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How to Pull Off the Ultimate Thanksgiving Day Feast

Thanksgiving was one of America’s most cherished festivities even before George Washington began celebrating it in 1789. However, it wasn’t always held on the fourth Thursday in November. That happened in 1846, when Sara Josepha Hale campaigned to make Thanksgiving a national holiday that would be held on the last Thursday of November. 

how to pull off ultimate thanksgiving feast

There was a problem, though: November had five Thursdays instead of four in 1939. This led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to break with tradition, officially declaring that, regardless of how many Thursdays were in the month, Thanksgiving would always be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.

This holiday holds a very rich history for our country and, chances are, for your family as well. The Thanksgiving feast is steeped in traditions and the ritual of giving thanks. If you’re hosting dinner this year, chances are you want to make this the best Thanksgiving Day ever, so let’s get rolling!

Guest List

Knowing how many people you will be hosting for dinner is crucial to planning the rest of the details, including the menu, the shopping list, and the cooking times. After all, you need to know how many cans of cranberry sauce to buy! The number of guests also determines whether you should do a seated or buffet-style dinner, not to mention whether extra chairs, tables, or cutlery will be needed.

Thanksgiving Menu 

Most Thanksgiving holidays will revolve around the roast turkey! Add in all your other family favorites, including sweet potato casserole, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, stuffing, and that famous cranberry sauce.

Don’t forget about desserts; pecan pie and pumpkin pie are always favorites. Beverages and appetizers are great items to assign to guests, or you can provide a signature cocktail in an elegant beverage dispenser. 

Finally, consider how many children may be joining, and be sure to include enough drinks and snacks that they’ll enjoy as well.

If this all sounds like too much, you can always order a Thanksgiving dinner to go from many national, regional, and local chains. Just be sure to place your order early—and know how many people you’re planning to feed.


Start checking your dishes, pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. Do you have enough serving platters, baking dishes, pie plates, and pans?

Take a peek in the pantry and add anything you may be low on to your shopping list. Think about items you don’t use frequently, such as poultry seasoning or pumpkin spice. Those are typically the items that need to be replenished the most.

Shopping List 

Separate your shopping list into perishable and nonperishable items. Stock up on the nonperishables well in advance. The perishables list is what you’ll be grabbing within a week of Thanksgiving Day. When in doubt, purchase an extra: No one enjoys a mad dash to the supermarket with a Thanksgiving feast on the stove!

Cleaning and Organizing

Purge your fridge and freezer to create the space you need for the refrigerated items you’ll be picking up, in addition to ingredients and the make-ahead dishes or sauces that can be frozen. Be sure all platters and baking dishes are easily accessible and clean. This is also a great time to pair them with their serving utensils.

Logistical Planning

Whether you have five ovens or one, you can absolutely pull off a fabulous Thanksgiving feast with a little time and planning. Think through the preparation and cooking time and temperature for each dish. This will determine what will go in when.

If you have two dishes that need to go in the oven at the same time, but one calls for 400 degrees and the other 350, split the difference and go with 375 degrees for both. Just check the oven more often, rotating racks if necessary.   

You should also think outside the oven. Can you use your pressure cooker, slow cooker, grill, or smoker for any part of the meal? Desserts can be made a few days ahead and simply reheated after dinner.

Create a timeline of what you can do a week ahead, a few days ahead, the night before, and the morning of. Then use that outline as your Bible as you knock tasks off the list.


Don’t add hours of house cleaning to your already-packed checklist on Thanksgiving Day. Carry out a good deep cleaning the week before, and then keep up on maintenance after that. Get the entire family involved with a quick spruce-up the day before the dinner guests arrive.

If you have a hired housekeeper, ask if they’ll come in off schedule for a deep cleaning that Tuesday or Wednesday (it’s not totally necessary, but it certainly helps if you can swing it).


Cut, dice, and set aside! Spend a little time pre-cutting bread for stuffing, green beans for a green bean casserole, or apples for apple pie. Store everything in airtight containers or zip-top bags.

Prepare as many make-ahead dishes as you can, such as a sweet potato casserole or pecan pie, and throw them into the refrigerator.


Rearrange furniture as necessary to make room for your guests. Bring in and set up any additional chairs and tables. Identify where everything will be, including beverages, appetizers, and a drop zone for coats and shoes. Pull out those place settings, seating charts, place cards, silverware, napkins, and candles.

Bring your tablescape to life with natural greenery from your yard, local florist, or supermarket, making sure that centerpiece arrangements are low for easy conversations over the table.

Have the dishwasher, trash bins, and sink completely empty before you start cooking. Dinner prep will be much less stressful if you can quickly declutter your working area as you go.

The Day Of

With so many details coming together at once, it’s easy to get distracted. Did you baste the turkey? Did the cranberry sauce get mixed? Refer to your timeline, and set a timer to keep you on track.

Now you want to think about your guests. The smell from the oven will make for a wonderfully inviting first impression. You can complete that welcoming atmosphere by turning on a relaxing playlist, lighting some candles, and greeting your guests with a tasty appetizer and beverage.

Most of all, don’t forget to ENJOY Thanksgiving Day. Don’t let all these tasks cause you to lose sight of what the Thanksgiving holiday is all about: time with family and friends spent reflecting on the many things we’re grateful for. So make time to pause and soak it all in. The table is where stories are shared, laughter is abundant, and memories are made!

The Day After

Now is the time to kick up your feet, grab a cup of tea or coffee, pull out your smart device, and hunt for some Black Friday deals! Once you’re done with that, it never hurts to find a few new recipes to repurpose all those leftovers!


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