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Planning the Perfect Stress-Free Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is still a month away, which means there is just the right amount of time to plan the perfect family Thanksgiving and mitigate all of the stress that comes along with it. The key, however, is to start planning now.  

Everyone knows how stressful the holidays can be and Thanksgiving typically signals the beginning of the holiday season. By following these simple steps, you will not only maintain your sanity, but you will also be able to enjoy the experience and hopefully apply the same strategy to future holiday gatherings.

Before you do anything, grab a calendar and confirm the date. Unlike Christmas, Thanksgiving falls on a different date every year. This year, the Canadian Thanksgiving falls on Monday, October 8, 2012. Once you’ve confirmed the date, you can start planning away by following the steps outlined below:

Three to Four Weeks Before Thanksgiving

  • Confirm date and invite dinner guests: Be sure to ask your invited guests if they have any food allergies or dietary restrictions.

Two Weeks Before Thanksgiving

  • Plan and prepare the menu: Write out the menu and create a shopping list of ingredients you will need to prepare your wonderful meal. If you are looking for some menu inspiration, the folks at epicurious.com have created a Thanksgiving menu planner. All you have to do is answer six simple questions and their interactive tool will choose the perfect recipes for your meal.
  • Write out a cooking schedule and timetable: This will help you determine which dishes can be made ahead of time and which need to be cooked last minute. For example, if you plan to do your own baking, you can prepare pie crusts and pie fillings well in advance and freeze them.

One Week Before Thanksgiving

  • Do your grocery shopping: Purchase all of your non-perishable food items and your turkey. To figure out how big of a turkey you need, calculate about 1.3 pounds per person and then round up. If you have eight guests you will need at minimum an 11-pound turkey (8 x 1.3 = 10.4).

Four Days Before Thanksgiving

  • Start thawing the turkey: If you’ve purchased a frozen turkey and it weighs more than 15 pounds, you may need to start thawing it now. The general rule of thumb is that every five pounds of turkey takes 24 hours to thaw in the refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If you prefer to thaw the bird in cold water, the general rule is 30 minutes per pound, which means it can be done either the day before your dinner or day of depending on its size.

Three Days Before Thanksgiving

  • Get organized: Prepare all sauces, jellies and dressings, and store them accordingly. You can also start organizing serving dishes, serving utensils, dinner and glassware, as well as iron the dinner napkins and any tablecloths you might need.

Two Days Before Thanksgiving

  • Clean your house: You’ll want to make sure your home is clean for your guests, especially the kitchen and bathroom, as they will be used the most during your dinner.
  • Create an oven plan: List every dish that needs oven and/or stove time, along with the temperature and time required to cook the dish. This will help you stay organized and ensure that every dish is cooked properly.
  • Do more grocery shopping: Purchase all fresh food items such as salad, bread, fruits and vegetables.

Day Before Thanksgiving

  • Set the dinner table: Set aside time the day before Thanksgiving to set the dinner table. Try to prepare the ingredients for the dishes you will need to cook on Thanksgiving Day. Prep time is half the work and you will want to enjoy time with your guests, so do what you can to avoid this step tomorrow!

Thanksgiving Day!

  • Let the turkey sit: Before you start cooking the turkey, you will need time to let it sit at room temperature for about 2 hours. After it has sat, you can start cleaning and preparing it for the oven.
  • Get yourself ready: Make sure you allocate some time for yourself to have a shower and get ready for the dinner party.
  • Review your oven plan: Take some time to review your oven plan and start cooking dishes accordingly.
  • Delegate: Assign any tasks or duties to your immediate family members such as assisting with the cleanup, pouring beverages, taking coats, etc.
  • And finally, ENJOY!

How do you get organized for Thanksgiving dinner? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.


  1. www.gourmetfile.com
  2. www.whatscookingamerica.net
  3. www.yumsugar.com
  4. www.blissfullydomestic.com
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{ 3 comments… add one }

  • Rexs October 25, 2012, 7:00 am

    My husband and I cook Thanksgiving dinenr every year for a homeless veteran’s shelter in our town (it’s a home vs. a large shelter, so there are usually 8-12 veterans there for the dinenr).We will make:TurkeyGravyStuffingMashed potatoesGreen bean casseroleMac and CheeseCranberry sauceRoasted veggies (squash, yams, asparagus)Dinner rollsPies (and maybe cookies)Basket of hot cocoa/tea/coffee/other goodiesWe make all that Wednesday/Thursday morning, then head up to my parents house, where my mom makes our Thanksgiving dinenr every year. Only thing I will bring to that is green bean casserole, because my mom hates it and refuses to make it haha

  • Senior Reg October 5, 2012, 12:10 pm

    Excellent advice, if you like doing this traditional family get-together, which is undoubtedly a good thing. However, in the context of today’s hectic conditions, it would be preferable if each member of the family or families getting together, take on a specific task or dish preparation so as not to stress out any one or two individuals. Thanksgiving should be enjoyed by each and everyone without any undue stress on just one or two individuals.

  • Brynecho September 12, 2012, 8:18 pm

    Sounds like a nice plan, especially the assigning duties to your family. Not my family. I’m the one who does it all. Everyone disappears when there is work to do every time – thanksgiving and Christmas. This year I plan to take everyone to a restaurant for dinner, no cooking or cleaning for me!

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