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The Ultimate Guide for Thanksgiving

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In this Ultimate Guide for Thanksgiving, I’m sharing my tips, menu, a prepping schedule and Thanksgiving day timeline. Use it as a jumping off point for your own celebration, mix and match the menu with your family favorites, or follow it to a tee. My hope is that with some planning and forethought, you’ll be able to slow down a little and enjoy these moments with your family + friends!

I love Thanksgiving for so many reasons! It’s all about family and comfort — coming together to enjoy each other’s company and celebrate traditions. There’s all the anticipation of the holiday season without the pressure of bringing the perfect gift. And of course, THE FOOD!

Even if you haven’t planned a thing yet (because 2020, after all), you can still pull this off and come out looking like the ultimate host, even if this year’s guest list is limited to the people who live with you.

My Top 5 Tips for Preventing a Thanksgiving Meltdown

  1. Plan, plan, plan — write everything down; make lists, schedules and timelines; do as many things ahead of time as possible
  2. Ask for help! — Delegate tasks to other members of the household; ask guests to bring a dish or take them up on their offer to bring something; hire it out (have some or all of your meal catered, schedule a cleaning team, etc.)
  3. DO NOT cook dinner the night before — order takeout, pop a frozen dinner in the oven or let someone else cook for you. You’ve been prepping/baking/cooking for days, so take a well-deserved break.
  4. Have something easy and unfussy on hand for breakfast, but don’t forget to fuel up
  5. If you’re the party planner, pencil in time before and after the celebration to zen out (like…15 minutes of restorative yoga the night before; a long bubble bath after the festivities; an hour of alone time the next day with a good book or show)
ultimate guide for Thanksgiving menu

Click here to download a blank version of this menu to use at your Thanksgiving dinner!

The Ultimate Guide for Thanksgiving: The Menu

Here’s all the details, links, swaps and variations…

TIP! Make sure you have plenty of containers to store away leftovers or to send home with guests. 

Baked Goat Cheese Dip with Garlic and Herbs — I’m reducing the amount of garlic, swapping thyme for rosemary, and serving it with Pistachio and Pomegranate Crisps.

Curried Butternut Squash + Granny Smith Soup — I love sweet potatoes, but sweet potato casserole? Not so much (sorry, Mom). I’m opting for this soup to fill the gap. I’m confident the sticky-sweet casserole will not be missed.

Crisp-Skinned Butterflied Roast Turkey With Gravy — This is the recipe I’ve used for the last three years! The skin is crispy, the breast meat tender and juice (really!) and the flavor is amazing! I use a dry brine that should be applied at least 24 hours in advance, but can be done 3 days ahead. The longer the bird rests with the brine, the juicier and more flavorful it becomes. (Learn how to dry-brine.)

Easy Vegan and Gluten-Free Lentil Loaf — My brother is a vegetarian, so it’s fun to come up with alternative entrees for him each year. Instead of a loaf pan, I’ll build this in a round souffle to make it little more fancy. I’ll use a balsamic bbq sauce in the mix, but top it with balsamic glaze instead of ketchup. (Also, I’m subbing vegetable broth in all the recipes that require broth, including the gravy!

Rosemary Dinner Rolls — I made these a few years ago and they were a hit! A classic roll scented with rosemary.

Cranberry Orange Sauce — Another repeat recipe for us. Just 3 ingredients and done in under 20 minutes. Served at room temperature, it’s a great make-ahead dish.

“Simple Is Best” Dressing — I’m using brioche for this and making it in the slow cooker to save oven space. It may require just a bit more broth than what the recipe calls for. Cook it on high for 30 minutes then on low for 3 to 4 hours. Leave it on warm until you’re ready to serve.

Green Bean Skillet Casserole — I love that most of the cooking happens on the stove top. I’ll extend the stove top cooking time just a bit and finish it off under the broiler for just a couple minutes (to crisp the onions) after all the other dishes have been removed to the serving table.

Crock Pot Million Dollar Mashed Potatoes — The name alone is worth it! This one goes into the Instant Pot on the slow cooker function (since the slow cooker will be occupied with the dressing). Passive cooking is awesome!

Pumpkin + Maple Semifreddo with Graham Cracker Streusel — Roll over pumpkin pie! This ticks all the boxes. I can make this days in advance and let it hang out in the freezer until dessert time.

And because dessert options are a must, my parents are bringing apple pie and vanilla bean ice cream!

Thanksgiving Prep Schedule

TIP! Once your menu is set, read through your recipes and jot down how far in advance each dish can be made or prepped. Some recipes will need to be made the day of, but there might be prep (like chopping veggies) that can be done in advance.

Here’s the prepping timeline for our menu:

  • If you’ve purchased a frozen turkey, today is the day to begin thawing. Otherwise, purchase a fresh turkey by Monday.
  • Shop for everything you don’t already have on hand. 
  • Clean the house! Ok, so it has nothing to do with food, but it’ll make your brain hurt less later in the week.

