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Stay Ahead of the Carve with This Checklist for Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner

From preparing the perfect dinner to ensuring your décor is pristine — hosting Thanksgiving can be stressful without the right preparation. Stay on top of your Turkey Day to-dos with these checklists, timelines, and other useful tips for hosting during the holidays.

Thanksgiving Hosting Checklist

1. Send Out Invitations

Are you having family over or hosting a Friendsgiving? Set a date, make your guest list, and create an invite. And unless you prefer mailing paper invitations, consider sending e-vites instead. By going digital, you avoid trips to the post office, licking stamps, and undelivered invitations. Whichever option you choose, we recommend delivering them to your attendees about 3-5 weeks before the event.

2. Plan for Food & Drinks

Choose your menu and determine how much food you’ll need based on your anticipated guest count. Provide a few options of beer, wine, and fun fall cocktails and mocktails. Want to save a little cash while also diversifying your drink and food options? Suggest that your guests BYOB and designate different side dishes for attendees for a small potluck.

You’ll also want to gather all the tools and supplies needed to make the meal a hit. Long ahead of the big day, gather the cooking tools and gadgets for all your cooking needs (i.e., spatulas, thermometers, and additional pots). For the meal, you’ll want to ensure you have the necessities below:

  • Napkins and table linens
  • Appetizer plates
  • Dinner plates
  • Dessert plates
  • Utensils
  • Glasses
  • Serveware

3. Choose Inspiring Table Decor

Keep it simple, especially when decorating the table. You’ll want plenty of room for all your dishes. Consider the following ideas to brighten your Thanksgiving table décor:

  • Add a festive tablecloth or runner and coordinating cloth napkins.
  • Implement bud vases with flowers or mini pumpkins for a centerpiece.
  • Add votives or candlesticks to set the autumn mood.
  • Include a decorative table setting with nice dishes, glasses, and silverware.
  • DIY your own handmade place cards.

4. Add a Few Home Accents

If you haven’t already, take some time to spruce up your home. You can either become a full-fledged fall decorista or keep things light and simple with these tips.

5. Devise a Timeline

Develop a game plan to keep you cool and stress-free. You’ll want a week-by-week Thanksgiving prep list so you’re well-prepared. Need a little help? Check out the Thanksgiving Dinner Checklist below.

Thanksgiving Dinner Prep List

2 Weeks Before Thanksgiving

  • Plan your menu. From turkey to pie crust, you’ll want to create your menu and gather the recipes you’ll need. Keep reading for menu ideas.
  • Make a shopping list of décor, food, and beverages. Go through all the recipes and include everything you need on the list.
  • Purchase other essentials. Make sure you have the right linens, dinnerware, drinkware, serving dishes, and kitchen equipment.
  • Plan the table decor. Any preparatory steps you take now will only benefit you in the long run.

5 to 6 Days Before Thanksgiving

  • Confirm the guest list. Reach out to confirm your RSVPs so you know exactly what you’re working with.
  • Get turkey, all non-perishable groceries, and beverages. You’ll want to start prepping early to avoid the inevitable grocery store chaos.
  • Put the turkey in the refrigerator. Believe it or not, a frozen turkey can take up to 5 days to thaw.

2 to 3 Days Before Thanksgiving

  • Clean the house. Make sure you have a clear workspace in the kitchen. Vacuum, sweep, dust, and spruce up the areas where your guests will be gathered.
  • Make your final grocery store run. Double-check (and triple-check) your list.
  • Prep any side dishes that will stay fresh. Cut and dry out the bread for the dressing, make the pie and cranberry sauce, and assemble casseroles so they are ready to go in the oven when the turkey comes out.

1 Day Before Thanksgiving

  • Set the table. You’ll be glad to check one more thing off the list ahead of time.
  • Chill the drinks. Put beverages in the refrigerator or cooler with ice to chill.
  • Prepare the turkey. Season or brine the turkey and return to the refrigerator overnight.
  • Prep the kitchen. Run the dishwasher so you have an empty one for all the dishes that’ll accumulate the next day.
  • Relax. Take some time to rest and relax — it’s going to be a big day!

Thanksgiving Morning

  • Make the dressing. Use part for stuffing the turkey if desired, and bake the rest for the fan-favorite side dish.
  • Cook the turkey. You’ll want about 45 minutes to 1 hour before you serve to let it rest. Cook time will depend on the weight of the turkey, so follow recipe instructions carefully.
  • Bake the casseroles. When the turkey comes out, it’s time for the casseroles and dinner rolls to go in. Start boiling your potatoes. Then, use dripping from the turkey to make the gravy.
  • Make the mashed potatoes. Whip up the mashed potatoes when the other side dishes are just about ready to come out of the oven. Cover and leave on the stovetop to keep warm.
  • Serve! Divvy up everything into serving dishes and load up the table. If the dessert needs some time in the oven, you can go ahead and pop it in — don’t forget it’s in there while you’re enjoying your meal! Finally, carve the turkey.
  • Thanksgiving dinner is served!

Thanksgiving Hosting Hacks

Food & Beverage Calculator

Use this cheat sheet to estimate how much food and drink to prepare.

  • 6-8 bite appetizers per person
  • 1-2 oz grains per person
  • 1-2 oz (undressed) salad per person
  • 1.5-2 oz salad per person
  • 5-6 oz potatoes per person
  • 4-5 oz vegetables per person
  • 6-8 oz of (uncooked) turkey per person
  • 1-2 rolls per person
  • 1-2 servings of dessert per person
  • 1 non-alcoholic drink per person drinking alcohol
  • 2-3 non-alcoholic drinks per person not drinking alcohol
  • 1 bottle of wine per two guests
  • 2 beers the first hour + 1 beer each additional hour per person
  • 3 liquid drinks per person

Approx. Turkey Cook Time

See the chart below for a general guide to cook-time based on the weight of the turkey, oven roasted at 325 degrees F.

  • 8 to 12 lbs: 2 ½ to 4 hours
  • 12 to 14 lbs: 3 to 4 ½ hours
  • 14 to 18 lbs: 4 to 5 ½ hours
  • 20 to 24 lbs: 4 ½ to 6 hours

Thanksgiving Menu

Here’s a classic Turkey Day menu (and a few recipe suggestions) you can use for inspiration. Bon appetit!


Main Dish

Side Dishes


Do Thanksgiving with Painting with a Twist

Put your own special touch on Thanksgiving décor this season by stopping by your nearest Painting with a Twist studio. Between checking off this list of Thanksgiving to-dos, you can Pop-in and Paint a one-of-a-kind autumnal painting that your entire family will gobble up. Find your nearest location today!

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