Thanksgiving is one of the biggest family holidays of the year—and maybe the most delicious. There’s nothing like the after-dinner food coma that evening, and knowing you have leftovers to get you through breakfast, lunch, and dinner practically until Christmas. If the hosting baton has been passed to you this year, we know your first instinct is to panic.
“It always feels overwhelming and very stressful,” says Debi Lilly, owner and chief planner at A Perfect Event. “There are a lot of details that have to be fairly synchronized.”
Not to worry: We’ve mapped it out. Here, a foolproof timeline and checklist so no detail goes forgotten.
TWO TO THREE WEEKS BEFORE:
Make a plan.
“Start planning out simple things, like event flow,” says Lilly. Think about where you want guests to sit, and where you want to set your food (if you’re doing buffet style). With more than eight guests, buffet is the easiest way to go—especially if you’re short on space.
“You can do a beautiful party in a small space by utilizing all of your sitting areas,” says Lilly. This means you may want to purchase cheap lap trays for older guests or young children who might have trouble balancing dinner on their knees.
Create a menu:
When creating a menu, go for recipes that are simple and trusted—like these easy stuffings, or these colorful sides. While it’s fun to have one unique item at your meal, go for a signature cocktail, not a stuffing recipe that requires bizarre ingredients and three days of prep. Once your menu is set, write out grocery lists. You should divide the list into perishables and nonperishables to make shopping and storing easier. Need menu inspiration? Find it here.
Pro organizing tip: “Print out a blank November calendar, and then fill in with when you will shop, when you will make certain dishes ahead, and any pick-ups you may need to make or deliveries coming to the house,” says Diane Phillips, James Beard Award nominee cookbook author and cooking teacher.
Order your turkey.
“For the turkey, you will need three-quarters to a pound of turkey per person,” says Phillips. This will still leave you with a day’s worth of leftovers. Buy the bird as early as possible and freeze it. Just remember: You need one day of thawing for every four pounds of turkey.
While you’re at it, consider ordering prepared h’ors doerves trays from the grocery store or desserts from the bakery that you’ll also want to serve. One more thing checked off your list!
Confirm your guest list.
Take note of how many people are coming to your house, and in that list, how many are children. From there, ask people to help. It’s not unreasonable to ask guests to bring a dish—and often, they will offer!
“There’s a time and a place for doing it all, but I don’t think Thanksgiving is the place,” says Lilly. When you ask guests to bring a dish, be very specific, so you know exactly what is heading to your home. Phillips takes it one step further:
“If you are having people bring a dish, give them the recipe,” she says. “They will appreciate having something they can easily put together.”