Thanksgiving Host Checklist and Tips

ThanksgivingThanksgiving is a week away, can you believe it? This year just FLEW by for me. I can’t believe it’s almost Thanksgiving again. We are going to have family in our home for Thanksgiving and if you are hosting as well, I have some tips to share as well as a timeline/checklist. I’m basically sharing the checklist that I use and I hope it can be helpful to some of you. Even if you don’t use this exact checklist, maybe it will prompt you to think about some things to make your job as a host go much more smoothly and give the best experience to your guests.

First of all, I would like to say that I am never aiming for perfection, an extra gourmet menu, and magazine worthy decor. My husband and I want everyone to have a great time together. My goal is to have a warm atmosphere, delicious food and as less stress as possible.  Being organized helps so much to keep stress to a minimum and makes Thanksgiving Day run like a well-oiled machine, even when there’s a hiccup here and there, it’s not that big of a deal.

Thanksgiving Host Checklist

2-3 Weeks Before:

  • Invite your guests and get a rough estimate of who will be attending.

You can do official paper invites sent through the mail or text them. Whatever works for you.

  • Make a menu plan. Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 1.31.21 PMIf you’re anything like me, this is subject to change, but at least you can jot down some ideas. My son’s birthday is at the beginning of November, so I was really involved in that up until now. I just wrote down a draft of what the menu will be. In our family, we do potluck style holiday dinners, so the menu will also depend on what everyone will bring, but as the host, you need to make sure that there won’t be duplicates, that everyone is clear on what they are bringing and that all the different courses are equally covered.

I usually ask people what they want to bring but also have a few ideas for them in case they don’t know what they can contribute.

1 Week Before:

  • Finalize menu
  • Clean out your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer.

I am not talking about a deep, thorough cleaning with a reorganization and buying new baskets and bins. You just need to clear out as much space as possible because you will need it. This is a great time to play a game of only eating things from your freezer, refrigerator, and pantry all week leading up to Thanksgiving. You will be extra thankful for your Thanksgiving meal on Thursday:). Preparing For a Baby-1-24

  • Buy all nonperishable groceries and everything else you might need, such as aluminum foil, plastic wrap, digital thermometer, a roasting pan, etc. IMG_1746You want to avoid the crowds in the stores as much as possible this time of year. If you are making turkey and don’t have a digital thermometer, definitely buy one! There is no way that you can tell that the turkey is perfectly done but not overcooked without a thermometer. It’s inexpensive, I bought mine for less than $15.

  • Plan your seating.

How many people can sit at your dining room table? Do you have enough chairs? Do you need to buy a foldable table and chairs or borrow them from someone? Do you need tablecloths? Wash and iron them, if needed.

  • Make/prep food that can be frozen.

I usually make chicken and vegetable broth and freeze it. You can also make meatballs and many other things and freeze them. Check out my Thanksgiving Entree Menu Ideas post, where I give you 10 entree ideas plus 3 turkey recipes and I specify what can be made in advance and what can be frozen. This will be a big help for you when you have other things to do closer to Thanksgiving. You can also make pie dough and cookie dough and freeze it. Preparing For a Baby-1-17

3-4 Days Before:

  • Deep clean the house

You will be so happy that you did this the day before Thanksgiving. If you have children, it may seem pointless to do it so far in advance, but clean the extra bedrooms and close them. Clean your bathrooms. If you will have overnight guests staying with you, make sure the guest bedrooms are clean, sheets and towels are washed, etc. All you will have left is general tidying up and the last vacuuming and washing of the floors.

  • Buy/thaw the turkey

You probably already bought your turkey when you did your major grocery shopping a few days before, but if not, now is the time to get it. Either way, take the turkey out of the freezer now because it needs a long time to defrost, plus, you will need to brine or season it the day before Thanksgiving.

2 Days Before:

  • Make a quick trip to the store for perishables and anything else you forgot
  • Make dessert

Dessert is such a wonderful thing to make in advance. You can bake cookies, pastries, pies, and cakes right now. I prefer to bake the cake layers and make the frosting 2 days in advance and assemble the cake the day before.

  • Meal prep ingredients 

IMG_9272Wash, chop, shred, cut anything you possibly can now. Making the meal will be a breeze if you do as much of the prep as you can ahead of time. Croutons, salad dressings, cutting the bread for stuffing and many other things can be made now too.Weekly Meal Prep-1-13 copy

  • Prep dinnerware and serving dishes

Whether you are using fine china and silverware or paper plates and plastic cutlery, make sure you have enough, that it’s clean and you have enough serving dishes and serving utensils for all the food. Take out all the serving platters, plates and trays out, and put a post-it note with an assigned dish to it. Don’t forget to think about the food that your guests will be bringing. Set aside serving dishes for those too, just in case, so you’re not scrambling for it at the last minute. This is another thing you can delegate on Thanksgiving. Just point to your stack of serving dishes and have your guests help fill them up and put them on the table or buffet.

1 Day Before:

  • Tidy up the house and vacuum, dust, wash floors

Since you already did all the deep cleaning, this should be a breeze. Unless you have children, ha ha.

  • Set the table(s)Vintage Storybook Baby Shower-1-69
  • Decorate

I like using fresh flowers, fruit or vegetables as the decor for Thanksgiving. It’s very simple, looks amazing and is relatively fast. Plus, we can eat all the apples, pear, pumpkins later, so there’s very little waste. 

  • Prep clothing for the family 

Make sure it’s all clean and ironed if it needs to be. Even if you are very casual, just take out what everyone will be wearing. If you have little children, you can have your spouse or an aunt, uncle or grandparent dress the children and they won’t have to wonder what to put on them.

