Scripps News Life


Here’s what you should prep every day between now and Thanksgiving

This food prep timeline will take some stress out of Thanksgiving dinner
Posted at 11:15 AM, Nov 16, 2023

The Thanksgiving meal brings together friends and family excited to make lasting memories and enjoy incredible food.  However, if you’re responsible for cooking the meal, the Thanksgiving meal can mean a lot of stress, anxiety and time away from your guests while you spend hours in the kitchen.

How often have you felt exhausted and let down after the holiday because you felt like you couldn’t keep up and hardly had a chance to sit down to enjoy the food and company in your home?

If you’re tired of missing out on the festivities, it’s time for a new plan of attack for the Thanksgiving meal.

MORE: There’s a new No. 1 side dish this Thanksgiving

Fortunately, we talked with a food expert who gave us a foolproof timeline to help you prepare for the big meal in advance! Erin Clarke of Well Plated is a food writer and cookbook author passionate about helping people with meal planning, especially for special occasions. Here’s her step-by-step guide to getting Thanksgiving dinner on the table with less stress.

Thanksgiving prep timeline
Well Plated

Minimize Your Holiday Meal Intimidation

Before sharing her well-tested plan with us, Clarke talked about the hype and build-up to the Thanksgiving meal that leaves many flustered.

“There’s a pressure to make this picture-perfect moment and memories,” she said. “With the holiday being focused on food, of course, there’s intimidation.”

One of the major stressors of preparing a Thanksgiving meal is how many components it has. Even individual dishes, like green bean casserole, have many ingredients that require attention, good time management, and skill. Then, trying to ensure they’re cooked well and long enough is another balancing act.

For people who like to control every element of a hosted event, it’s added stress. Clarke recommended loosening our grip on the meal, at least a little, and asking guests to bring something to help lighten the cooking load.

“You don’t have to do everything,” she said.

MORE: Cinnamon brown sugar carrots are a perfect Thanksgiving side dish

Family prepares Thanksgiving turkey

Be Intentional With Your Meal Prep

Clarke said she has always loved cooking for other people and hosting at her home. However, after more than a few experiences of running around the kitchen and not enjoying the experience, she decided to change her approach.

“I am now extremely intentional about having fun at my own dinner parties,” she shared. They always go by in a blur, and I barely spoke with the guests. It was a huge letdown and I had enough.”

As a result, she designed her own Thanksgiving meal prep timeline to help take some of the stress away for the big day. She has refined it over the years because time is funny when you’re making a major meal.

“There’s this weird time continuum thing that happens in the final hour before a party,” she said. “I’ve answered the door in a bathrobe because time got away from me.”

Planning for a few dishes in advance, including a delicious recipe for make-ahead mashed potatoes, can make those last few hours before the meal less stressful. Using kitchen conveniences such as a crockpot can keep side dishes warm keeps the oven free for any last minute items that need cooking or reheating.

Having a detailed game plan means you can serve your guests the meal they crave while you keep your sanity and enjoy more of the holiday.

MORE: Cinnamon roll turkeys are the cutest way to start Thanksgiving Day

Dad carves Thanksgiving turkey

Thanksgiving Prep Timeline and Menu

Erin’s easy-to-follow prep timeline begins about a week before Thanksgiving Day.

This menu includes:

  • Roasted Turkey (your choice of wet or dry brined)
  • Homemade cornbread stuffing
  • Make-Ahead Mushroom Gravy
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Sweet potato casserole
  • Green bean casserole
  • Cranberry-orange sauce
  • Kale Brussel Sprouts
  • Salad and dressing

Here is the full breakdown you need for the best holiday meal you’ve ever experienced:

5 to 6 Days Before

  • Thaw the turkey, with enough time to allow time for brining (1 day for a wet brine or 2 to 3 days for a dry brine)
  • For every 5 pounds of turkey, plan on 24 hours of thawing in the refrigerator

Up to 5 Days Before

Make-ahead mushroom gravy on mashed potatoes
Well Plated

1 to 3 Days Before

  • Brine the turkey (wet brine can be started one day before; dry brine
    needs 2 or 3 days)
  • Set the table and set out any serveware you will need for appetizers
    and drinks

1 Day Before

  • Assemble the cornbread stuffing to the point of baking, cover, and
  • Prepare the mashed potatoes; let cool completely in the slow
    cooker, remove and cover the slow cooker insert, and refrigerate


The Night Before

  • Remove the soup from the freezer and let it thaw in the refrigerator
  • Chill white, sparkling, and rosé wines and other cold beverages (or place
    them in the garage or on the back porch to save space if you live in a
    cool area)

Sweet potato casserole
Well Plated

The entire prep timeline isavailable to download for free here, including a complete breakdown for the day of Thanksgiving and a turkey carving guide for the perfect finishing for your holiday meal. The download also includes an extensive menu with complete recipes for you to make for your special day.

Happy Thanksgiving!

> > SIGN UP for the Simplemost weekly newsletter

Here’s what you should prep every day between now and Thanksgiving originally appeared on Simplemost.

Any products or services mentioned above were selected independent of sales and advertising. However, Simplemost may receive a small commission from the purchase of any products or services through an affiliate link to the retailer's website.