TIP! Remember Meltdown Tip #2? Ask for help. Enlist the entire family to clean house. You’re not the only one who lives there…Unless you are. 

  • Pumpkin Semifreddo: assemble + freeze
  • Butternut Squash + Granny Smith Soup: cook, cool, freeze

TIP! You can take care of both of these tasks between now and Sunday. Take advantage of the freezer to free up more time over the weekend.

  • Chop + portion all vegetables (except potatoes)
  • Today is also a great day to DIY your centerpieces (or have them delivered) and decorate.
  • Take an inventory of all your serving platters/dishes and serve ware. Wash and set aside any you’ll need for Thursday.

TIP! Leave the tall decorations and floral arrangements for the serving table or drink station. I recommend that dining table decor be limited to 10 inches max…unless you really don’t want crazy Uncle Ned staring at you through dinner.

  • Turkey: butterfly the bird, dry brine, cover + refrigerate
  • Cranberry Orange Sauce: make + refrigerate
  • Vegetarian Gravy: make gravy, cool + refrigerate
  • Baked Goat Cheese: assemble + refrigerate
  • Butternut Squash + Granny Smith Soup: transfer from freezer to fridge to thaw
  • Lentil Loaf: assemble + refrigerate
  • Brioche Dressing: assemble completely + refrigerate
  • Green Bean Casserole: blanch beans, shock, drain + refrigerate
  • Set the dinner + serving tables (arrange all serving platters and serving utensils so you know how much room you’re working with)
  • Set table decor and centerpieces
  • Recruit your crew to tidy up and refresh any areas from Saturday’s cleaning (like the powder room!)

TIP! Use sticky notes or scraps of paper to label your serving platters with their intended contents. This will simplify your process on Thursday.

Ultimate Guide to Thanksgiving: Day-of Timeline

7:30 am

  • Rise + shine! 

8:45 am

  • Prep and start the Mashed Potatoes in a slow cooker.

9:00 am

  • Coffee and breakfast (you got this!)

9:30 am

  • Remove Lentil Loaf and Dressing from fridge.
  • Start Rosemary Rolls.

10:45 am

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

11:00 am

  • Dressing goes into slow cooker on high for 30 min.

11:15 am

  • Lentil Loaf and Rosemary Rolls go into the oven.

11:30 am

  • Reduce slow cooker setting to low.

11:40 am

  • Remove Rosemary Rolls from oven.

12 noon

  • Remove Lentil Loaf from oven and allow to rest on the counter.
  • Remove from the fridge: Baked Goat Cheese, Cranberry Orange Sauce, Turkey
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Place Rosemary Rolls into serving basket.

12:30 pm

  • Baked Goat Cheese goes into the oven.
  • Arrange veggies and Turkey in the roasting pan.
  • Ask a helper to open some wine and set out other drinks on the serving table or drink station.

12:50 pm

  • Remove Goat Cheese to serving table and arrange crisps.
  • Increase oven temp to 450 degrees.

1:00 pm

  • Guests arrive.
  • Serve drinks and appetizer.

1:10 pm

  • Turkey goes into the oven.
  • Transfer butternut squash soup to a saucepan.

[Hang out time! See that…go have some laughs and enjoy that appetizer!]

2:30 pm

  • Light the burner under the soup.
  • Check Turkey for temp and remove from oven to rest.
  • Lower oven temp to 170 degrees.
  • Place Lentil Loaf in warming oven.
  • Start Green Bean Casserole.

2:50 pm

  • Carve Turkey.
  • Portion the soup out into individual bowl and set them on the dining table.
  • Transfer everything else to serving dishes then to the serving table.
  • Broil Green Bean Casserole for a couple of minutes before moving it to the serving table.

3:00 pm — Show time!

TIP! Unless you have a massive dining table, might I suggest setting up a separate serving table or designating some counter space. We have a folding banquet table for this purpose. Draped with a pretty cloth and covered with all those yummy dishes, it’ll be an impressive sight to behold!

Printer friendly versions of the Prepping Schedule + Big Day Timeline are available.

Use this Ultimate Guide for Stress-Free Thanksgiving so you can be present in the moment! Let others help with the dishes and packing up leftovers. And, don’t forget Meltdown Tip #5! You’ve earned it!

{For a complete 180, check out this Friendsgiving Cocktail Party how-to for a super simple and low-key celebration!}

Feature image photo by Gabriel Garcia Marengo on Unsplash


  1. I’ve never seen a meal so well laid out on a time table! I’m impressed! We’re also forgoing a traditional gathering this year and my husband and I have never loved roasted turkey. Since we dint have anyone else to please, do you have favorite turkey recipie ideas that might still go with the flavors of traditional side dishes?
    Thank you!

    1. Awww…Thanks, J! Hmm, if you’re not fans of roasted turkey, maybe try a roasted chicken? Jamie Oliver’s recipe for Perfect Roast Chicken from his Naked Chef book is the bomb, if you can get your hands on the book before Thanksgiving. If not, try Samin Nosrat’s Buttermilk-Brined Roast Chicken! Let me know if you need other ideas!

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