  • Brine or salt the turkeyRoast Turkey and Gravy-1-8
  • Finish dessert

Maybe you need to assemble a cake or decorate it, drizzle chocolate on something, fill pastries.

  • Prep drinks

Make or buy ice, make sure you have tea, coffee, creamers, sugar, etc., whatever you happen to be serving. If you’re having a lot of people over, an extra thermos is awesome to have so you can make 2 batches of coffee or tea so you don’t run out right away. Maybe you need to borrow someone’s coffee maker or teapot?

  • Prep your side dishes/take out food from freezer to thaw overnight

Peel and cut the potatoes before bed, covering them with water. Prep the stuffing. Take the meatballs, cabbage rolls or anything else that you froze out of the freezer. Easy Tips For Better Mashed Potatoes sm-1-10

Thanksgiving Day:

When you wake up and after eating a simple breakfast:

  • Take the turkey out of the refrigerator, so that it stands at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before going into the oven.
  • If you have children, give them something clean and time-consuming to do – coloring, watching a movie, ask someone (a grandparent, a cousin) to take them outside if it’s not too cold. Also, make sure to give them a filling breakfast and lots of snacks throughout the day. They will be happier. Less whining and tantrums means more focus and sanity for you.
  • Get yourself ready

It’s nice to get ready in the morning because there might be a hiccup somewhere and you might not get a chance to get ready later. You want to feel good about yourself when you have guests over.

  • Check your decor and table setting one last time, if neededKarina's Bridal Shower -1-24

2-3 hours before dinner:

  • Put the turkey in the oven Easy, Fuss-Free Roast Turkey-1-11
  • Drinks

Make, pour into pitchers, or place bottles on the table.

  • Start reheating things that you made in advance, such as cabbage rolls or meatballs.  Make the sauce for the meatballs, add the meatballs to the sauce and keep this warm in a slow cooker.
  • Give something to do to the guests who are early, such as helping you with food, drinks, decor. Karina's Bridal Shower -1-5Set out some sort of appetizers and drinks. Also, a simple activity is nice too, like writing down what they are thankful for on a craft paper leaf that everyone will share at the table later, or looking at a slideshow of family pictures on the tv – have your guests email you their favorite memories from the past year and put it all into a simple slideshow. You can make one of your guests in charge of the slideshow too.

1 hour before dinner:

  • Make the mashed potatoes or rice. Keep warm by wrapping the pot in a large towel or in a slow cooker.
  • When the turkey comes out of the oven, set it aside to rest, make the gravy and put the stuffing into the oven. The turkey will stay warm for at least 2 hours, so you don’t have to worry about it getting cold at this point.Brined Turkey-1-3 copy
  • Make salads and wash/cut fruit and vegetables.
  • Warm up rolls or biscuits, if you are serving them.
  • Finish with all the little touches, such as adding fresh herbs, lemon juice, putting food into serving dishes, etc. and putting all the food on the table or at the buffet line.

Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy your family, friends and all the good food.

Thanksgiving Host Tips and a Timeline Checklist
 
Author:
Recipe type: Miscellaneous
Instructions
Two-Three Weeks Before:
  1. Invite your guests and get a rough estimate of who will be attending
  2. Make a menu plan
One Week Before:
  1. Finalize menu
  2. Clean out your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer
  3. Buy all nonperishable groceries and everything else you might need, such as aluminum foil, plastic wrap, digital thermometer, a roasting pan, etc.
  4. Plan your seating
  5. Make/prep food that can be frozen
Three - Four Days Before:
  1. Deep clean the house
  2. Buy/thaw the turkey
Two Days Before:
  1. Make a quick trip to the store for perishables and anything else you forgot
  2. Make dessert
  3. Meal prep ingredients
  4. Prep dinnerware and serving dishes
One Day Before:
  1. Tidy up the house and vacuum, dust, wash floors
  2. Set the table, decorate
  3. Prep clothing for the family
  4. Brine or salt the turkey
  5. Finish dessert
  6. Prep drinks
  7. Prep your side dishes/take out food from freezer to thaw overnight
Thanksgiving Day:
When you wake up and after eating a simple breakfast:
  1. Take the turkey out of the refrigerator
  2. If you have children, give them something clean and time-consuming to do
  3. Get yourself ready
  4. Check your decor and table setting one last time, if needed
Two-Three Hours Before Dinner:
  1. Put the turkey in the oven
  2. Drinks
  3. Start reheating things that you made in advance
  4. Give something to do to the guests who are early
One Hour Before Dinner:
  1. Make the mashed potatoes or rice
  2. When the turkey comes out of the oven, set it aside to rest, make the gravy and put the stuffing into the oven
  3. Make salads and wash/cut fruit and vegetables.
  4. Warm up rolls or biscuits, if you are serving them.
  5. Finish with all the little touches, put all the food on the table
Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy your family, friends and all the good food.

4 Comments

  • Svetlana

    Hi Olga,
    Thank you so much for the helpful hints. I have a question. When do you bake the cake? How many days before assembling it and how to you store them?

    Thank you

    • olgak7

      I’m so glad this was helpful for you, Svetlana. I bake the cake layers and make the frosting 2 days in advance and assemble it the day before. After the cake layers are cooled, I cover them with plastic wrap and store it at room temperature. I keep the frosting in the refrigerator, also covered. Once the cake is assembled, I store it in the refrigerator.

  • Mila

    Olya! Thank you so much! This is so helpful, I’m not type A person like you (I think you type A people are gifted and I love that, we-others can benefit from this;) and all the parties and gatherings are so stressful for me, eventhough I love to host! I’m not hosting Thanksgiving, but Christmas will and got some very helpful tips, that I can’t wait to implement. Once again, thank you for thinking and making this post!
    Have a blessed holidays!

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