Thanksgiving Prep Series, Part 3

This will be the last installment in the Thanksgiving prep series since next week is the big week, and we’ll all be in the midst of prepping, cleaning, etc.  My last bit of planning involves making a detailed timeline for Thanksgiving day itself.  Any time I host an event with multiple dishes needing to be prepped, assembled, cooked or baked, etc. and get everything finished at the same time, such a timeline is essential.  Even if things get a bit off track or if you get ahead of schedule as I did last year, the timeline helps keep me focused and prevents me from forgetting things.  Especially when guests are in the kitchen talking with you as you prepare the meal, you can get distracted but a quick glance at the list gets you back on course quickly.

I always create my timelines in the same way.  In general, I work backward from the time I want to serve the meal and go from there.  For Thanksgiving, I start out my plan with the two key times of the day on the list: the we sit down to eat, and the time guests arrive.  (Side note: This is my favorite pen and I use it for writing all my lists.  I hate when I can’t find it.  Thankfully it is a freebie from my hair salon so I grab one every time I am there.  Does this make me crazy?  Never mind, don’t answer that.)

With the arrival time in mind, I plan times to have various appetizers ready and list those accordingly with times they should go into the oven, come out of the oven, etc.  You want appetizers to be warm for guests as they arrive, and also not so close to the meal time that people are full.

I use the same principle when planning the various side dishes that need to be on the table when the turkey is ready to be served.  Thankfully the turkey roasts at 350˚ F, which works for all of the sides I have planned.  Even if a recipe indicates a temperature of 375˚, you can certainly bake it at 350˚ without issue, maybe adding a few minutes to the baking time if necessary.  So, once the arrival and meal times have been established, all the side dishes can be filled in around that timeline.  There are still some big gaps which I will surely fill in later as I think of additional small details, but this is the basic framework I use for planning.

Finally, the last list I make for such an event (which I haven’t made just yet) is a list of what bowl or platter each dish will be served in.  You don’t want to be rushing around at the last minute trying to find more platters or bowls, or realize that the dish you just spooned the mashed potatoes into would have been better used for another purpose.  Planning this in advance leaves little to be decided at the last minute, so all you really need to do is stick to the lists and execute the meal plan.

And that’s it.  That’s how I plan my Thanksgiving.  Now it’s almost time to make it all happen.  Don’t forget, the most important thing is to enjoy the day with your loved ones.  If something goes wrong, it will be okay so don’t stress, just have fun!

Other Thanksgiving-related posts:
Thanksgiving Prep Series, Part 2
Thanksgiving Prep Series, Part 1
Roast Turkey
Our First Thanksgiving

29 Responses

  1. Your instructions are the absolute best! Thanks so much for the tips.

  2. i do the same thing with scheduling and serving piece selection! it makes the day so much easier

  3. I read “carve turkey” as “CRAVE turkey” and burst out laughing haha. My family never celebrated Thanksgiving, so I think I’ll enjoy my Thanksgiving this year by looking at different Thanksgiving recipes and dreaming about them♥


  4. I do lists like this too! Only, not backwards — but that’s a good idea! I also have a favorite pen I like to use, too, and get so upset when I misplace it!

  5. you are so organized!

  6. I made a time line last year and my mother in law got a good laugh out of it. Once dinner was served, she was in amazement at how wonderful everything tasted and looked 🙂 Yay Me!

  7. This organization will definitely make your Thanksgiving run more smoothly. Thanks for the helpful tips!

  8. I love all of these ideas! I read your blog everyday and have forwarded all of these posts to my mom, since she is hosting Thanksgiving this year! Also, your comment on the pen thing — I have a pen that I HAVE to use to take notes in class, except I only have 2 of them left and they were picked up at a career fair at my university. Once those are out, I don’t know what I’m going to do!

