How to Host Thanksgiving (+ a free printable checklist!)
Learn all of my tips and tricks for how to host a wonderful Thanksgiving – big or small! This guide to hosting Thanksgiving dinner has day-by-day tasks, recipe and utensil suggestions and more to ensure that your Thanksgiving is seamless and fun. Plus, download a free printable checklist for ease!
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Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday for as long as I can remember. There’s something about the fall colors, warmth of delicious comfort foods and spending time with friends & family that makes the transition to winter that much better.
I know that holidays have been looking a lot different for everyone these past couple of years, but I still wanted to put together the perfect guide to hosting Thanksgiving dinner (or really any holiday) whether it’s big or small. You’ll find tips for putting a menu together, getting your table ready and even what you can prep & cook ahead of time to make the day a breeze.
Get all of my best tips for how to host Thanksgiving below, and download & print my free checklist AND menu place card at the end! Don’t forget to plan your menu with the BEST Thanksgiving recipes, too.
Looking for beautiful tableware and kitchen items for the holidays? Get all of my go-tos on our Shop Page.
Start with my best turkey tips
Never made your own Thanksgiving turkey before? I’ve got you covered! Head to my best ever Thanksgiving turkey recipe and get all of my tips and tricks for selecting, defrosting and roasting a whole turkey. The perfect task to check off first on your list!
Bonus: it’s easier than you think! My turkey doesn’t require any brining. Just a little patience and time (as all turkeys do!).
1-3 weeks before: plan your menu
A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving you’re going to want to solidify who’s coming and plan out what will be on the table:
- Make a guest list and send invites via Paperless Post or email.
- Inform anyone attending if they need to bring anything and what time you plan to serve dinner. Seriously don’t be afraid to let your guests handle appetizers or a fun cheese board. It makes things so much easier! Bonus points if they bring an app that doesn’t require an oven.
- Plan your Thanksgiving menu by writing down all dishes that you’ll be making and what groceries you’ll need for those.
- Head to the grocery store and pick up all of the food you need. I do this about 5-7 days before, but sometimes you might consider ordering your turkey ahead of time.
- Make sure you have the necessary kitchen tools/serving dishes for each dish. Serving spoons, electric knife for cutting, good silverware, plates, wine glasses, pie dishes, the whole works! Check out our Shop Page to shop our favorite items!
- Make sure you have enough tupperware to hold leftovers and don’t forget to ask your guests to BYOT if you plan to send them home with leftovers.
4-5 days before: get your table ready
It might seem early, but trust me when I say start to lay out your Thanksgiving table and dishes almost a week before the big day!
- Lay out serving dishes ahead of time. This is helpful to see how much room you’ll have on your table if you plan to do family style. It also will help you note which side dish, dessert, etc will go in each corresponding dish.
- Take out all serving dishes you’ll need: plates, silverware, serving utensils, wine glasses, bowls, roasting pans, dishes, etc.
- Place a note in each dish, for what recipe they will hold. This will help you when it comes to the big day.
Serving dishes we love: tablecloth, silverware, serving utensils, serving platter, serving tray, Tupperware, oval baking dish, rectangular baking dish, pie pan, roasting pan, small cheeseboard, cheese knives, gravy dish, wine glasses, napkins, dinner plates
3 days before: clean & decorate
You’re going to clean, declutter and clean again before Thanksgiving day, but a few days before is a great time to start getting your space together.
- Clean your house. Hire help if you can/need to.
- Plan the table seating and settings.
- Decorate the table with seasonal decor (Home Goods & Target are great places to shop for inexpensive decor). I love candles, a simple tablecloth, brass candlesticks. greenery, vases and simple touches like pears, figs, or cute little bowls make a big difference. Less is more.
- Create a dinner playlist on Spotify (or just use one of mine!)
- Defrost turkey in your fridge (make sure you do this at least 3 days before!)
Items we used for decorating the table: dried cottontails, small vases, candlestick holders, candlesticks, kitchen twine, mini white pumpkins (found at Trader Joe’s), eucalyptus for napkins, tablecloth
2-3 days before: bake & prep ingredients
One of the best tips I have is to bake and prep ahead of time! Pies will still be delicious straight from the fridge and it will save you the hassle & oven space on the day of. If you can pre-chop ingredients and keep them in the fridge do that, too.
- Bake your pies ahead of time (try my pumpkin pie, cherry or my apple!)
- Take out coolers and set them out for extra beverages, if necessary.
- Begin to prep ingredients that need chopping, etc. You can also make any other dishes that will store well in the fridge and save time. If you can’t store all the side dishes in your fridge, simply store them stacked in a big cooler with ice.
1-2 days before: prep your sides
Tons of side dishes can be fully cooked or partially cooked the day before and then simply reheated or quickly baked the day of for ease.
- Prepare make-ahead side dishes and appetizers. This saves SO much time on the day of. Prepare ahead as much as you can; I cannot stress this enough! When you click over to any of my Thanksgiving recipes, check out the full post & notes section for tips on making them ahead of time.
