Thanksgiving Dinner Planning Guide

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and I can’t wait for the family and feasting.  I am often asked how I do such a large spread for a large family; we are a family of 8 and we often have guests.   I use to do it all by myself, but as our children have gotten older they have started taking on a side dish to help out more.  My son makes the green bean casserole, my oldest daughter makes the pumpkin pies and my 2nd oldest daughter makes the candied yams.   But ultimately it is the Planning and Preparing that gets me through the day!  Without those two things, it would be pure chaos.

Thanksgiving Dinner Planning Guide

But before we put that glorious bird in the oven we need to do a few things first.

1.  De-Clutter the Fridge and Clean…

We should probably purge the old, outdated and empty from the refrigerator…  Because what else does Thanksgiving mean besides giving thanks?  Thanksgiving Left Overs!  All the glorious leftovers need a clean place to reside until we can finish them off.

2.  De-Clutter and Clean Cooking area…

We need clean space and lots of it to do our Thanksgiving magic.  We will be working with a lot of different recipes on the large menu.  Not to mention prepping a turkey that requires proper handling.  After decluttering and general cleaning I sanitize my counters and sink.

3.  What’s on the Menu?

Write out your menu with the ingredients for each dish.  This way your trip to the store is a successful one.  Here is a Free Printable Thanksgiving Menu and Grocery List you can fill out and take to the store with you.

4.  What Size Turkey do we need?

Well, that leads to another question… How many people are we cooking for?  The general rule I use is one pound of turkey per guest.  For instance, if it was just our family unit, which is 8, we would only need an 8 pound Turkey.  We like a lot of leftovers so I usually up it a bit and get a 12-14 pound turkey.

5.  What method should we use to thaw our frozen turkey and for how long?

It really depends on the size of your turkey, but I generally put the turkey in the fridge (in its own pan) Sunday before Thanksgiving.  If it still feels frozen Wednesday morning I will submerge it in a sink of cold water Wednesday night.  Check the thawing calculator via Butterball, bigger Turkeys take a lot longer to thaw.

If you decide to use the sink method make sure your sink has been sanitized.  Keep your turkey in its bag.  Make sure Turkey is submerged in ice cold water. Change water every 3 hours or sooner if the water doesn’t seem cold enough.

6.  How Long do we cook the Turkey?

When I first started making Turkey, I was scared of “Sal & Mel” visiting so I would cook the heck out of Turkey.  But please… you don’t have to petrify the poor thing, trust the thermometer… There are a couple of great tools out there that do the thinking or you.

When using my air cooker, I cook the Turkey 12-14 minutes per pound.  When using the oven method I use ButterBall’s Calculators.  It will do the thinking for you.

7.  Cook as much as you can the night before…

My daughters and I do as many menu items as we can ahead of time on Wednesday.  We bake all our pies.  We make our Cranberry Sauce because it needs a night to chill.  Some folks bake their bread for stuffing.  If you want to make it an even easier day prep all their side dishes and have ready to go into the oven the next day.

8.  Plan your serving dishes.

Wednesday, I like to organize my cooking items with the dishes I’ll be serving them in and the serving spoons I’ll be using.  Green Bean Casserole items in the dish.  Candied Yam items in a dish.  Corn in a dish.  Do we have enough serving spoons, etc…  Use the Thanksgiving Printable Planner to help you plan a wonderful Thanksgiving Dinner.

One other printable I like to use is a Thanksgiving Cooking Timeline.  Say we decide to have a late lunch for dinner so I can get cleaned up and ready for an evening shopping trip.  Because I know when I want to have dinner, I know what time to put the turkey in the oven, when to baste it and when to take it out.   The timeline helps me plan the rest of the dishes like when to start to peeling potatoes, set the table, etc.   It keeps me sane with a house full of little ones and helps me get all the food on the table at ones so everything is served warm.

I know it seems like a lot of work, but if you follow the steps on this Thanksgiving Planning Guide you will have a smooth Thanksgiving Day!

*Like the cute little graphics?  I used them with permission from