  9. My very clever mother lays her serving dishes out on the buffet several days ahead and puts a post-it note in each dish saying what will be served in it, complete with the serving utensil. Not an option for those of us with tiny houses but it’s a good tip for those with the space! 🙂

  10. Wow, that is some detailed schedule. I would go nuts scheduling every minute of it although I do not have that many people to feed and we do not eat turkey 🙂 I am kipping it simple. My family from TN don’t care for turkey, lucky for me.

    On any event, I am sure scheduling thanksgiving this way allows you to have complete control, you go girl 🙂 Happy thanksgiving!

  11. I’m dying to know what “spin art dip” is. ?????

  12. Looks very easy and well thought out.

  13. You’re so like me. I have to make lists like that when I’m having people over to eat, and I always work backwards. I’m so glad you posted these Thanksgiving prep posts because I’ve already started doing mine, which is great since I’m hosting for the first time. Thanks!

  14. I do the same as Mary Beth’s mom — I lay everything out a week before on the dining room table with post-it notes all over. Then I stack with clean towels in between and place in a safe place — sometimes on pantry shelves, sometimes in the basement until Thanksgiving Day. Then I know all my dishes are there and clean!

    And thanks for the Google Calendar tip, Annie — I have all my tasks neatly assigned for all the days between now and Thanksgiving! And my whole Thanksgiving Day timeline as well.

  15. I just hosted a dinner party this weekend with a large menu and feel a list like this would have been so helpful! Will do one for Thanksgiving.

  16. Great tips!

  17. For those of you with favorite pens that were giveaways from places you don’t have access anymore, find a local company that supplies promotional items and e-mail them a picture of the pen. They will be able to source it quickly. You can have it imprinted with something or get them blank. Buy a gross, and it will probably only cost you less than $50. Then you have a million of your must-have pen lying around.

  18. What a great way to organize it all!

  19. These look awesome. I especially like the timeline….I hosted for the first time last year and it was overwhelming at times.

  20. Hi Annie,

    Thank you for such a great website! As a busy mom to 4, I have used your recipes more than any other site–and your pictures are fantastic, too.

    Would you please post your broccoli gratin recipe that I keep seeing pop-up in your Thanksgiving prep posts? Just the name sounds great.


    • Jolie,
      As I mentioned in the first post where I detailed the menu, I only post recipes on the blog that I have tried and would recommend. Since the broccoli gratin is new to me, it won’t be shared before Thanksgiving. However, the one I plan to try is from Williams Sonoma if you want to look it up yourself. Hope that helps.

  21. I only have so many serving dishes and I have to plan it carefully so I put a piece of tape on the back of each one labeled with what dish will go in them. Also, when I premake things like spinach gratin or even my stuffing, I cover it in foil before I put it in the refrigerator and label it with the degree it needs to cook on and the time right on the foil. Then I dont have to reference several different recipes, I have the information all right there!!!

  22. I’m glad I’m not the only crazy one (list from the end to beginning). I’m such a forgetful one, that it’s the only way to prevent dinner from being at 8pm. or I forget to make the cranberry sauce (sin of all sins).

  23. I really like your “to-do-list”….. it’s great…. good job!!!! Ciao Flavia

  24. Annie–I have to admit that when I first read this I thought, “wow, that’s so uptight.” At second glance though, I thought, “you know, this could really help me.” And now I have come to, “that’s genius.” Admittedly, this method is a little too organized for my personality but I am sick of running around like crazy when I am hosting parties. You know? So, I am ready to improve my method into something that will make being a hostess more relaxing and fun.

  25. Annie, great timeline. I noticed you had mashed potatoes last. Just in case you are interested, there is a great make ahead tip from Cooks Illustrated where you put the prepared potatoes in a heatproof bowl over simmering water and cover with damp towel and tight lid. I have done this and it easily keeps warm for 2 hrs and still tasty. I have also had potatoes that were in the fridge and gently microwaved before serving. Still good too. Thought I would give you a bit more time at the end, which at my house, means 10 hungry people in my kitchen staring me down!

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