Thanksgiving Dinner Timeline

Growing up, Thanksgiving dinner was a grand affair. There were nearly 40 people for dinner at my parents’ house—aunts, uncles and cousins all arrived for the big day, bearing casseroles, desserts and more. However, my mother, as the hostess, often prepared the turkey, ham, dessert and side dishes of her own for the meal. It was a chaotic day of cleaning, cooking and preparing to host the festivities.

My first Thanksgiving as a married grown-up, I decided to cook the complete dinner for my family. It was a chaotic day of cleaning, cooking and preparing to host a much smaller feast. The next time around, I was a lot better prepared. My mom actually thanked me for creating the most relaxing Thanksgiving she’d ever experienced. I have continued to use the plans and timeline year after year, even as our guest list has grown, to enjoy the day with my family. I hope these tips help you have a fun and relaxing Thanksgiving feast.

Decide on your menu in advance.

Thanksgiving Day Dinner Plan

In fact, start writing it down now! This will allow you to purchase ingredients over the next few weeks, rather than rushing into the crowds the day before and spending too much money. Write each recipe on an index card. Compare your recipes to see which ones will cook well together and which ones will compete for oven time. You want to set up your day so that everything is ready and warm at the same time.

Be sure to consider which items can be prepared in advance. For example, you can cut vegetables for a relish tray the night before or chop ingredients for a casserole. I usually bake pies a day or two before Thanksgiving, and make my noodles a week prior. It is also helpful to start with a clean kitchen. Empty the refrigerator, take out the trash, empty the dishwasher & sink.

Take a look at your Thanksgiving cookware.

Decide which pans & dishes will hold the appropriate recipes to prevent needing a dish twice at the same time. On your recipe/index card, write down the appropriate dish and the cook time. The night before, lay out each dish you will use along with the appropriate recipe. This way if someone wants to pitch in on Thursday, the recipe is at their fingertips. On the big day, you can relax, have fun and enjoy a hot meal!

Last year’s Thanksgiving Menu Plan:

• Turkey-foil roasting pan
• Ham-Rival roaster
• Cornbread Stuffing-in bird/bread crock
• Mashed potatoes-6-qt pan/6 Quart Crockpot
• Gravy-2-qt pan
• Egg noodles-4-qt pan
• Green bean casserole-9-inch baker
• Green beans-round crockpot
• Sweet potato casserole-9×13 baker
• Broccoli salad-white dish
• Fruit/Veggie Tray-Chillzanne platter
• Dinner rolls-large bar pan
• pumpkin pies-pie plates

The Thanksgiving Dinner Plan

• Move turkey and ham to refrigerator for thawing
• Make and dry egg noodles

• Bake pumpkin pies
• Cut fruit & vegetables
• Thaw rolls
• Fill salt & pepper shakers

7:00am make cornbread stuffing
7:30 am stuff turkey
7:45 am turkey into oven
8:00 am ham into roaster
8:15 am green beans into crockpot
8:30 am Breakfast
9:30 am peel & boil potatoes
10:00 am Mash potatoes; transfer to crockpot on warm
10:15 am prepare sweet potato casserole; refrigerate
10:30 am prepare green bean casserole; refrigerate
10:45 am prepare broccoli salad; refrigerate
11:15 am Set out fruit & veggies for snacking
11:30 am Make tea; refrigerate
12:00 pm Remove turkey from oven, transfer broth to stockpot
12:15 pm Casseroles/dressing/rolls into oven
12:30 pm Add noodles to broth
12:45 pm Carve turkey/Make gravy
1:00 pm Dinner!

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What do you think?



  1. 3

    This post like just single handedly saved my thanksgiving from turning into a chaotic mess. I have to battle it out with my mom who makes dinner every year, but this is my first time!

  2. 4

    Great post! Thanks for sharing! I actually was so overwhelmed after cooking my first thanksgiving dinner that the next year I created a full-blown Work Breakdown Structure for the meal. My project manager friends tease me each year – but it works!