- Set and finalize the table the night before. Any final details!
- Set out your outfit so you know exactly what you’re wearing and don’t have to think about it.
- Figure out a timeline for when you’ll serve your appetizers, put turkey in, how long you expect it to take, and how long it will take you to warm or cook your side dishes.
- Remember each pound of turkey takes about 15-20 minutes and you’ll want to give yourself about 30-45 minutes of extra time just in case it takes longer. If prepped ahead, your side dishes will likely take 30-45 minutes to heat all at once in the oven, which is enough time for the turkey to rest, cool off a bit and for you to cut it
Example Thanksgiving timeline
Here’s one of my Thanksgiving timelines for the big day! It’s exactly what I wrote out and used. This was SO helpful for the big day and I highly recommend making a timeline for yourself 1-2 days out. I always work backwards from the time I want to serve dinner, and had all of my side dishes prepared ahead of time.
- 7:30am/8am go for walk + get coffee + go to park
- 9-10am: Sidney likely napping — M and T to shower, clean up room, fold laundry and put away
- 10am: bring turkey to room temp, make compound butter for turkey
- 10/11am: Tony cut up potatoes for mashed potatoes
- 11am: M makes appetizer crostini (cut apples, bake brie w/ crostini, hot honey)
- 11:30am: cook bacon wrapped dates for appetizers (already prepped and in fridge)
- 12pm/1pm: serve appetizers (include charcuterie board that guests are bringing)
- 12pm/1pm: guests arrive
- 12pm: put turkey in at noon or slightly before
- 12:30pm: put mashed potatoes in slow cooker
- 1:15-2:45/3: enjoy time with guests, play games, watch football & drink while Sidney naps
- 2:30pm: take out sides and bring to room temperature so they aren’t too cold when they go in oven
- 3pm: pull turkey or put in for slightly longer (time estimate for turkey is 3 hours)
- 3:15/30pm: all sides go in for 45 minutes-ish
- 3:25pm finish salad while sides are cooking
- 3:30pm: M make gravy
- 3:45pm: Tony cut turkey (rests for 30-45 minutes)
- 4:00/4:30pm: Dinner
- 5:30pm/6pm: Sidney bathtime/bedtime + clean up time
- 6:30/7: Serve dessert (don’t forget to make a pot of coffee!)
Thanksgiving day: finishing touches & enjoy!
The day is here! Take a deep breath and simply follow your timeline. Keep everything moving but be sure to take breaks as needed. Delegating tasks is key.
- Get up early and drink lots of coffee (and water!) AND EAT A SATISFYING BREAKFAST! So important.
- Take the turkey out of the fridge to bring to room temp for 1-2 hours. Make sure to factor this into your timeline.
- Put turkey in the oven — allow yourself 45 minutes-1 hour of wiggle time for cooking. Turkeys will stay warm for a long time before you cut into them, so don’t worry too much about timing, it’s better to have it done early rather than late.
- Get ready for the day.
- Set out appetizers.
- Take out the side dishes if they are in the fridge and bring to room temp so they cook quicker Tip: put your oven temp about 25-50 degrees warmer if you are cooking more than two side dishes! Or if your oven has a convection option, then I suggest using it!
- Take the turkey out to rest for 30 minutes, then cut the turkey.
- Cook/warm side dishes while the turkey rests (this will take about 30-45 minutes!)
- Make the gravy while the side dishes cook and set out bread, etc. Any last minute touches for the table.
- Serve family-style and enjoy!
Reminder: get all of my tips and tricks for making the best whole turkey from start to finish here!
The best Thanksgiving recipes + FREE printable menu
Looking for recipe inspo to create the ultimate Thanksgiving menu? Head to my full Thanksgiving recipe roundup for apps, mains (including the best turkey recipe!), sides and desserts that are perfect for serving on Thanksgiving. My takes on cranberry sauce, stuffing and casseroles, included!
Feel free to download our FREE printable Thanksgiving menu for your guests! You can put it on top of each napkin on the table for a fun, festive look.
Kitchen & dining items we love
We’re excited to share all of the beautiful decor & dining items featured in our table setting, as well as things we used in the kitchen to prep!
- Roasting pan
- Oval baking dish
- Rectangular baking dish
- Pie pan
- Linen table cloth
- Cloth napkins
- Dried cottontails (for table decor)
- Wine glasses
- Small vases
- Dinner plates
- Serving utensils
- Serving platter
- Gravy dish
- Serving tray
- Small cheeseboard
- Cheese knives
- Candlestick holders
I hope these tips for hosting Thanksgiving are helpful for any way you’re celebrating the holidays! Be sure to click and download my FREE printable checklist below to ensure success the whole way through. Enjoy, xo!
Remember to head to my full Thanksgiving roundup for apps, mains, sides and desserts that are perfect for serving on Thanksgiving!
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