coat closet
  • Deep Clean Bathrooms
  • Clean Up Outside – Rake Leaves
  • Wash Sheets if you’re having overnight guests

Meal Prep

  • Gather your Thanksgiving recipes
  • Make a grocery list
  • Check what you have in stock
  • Order your turkey (if you’re getting fresh for pick-up the day before Thanksgiving)
  • Buy your frozen bird and put it in the freezer

“I love Thanksgiving because it is a holiday centered around food and family, two things that are of utmost importance to me”

-Marcus Samuelsson

1 Week Before

Plan for a busy week. I have a blog post about how to handle a stressful week. I also have an Entertaining with Ease series that you might enjoy.

The Turkey

One of the worst Thanksgiving mistakes is having a completely frozen turkey the day before. I hear about it so often! The turkey needs to come out of your freezer well in advance.

If your turkey is frozen you need 1 day for every 4 pounds of turkey for thaw time. So if you have a 20 lb., frozen turkey, you need to take it out of the freezer 5 days before Thanksgiving. So don’t count Thursday as you need it totally thawed and ready to work with that day. I take mine out of the freezer on the Friday before Thanksgiving and put it in the refrigerator.

Be careful with a fresh turkey they are only good for two days in the refrigerator before cooking. (Including brining)

We brine our turkey so that is 12 hours we need to take into account on our timeline.

Grocery shopping

Armed with your list, head out to the store. If you’re cooking on a budget check sale flyers and make a list for each of the grocery stores you need to shop at.

If you’ve followed me for a while, you know that I’m a huge fan of Instacart (what a time saver and worth every penny) and Aldi. Not only do I save so much money by shopping at Aldi, I think their groceries are superior to our large chain grocery store.

Make Ahead Food

I’m a big fan of things that can be made ahead of time. These things can be made one or two days before, stored in the refrigerator, and popped in the oven (if necessary) on the big day.

Remember some other space and time savers can be your slow cooker and/or toaster oven

  • Mashed Potato Casserole
  • Cranberry Sauce (Oven Not Necessary)
  • Soups
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Green Bean Casserole
  • Desserts
  • Assemble Stuffing (except for the broth)

House Cleaning

  • Clean Up Clutter
  • Vacuum and Wash Floors
  • Make Beds for Overnight Guests
  • Dust

1 Day Before

  • Set the table (s)
  • Prepare the make-ahead recipes
  • Wash the turkey and take the bundle of giblets out
  • Prepare and begin brining Turkey (if applicable)
  • Touch-up the Bathrooms
  • Last-Minute Grocery Shopping
  • Pick up Flowers and Make centerpieces
  • Pick up anything else that was ordered
a small simple floral arrangement with flowers from the grocery store for a stress-free thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day

a picture of the turkey and some sides cooked for thanksgiving dinner

Cooking Timeline

For the final preparations of the Thanksgiving meal, I rely on a cooking timeline. Once we determine the time that we are going to eat, I work backward starting with when the turkey needs to go into the oven (3-1/2 – 4 hours/unstuffed 20 lb., turkey) taking into account resting time once it’s cooked (tent the turkey with foil for 30-45 minutes) and carving time (10 minutes). Then I fill in the blanks with everything else.

It can be a lot of food prep and food cooking. You might consider a slow cooker and toaster oven to help with food prep and space for everything to be prepared on time.

While Turkey is Cooking

  • Last-minute pick-up (rolls, ice)
  • Put beverages on ice
  • Dress for the day
  • Take some time to decompress

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Do You Cook a Turkey?

I rely on the Butterball Turkey Site for all the best turkey information. They even have a hotline if you can’t find an answer on their extensive site.

What is a Traditional Thanksgiving Menu?

Don’t Want to Cook?

There are many restaurants and full-service grocery stores that prepare Thanksgiving meals. In that case, you can just make a phone call for reservations or place an order.

A Stress-Free Thanksgiving Day

The ultimate goal is to have a memorable turkey day with family and/or friends and to have a good time.

I’ve laid out a lot of things but remember, this is your party and you can make it as complicated or simple as you like. Whatever you plan make sure that works with your life and schedule.

You want it to be a stress-free Thanksgiving Day!

Before the first doorbell rings, take a deep breath and remember that it’s really all about the company and fellowship.

Wishing you a stress-free, thankful-filled day.

Peace and Love,

Meet Me

I’m an Interior Designer turned full-time blogger who lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago in a 1,300 sq., ft., home with my “Handy” husband, Keith.

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  1. Great tips! Planning ahead is always the best. Especially to get those items in the grocery stores early before things fly off the shelf.

    1. Dear Tammy –

      I need to take my own advice. I haven’t even started thinking about Thanksgiving. I need to have a plan in place with our busy schedules. Especially since I’ll be in full Christmas mode by the end of November.

  2. Lynn, this is a fantastic post! I’m sure I do a lot of this in my head, but you included a lot of things that I haven’t thought of before. We can all do with less stress, and more merrymaking!

    1. Couldn’t agree with you more Michelle!

  3. Lynn, your timeline for Thanksgiving prep and organized lists are so helpful! I love how you’ve so clearly mapped out the process. It definitely reduces the overwhelm of hosting when you have a great plan! Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. I’m a huge list maker! I have to see things on paper and I get a lot of satisfaction from checking things off.

    1. Thank you for reading and pinning! You are so sweet 🙂

  4. Ok wow! this post of yours is packed full of so many helpful tips and tricks! Thank you, thank you! Pinning!

    1. It almost makes your head spin. Thanksgiving isn’t an easy dinner to pull together but if you’ve planned in advance, it does help the stress-level.

  5. What a thorough, thoughtful, and helpful post, Lynn! This is just what we all need to make holiday entertaining more manageable! I am so happy to feature it at this week’s Tuesday Turn About link party. Thank you so much for sharing. Wishing you a beautiful week!

    1. Thank you Lynne for sharing this on your link party. Hoping for you to also have a fabulous week.