Thanksgiving Dinner Checklist

Celebrating Thanksgiving is one of the most popular family get-togethers, even surpassing Christmas as a family celebration. If you are hosting Thanksgiving dinner, this thanksgiving dinner checklist will help you prepare and be organized for the big day. There are lots of things to do, and if you can complete many of the activities well in advance, your stress level will be greatly reduced, allowing you to enjoy the day with the rest of the family.

How many people will be attending? Do any of them have special dietary requirements? Are they sleeping over, and what arrangements need to be made for the kids? Will you have a traditional turkey dinner, or one with ham, or perhaps even have both for your dinner. These are some of the basic decisions and information you need to help with the planning for the big day.

Plan, organize, and create a schedule for all of the activities. If someone offers to bring a dish, don’t hesitate to accept the offer and select something that is on your checklist. This approach saves you time and maintains the theme you are creating for your thanksgiving dinner. You will find it is much easier if everything is under control. Now let’s look at the thanksgiving dinner checklist.

What Is a Thanksgiving Dinner Checklist?

There are lots of details to consider while planning a thanksgiving dinner. What recipes will you use? Do you have all of the ingredients you need, or do you need to add items to your shopping list in addition to the basics, i.e., the turkey?

Your checklist also should take into account how many guests you will be entertaining and whether they have any allergies you need to be aware of. Some items can also be prepared ahead of time and placed in the fridge. Once you have answered these basic questions, you can begin thinking about your thanksgiving checklist.

A major decision is the amount of time it will take to cook your turkey on thanksgiving day. Calculate the time needed based on the size of the turkey and when you plan to sit down for dinner. Allow for sufficient time to prepare the turkey, cool down, and to carve the turkey. Make this calculation the night before. This cooking time establishes your thanksgiving day schedule for everything the next day.

The major categories on your list should include the following:

  • Appetizers
  • Drinks
  • Salads
  • Stuffing
  • Turkey
  • Ham
  • Side dishes
  • Dinner rolls
  • Dessert
  • Wine
  • After dinner drinks
  • Dishes and cutlery
  • Glasses
  • Cleanup
  • Storage

More details are included in the next section.

The Ultimate Thanksgiving Dinner Checklist

Begin by selecting your recipe line up several weeks in advance and decide what ingredients you need and when you will purchase them. Some can be purchased well in advance, while fresh vegetables and other items can be purchased within a few days of the big day.

Can you coordinate the preparation or select dishes that need the same oven temperature? These decisions make preparation easier, along with preparing in advance and storing prepared items in the fridge or freezer. If you are organized, you can plot item preparation on your calendar.

Decide when you will purchase your turkey. Will it be fresh or frozen? Don’t forget to allow time for your frozen turkey to thaw.

  • Appetizers – consider veggie trays, cheese trays with crackers, fruit salads, peanuts, potato chips, dips, bite-size pizzas, and other personal family favorites
  • Drinks – alcoholic and non-alcoholic, including special drinks for the kids such as fruit punches
  • Salads – jelled salads, fruit salads, coleslaws, cabbage salads
  • Stuffing – prepare the stuffing the day before and refrigerate. Check the ingredients and ensure you have them on hand to prepare the day before.
  • Turkey – order your turkey in advance, either frozen or fresh. If frozen, thaw several days in advance, clean it, and prep for roasting. Fill the cavity with stuffing after first salting the cavity. Remember to baste the turkey every half hour after the turkey has been cooking for several hours. Excess stuffing can be placed in a casserole and warmed up once the turkey is fully cooked.
  • Ham – perhaps you are having ham instead of a turkey or having both. Make sure you have sufficient room in the oven to cook both. The ham can also be cooked the day before and warmed up on thanksgiving day.
  • Side dishes – include all of the favorites your family enjoys with appropriate seasonings – mashed potatoes, carrots, turnip, peas, cranberry sauce, etc. check your ingredients and any seasonings you may need, including all spices.
  • Dinner rolls – pick up dinner rolls the day before and leave them in the bag to keep them fresh. Don’t forget fresh butter or margarine, whatever you use.
  • Dessert – everyone loves dessert at Thanksgiving, whether it is pumpkin pies or brownies, ice cream, or whip cream. There will be family favorites, so don’t forget to purchase these and be prepared to warm up pies, etc.; most desserts can be purchased; however, if you plan to bake the family favorite, allow time beforehand to complete this activity.
  • Wine – decide what wine you will serve pre-dinner, during dinner, and afterward. Purchase these items early and check this item off the list. Some people may have preferences for white vs. red wines. Guests may also bring wine as a gift for the host.
  • After dinner drinks – decide what other drinks you may need, both alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks. Purchase these items early and check this item off the list.
  • Dishes and cutlery – once you have decided how many guests you will have for Thanksgiving, check that you have sufficient dishes – plates, serving dishes, dessert dishes, etc. Alternatives include using plastic dishes and cutlery.
  • Glasses – the same applies to glasses for dinner. You will need glasses for all sorts of different drinks to serve wine, mixed drinks, soft drinks, and water glasses.
  • Cleanup – is probably the last activity that you will be thinking about. However, if you need to reuse some dishes, cleaning up between courses needs to be considered. Most families pitch in and provide help to each other. Have garbage bags, casserole dishes, and anything else you need to facilitate the process available. Storage – this may seem to be a trivial issue; however, you may find your fridge full to overflowing. Consider using coolers to keep some of the soft drinks, beer, and wine cold. You may need to add ice to your list if you need to go this route. Another approach is to ask friends or neighbors who are guests and have room in their refrigerators to store some of the pre-prepared side dishes and appetizers.

Key points, Conclusion, or Final Thoughts

Planning and organizing in advance can make a huge difference in the success of your thanksgiving dinner celebration and significantly reduce the stress on the host and hostess of the dinner.

Accept offers of help readily and delegate clear activities or dishes so that your guests know exactly what they are expected to provide or bring with them.

Most guests will bring bottles of wine or other alcoholic drinks if you are so inclined; however, you have no control over what they will show up with, so purchase any refreshments you need in advance which will compliment your meal.

Prepare as many appetizers and side dishes as possible the day before and store them for serving on Thanksgiving day. Arrange for temporary storage if needed, using neighbors and/or coolers. Don’t forget the ice for the coolers.

Calculate the time needed to cook your turkey the night before and how much time you will need to prepare the turkey and allow it to cool after being removed from the oven before carving. You want your turkey ready at the advertised time for dinner. While your turkey is cooling, other items and side dishes can be heated/cooked in the oven as needed.

Finally, as part of your planning, determine how many people will be attending thanksgiving day and prepare recipe quantities accordingly. Don’t forget seating, dishes, and cutlery to ensure you have sufficient capacity.

Most hosts don’t plan the cleanup after. Most families will pitch in and help. Make sure that sufficient casserole dishes are available to store leftovers. You may decide to freeze some of the turkey meat for enjoyment at a later time. Many people love to have leftovers the next day or even a midnight snack.