The following post was written and contributed to The Dish by Jan Leasure,

I have to admit that all through October I mentally plan for Thanksgiving, what will I make, who I will invite, how I will set the table? In my mind my holiday celebration is always elaborate. Then Wham! It’s mid-November and I have two thoughts: 1.) “You know I REALLY like Boston Market turkey and that creamed spinach is to die for!” and 2.) What restaurants are open on Thanksgiving?

I don’t always knuckle under to a catered Thanksgiving dinner, (ok, once) or flee to a restaurant (sometimes). I thought I could improve for everyone if I was better organized. Whether you’re serving your first Thanksgiving dinner or you’ve served Thanksgiving dinner every year for 30 years, putting together a timetable and plan is key.

Planning ahead, at least three weeks in advance, can help you have a successful, stress-free Thanksgiving celebration. Here are some general tips to consider:

Make and use lists – a list of guests, a list of ingredients, and another list of what to do prior to serving the meal.

Combine as many preparation steps as you can to save time. Use a date calendar to write down your daily plan in advance.

Following are tips to help you prepare for Thanksgiving Day from three weeks out to an hour before the dinner bell rings. 

Three weeks before

– Invite your guests. Call, text, evite, Facebook or face-to-face.

– R.S.V.P Always ask so you can plan quantity.

– Contributions: If guests offer, let them bring a dish (ask what, keep track so you don’t have five orange Jell-O molds!)

– Allergies? Do guests have special food needs? Are they gluten free? Food allergies? Plan accordingly!

Two weeks before

– Where will you serve? Family style? At the table, as a buffet, or in courses? 12 or more and I am all buffet!

– Decorations? Tablecloth? China or festive paper? Centerpiece? Favors?

One week before

– The List: Put together the grocery list for the dinner. (Coupons, specials, discounts).Shop for nonperishable ingredients and frozen turkey.

– Place Holders: Make place cards for the table. Print on the computer and get the kids to help with this one.

Five days before

– Remove the turkey from the freezer and place it into a 13×9-inch baking pan. Place it in the refrigerator and let it thaw gradually until Thanksgiving Day.

– Three days before

– Shop for perishables. (Veggies, salad, stuffing items, appetizers) This is the time to buy a fresh turkey if you did not purchase a frozen turkey. (It helps to call ahead to reserve).

Two days before

– Bake? Bread, rolls, corn muffins? When they are baked and cooled, place them into a resealable plastic bag and freeze so they are fresh on Thanksgiving Day. Or,purchase dinner rolls at the supermarket.

One day before

– Bake Pies (or reserve them or ask guests to bring them). Set the table with dishes, glasses and silverware. Also, get out serving dishes and serving utensils. Remember to include salt and pepper on the table.

– Make your centerpiece. Use flowers and small pumpkins and other harvest-like decorations.

– Peel potatoes. Cover the potatoes with cool water so the potatoes do not discolor. Put the bowl of potatoes into the refrigerator.

Thanksgiving Day


– Remove the turkey from the refrigerator, rinse it and pat it dry. Make sure you remove the bag of giblets that are packaged inside the turkey. Rub salt around the inside of the turkey.

– Determine the time to begin roasting the turkey by the time you plan to serve the meal. Tip: Remember to allow at least 20 minutes to let the turkey stand at room temperature after roasting and before slicing. The meat will then slice more easily.

One-two hours before

– Prepare Stuffing: Plan to place a casserole with the stuffing into the oven about one hour before serving time.

– Drain water from peeled potatoes: Cook potatoes about 45 minutes before serving time. This will allow enough time for the potatoes to cook until fork tender and also to mash the potatoes.

– Prepare veggies so they will be ready to be placed in the oven about 30 minutes before serving time.

 20 minutes before

– Ask someone to carve the turkey. Place the butter dish on the table. Place all the food in serving dishes.

– Relax – you’ve earned it – and enjoy!

I left clean-up for last. Anyone who ate should help clean up of course and if they don’t, just be like Scarlet O’Hara and, “Think about it tomorrow because if you think about it today it will surely drive you crazy!”

For more tips from Jan Leasure, visit