Thanksgiving Dinner Menu

This Thanksgiving Dinner Menu will inspire you with recipes for what to cook and the guide will help organize your feast to enjoy the holiday!

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If you’re looking for a Thanksgiving Dinner Menu and how to plan for the big day, this guide will show you what you need to do to prepare for the big feast and includes some of our favorite recipes! Thanksgiving is known as a family-bonding holiday, but the cooks in the family (i.e. me!) spend most of it stuck in the kitchen. Rather than taking the entire day to prepare one meal, you can prepare a number of Thanksgiving recipes in advance to serve or reheat the next day.

Yumna holding plate of carved turkey in front of dining room table horizontal version

Below are a few tips that will help you organize your Thanksgiving dinner with a menu and an action plan whether you plan a large or small celebration with the Thanksgiving recipes you’ll need…desserts included!

Three weeks ahead

I know you just put away the Halloween decorations, but now is the time to get a jump on planning the next holiday menu. Time to get a jump on Thanksgiving.

  • Count your people: This year might be slightly larger than last year’s more intimate gathering. Whether it’s just your immediate family or a larger bubble, the first step is nailing down your number.
  • Plan a menu: Peruse your recipe collection and draw up a menu. Think about balancing your Thanksgiving dinner’s flavors, colors, and textures to provide pops of color like orange squash and green veggies among the beige turkey, gravy, and mashed potatoes.
  • Delegate: If guests are expecting, figure out what you want them to bring. Ask the less culinarily inclined to bring nuts, olives, a cheese platter, a bakery treat, or bottled drinks.
  • Start shopping: Stock up on non-perishables like drinks, canned pumpkin puree, baking supplies, canned stock, or anything you can freeze ahead of time.
  • Order up: If you order your turkey and or pies or rolls from a specific source, now is the time to make sure you are first on the list.
  • Cook or bake ahead: Lots of things like homemade cranberry sauce or chicken stock (for gravy,) and pie crust or even whole pies, can be made ahead and frozen. Refer to your particular recipes for guidance.
  • Check your non-food items: Did you shatter your gravy boat last year’s Thanksgiving dinner? Do you have enough chairs, plates, glasses, and flatware? A reliable meat thermometer? Want an excuse to order new placemats? Now is the time to buy or borrow whatever you might need.
Placing carved thanksgiving platter on table

One week before thanksgiving dinner 

  • Buy the food: At this point, you can purchase all but the most perishable of fresh foods.
  • Schedule your defrosting: Did you buy a frozen turkey or freeze something substantial like a casserole or pie? Figure out how long it needs to defrost and make room in the fridge. This chart gives tons of great turkey info including defrosting times for turkeys based on weight.
  • Make gravy, pie dough, or cranberry sauce: If you haven’t made any of these very keep-able items, get busy. Even gravy, if you aren’t wedded to making it day-of from pan drippings, can be made three to four days out with separately roasted turkey or chicken parts.
  • Get the kids involved: Literally nothing is cuter than those turkeys that kids make by tracing their tiny hands. Use the drawings for place cards for the Thanksgiving dinner. Get out the googly eyes and pinecones, too. Can they help you with any baking projects? Check out my guide on tips for cooking with children.
  • Plan your pickups: Especially this year with some restrictions happening around crowds, picking up pre-ordered items may be more time-consuming than usual. Plan ahead.

Two days ahead 

Transferring turkey drippings from pan to saucepan
  • Re-assess: Figure out what needs to be done and try and delegate anything you can, such as picking up extra drinks, ice, or ordering an extra pie.
  • Go through your recipes: Add any missing ingredients to your last-minute Thanksgiving dinner shopping list.
  • Pick up your fresh turkey: And other perishables you have waited on.
  • Brine away: If you subscribe to these methods, wet or dry, brine your bird.
  • Assemble serving ware: If you have room, haul out everything you need.
  • Set the table: If you have a separate dining room that is not in heavy use, consider starting to set the table or enlist your kids to do it.
Sprinkling fresh thyme on mashed potatoes

One day ahead 

  • Breathe: You are probably in good shape!
  • Bake: If you haven’t baked ahead, the night before is a great time to do it.
  • Wash, chop and prep: For recipes you are making tomorrow, can you prep ingredients tonight? Wash herbs, chop onions, dice squash, etc., to save time. Some dishes like dressing might be able to be fully assembled and refrigerated, ready to dress the salad the next day.
  • Create a schedule: It’s your stove’s busiest day of the year! Do a rough estimate of what needs to cook and when. Remember, slow cookers and Instant Pots can be deployed as extra burners to keep side dishes or soups warm!
  • Order pizza: Or other take out, because it is hard to prep and cook a regular dinner, too.
Yumna removing potatoes from oven

Thanksgiving dinner day 🦃

  • Put final touches on recipes: This is the time to assemble everything that was washed, chopped and prepped the day before.
  • Follow your schedule: You took the time to create a schedule, so follow it to keep it cool. This is especially important for the oven.
  • Enjoy and be grateful! 🙂
Plate of thanksgiving dinner with gravy getting poured over

Thanksgiving dinner menu 2021

Thanksgiving make ahead dishes

And if you’re looking to save some time on Thanksgiving day, consider making some of these dishes ahead of time. They can take a load off on the big day and some actually taste better that way!

I hope the planner and these make ahead Thanksgiving recipes will help plan your menu a little easier! It’s such a busy day in the kitchen, we can all use a little help!

Yumna setting down cranberries on table

If you find this guide for Thanksgiving Meal Plan useful, we’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below! It helps to create a dialogue with others who find this article. And if you snapped some shots of any of these tips and tricks, please share them on Instagram so we can repost on Stories!

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Yumna holding plate of carved turkey in front of dining room table

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  1. This is a great article, so many useful tips!!! With one oven at home, I try to reduce the meals that need oven as much as the menu allows because the Turkey will occupy it for a long period of time and some times I cook ahead and preheat where possible. Thank You so much for sharing 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing such healthy and yummy health ideas for dinner. This is one of the best articles I have crossed.