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Planning Thanksgiving Dinner

Are you hosting Thanksgiving at your home this year?  If so, you’ll want to start planning for this special day.  We’re here to help, with some easy steps to follow, a guest tracker and sample menu.  So let’s get planning.

What is Thanksgiving Day?

Thanksgiving is a holiday held on the 4th Thursday in November in the United States.  It is a day to gather with family and friends and give thanks for what we have, in particular the plentiful harvest at this time of year.

Thankgsiving Dinner Table

Planning Your Thanksgiving Meal

Step 1:  Set the date, time and location.

For this example, we will invite our guests to arrive at 11:45 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day.  Some larger families may choose to hold this event later in the day or on another day over the long weekend.

Note: We know that some guests will arrive a little earlier, and some will run late. Therefore, we expect the overall arrive time between 11:30 – 12:00.

Our social hour is planned for 11:30 – 12:30.  We will plan to sit down to eat at 12:30.

Step 2:  Plan the menu.

Fill out the Thanksgiving Day Menu to determine what you would like to serve.  Ours will be a traditional meal, with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and butternut squash.

Be sure to check out our Thanksgiving Dinner Planner.  You can view a sample menu below.  Just click on the link to open and print.

Thanksgiving Dinner Sample Menu

Thanksgiving Dinner – Sample Menu

We’ve also included a blank printable page so that you can fill out one for your dinner:

Thanksgiving Dinner Blank Menu Planner

Thanksgiving Dinner – Blank Menu

Step 3:  Invite Guests and track RSVPs

Use our printable guest tracker to make sure you’ve included everyone.  Be sure to keep a phone number or email address handy, in case you need to contact them.

Guest Tracker

Guest Tracker

Since this is a large event, be prepared for people to offer to bring a dish.  Lots of hands make for an easy day, so allow your guests to bring a dish.  You can ask guests to bring something from your menu, or just add the dish to your planner.  We usually add their dish to our Thanksgiving Dinner Planner, and write their name in parenthesis.

For example:  Pumpkin Pie (Mom)             Centerpiece (Aunt Jane)

Step 4:  Clean home and set up for Thanksgiving

Do as much cleaning as you can ahead of time.  It’s great if you can vacuum, dust, mop the floors, and finish your laundry earlier that week.

You’ll want to reserve the 2-3 days before Thanksgiving to complete your grocery shopping, decorate, and prepare the food.

 Step 5: Shop for supplies

Some of the non-perishable or frozen items can be purchased ahead of time.  We usually buy our fresh turkey the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

Plan to do your grocery shopping two days before Thanksgiving, so that the fruit and vegetables are fresh.

We’ve included a Thanksgiving Day Grocery Shopping List to help you with this large task.  It’s organized by department to make shopping easier and more efficient.

Thanksgiving Grocery List

Thanksgiving Grocery List

Step 6: Cooking Timeline

Lastly, you will want to set up a tentative cooking schedule.  Thanksgiving dinner requires quite a bit of coordination.  You’ll want to make sure the turkey is cooked, and the mashed potatoes are hot.  Here’s our Sample Cooking Timeline:

Thanksgiving Sample Cooking Timeline

Thanksgiving Sample Cooking Timeline

We hope that our menus, guest tracker and cooking timeline help you host a fantastic Thanksgiving Dinner.

You may find the following article from our website helpful:

printable grocery list by department

Grocery Shopping List by Department

Thanksgiving turkey appetizer with fruit cheese skewers

Assessing Your Thanksgiving

How was your Thanksgiving?  Was it successful?  Did you forget anything?  Do you wish you could have done something differently?  We’re here to help with our printable Thanksgiving Assessment Form.

Printable Thanksgiving Assessment Form

Now that the day is over, take a few minutes to assess the success of the holiday.  Use our printable Party and Event Assessment Chart to analyze your Thanksgiving, so that next year turns out even better. Just click on the link below to print our assessment form:

Party and Event Assessment

Party and Event Assessment Chart

Assessing the event

Be sure to think about all of the phases of your day:

  • Set up: decorations, plates/napkins, flow of room
  • Planning: guests, time of gathering
  • Meal: food, timing of appetizers and main course

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Were the right people invited?
  • Should you have included or excluded anyone?
  • Was there enough time for guests to talk and socialize?
  • Were you happy with the food preparation and selections?
  • How did the beverages work out?
  • Did you have enough to serve?
  • Did the dessert work out well?

Did you truly enjoy the day?  Is there anything you could do differently next year to make the day more enjoyable?

Thanksgiving Dinner Table

What went well on Thanksgiving?

Start by thinking about the successful part of your Thanksgiving.  Think about:

  • What went really well?
  • Are there things you would keep the same?

Jot down your top items that made your Thanksgiving a success.  These are the items you will want to repeat again next year.  There were several things that went well for us:

  • Inviting the right mix of people. There were lots of laughs, and everyone had a great time.
  • Asking guests to bring an appetizer and a dessert.  Everyone wanted to bring something, so we concentrated their efforts toward appetizers and desserts. This meant we didn’t need to worry about preparing any appetizers, or storing all of the fruits and veggies in our refrigerator – since the turkey took up so much space.  It also meant that our guests could be creative.  Check out this appetizer which is a turkey made out of fruit and cheese skewers:

Thanksgiving turkey appetizer with fruit cheese skewers

  • Using our cooking timeline.  Our social hour ran a little long since one guest showed up extra early and another was 30 minutes late. Since everyone had a great time, it wasn’t a problem. Just glad we had our cooking timeline set up. We were able to easily adjust it, so that everything was ready at the same time.

Thanksgiving Sample Cooking Timeline

  • Having a landscaper lined up.  Here in New England, it snowed. It was that heavy, wet snow. Luckily, we spoke with our neighbor in October. He knows to plow our driveway if it hasn’t been done when he drives by. This was a nice treat on Thanksgiving Day, since we had enough to concentrate on that day.

What didn’t go well on Thanksgiving?

Next, it’s time to think about things that just didn’t work:

  • Were you prepared for everything?
  • Did you run out of anything, or forget something?

Write down the things that went wrong, so that next year you can make some changes.  Here’s what we need to fix for next year:

  • Gather our special utensils ahead of time. On Wednesday, we realized our meat thermometer broke last time we used it. That meant a trip to the store during rush hour to buy a new meat thermometer.

Thanksgiving small floral centerpiece

  • Decide on who will bring the centerpiece. We purchased one, and one of our guests brought one.  They were both beautiful, but we could have saved a little money with only one centerpiece.


Thanksgiving small floral centerpiece 2

Things to do next time

Lastly, write down a few things you want to do next year.  By documenting your thoughts now, it will make it much easier for next year.  Here are the changes we will make:

  • Ask guests to bring an appetizer or a dessert. It felt like we had an awful lot of food, since our guests brought an appetizer and a dessert. 🙂
  • Buy a new gravy boat. Since we have new “everyday” dishes, we opted to use those for Thanksgiving. However, we used a gravy boat that didn’t quite match the festive look of our table.
  • Purchase another three-quart pot. It was much easier to make the stuffing in a larger pot, which we borrowed from a relative. It would be worth having another one on hand.

Happy planning!

Here is our article on Planning Thanksgiving Dinner.  It includes a Sample Thanksgiving Menu, Blank Menu, Thanksgiving Cooking Timeline, and Thanksgiving Grocery List.  Just click on the link to read more:

Thankgsiving Dinner

Planning Thanksgiving Dinner