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The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Your Ultimate Thanksgiving Planning Checklist

Thanksgiving is a time for appreciation, celebration — and a very long to-do list if you’re hosting the meal. We’ve put together a Thanksgiving timeline from the month ahead to an hour before the big meal. Here’s the game plan: 

Early November

  • Reserve your turkey and other essentials now for easy pick up in store later. The deadline is November 22. (We can help you pick the right size turkey and type for your gathering.)
  • Choose a Thanksgiving menu. Bookmark the pages or print recipes, as needed.
  • Make three shopping lists—one for non-perishables that can be bought more than a week in advance, one for longer-lasting perishables to be purchased a few days before, and a third for ingredients bought the day before Thanksgiving. Visit our servings calculator to figure out exactly how much you need before you shop.
  • Take inventory of your silverware, serving bowls, plates and linens. (Need a new look? We teamed up with West Elm and Guatemalan textile group The New Denim Project on an exclusive collection of eco-friendly kitchen and table linens made from up-cycled denim. With each item purchased, $1 to Whole Planet Foundation®.)
  • Make sure you have the kitchen equipment you’ll need such as a large roasting pan, roasting rack, meat thermometer (preferably instant-read), turkey baster or brush, pie plates, etc.

1 Week Ahead

  • Make pie dough and bake rolls or breads, then freeze.
  • Clean the house, including the fridge. Compost  anything that’s old in the fridge, and rearrange the remaining contents to maximize space.
  • If you haven’t done so yet, shop for non-perishables on your grocery list such as broth, wine, pumpkin puree, spices, crackers. Some dairy ingredients such as eggs, cream and butter can also be bought now too.
  • Create a schedule for Thanksgiving Day preparations based on what time guests are arriving and what time you’re planning to eat.

4 Days Ahead

  • Shop for perishables. Pick up fruits, vegetables, herbs and anything else you’ll need, with the exception of breads or baked goods (shop for these the day before serving them).
  • Depending on its size, you may need to start thawing the turkey now if it’s frozen. Plan on 1 full day for every 5 pounds of turkey. Get tips on defrosting a turkey before you start.

3 Days Ahead

  • If you’re using homemade turkey or chicken stock for your gravy, go ahead and make it. Cool the stock, refrigerate it, and then skim off any fat that rises to the top the next day.
  • Make dips. Many dips and spreads can be made up to three days in advance. Save seafood-based dips such as Curried Crab on Crackers for making the day before or the morning of Thanksgiving.

2 Days Ahead

  • Cut and cube the bread needed for homemade stuffing, and set the cubes out in a single layer on a baking sheet to dry out.
  • Transfer any frozen items you prepared in advance (including pie dough and baked goods) from the freezer to the fridge.
  • Make the cranberry sauce. A couple of days in the refrigerator will give the flavors time to develop.
  • Prepare salad dressings and homemade soups if making, and store in fridge.

1 Day Ahead

  • Buy any remaining perishables, baked goods if you need them, fresh flowers for décor, and pick up your fresh turkey and pre-ordered store-made entrées and sides now. Note: While a fresh bird doesn’t need to be thawed, it may have a thin layer of ice from being kept extremely cold.
  • Prepare your stuffing, though wait until Thanksgiving Day to bake it.
  • Get a head start on side dishes. Some sides can be made ahead , covered and refrigerated. Or prep what you can—chop vegetables and herbs then store in airtight containers in the fridge.
  • Get ahead and make the gravy now. This recipe for Easy Turkey Gravy shows you how.
  • Make pies and other desserts. Most pies are fine if cooled and then loosely covered and left at room temperature. Cream-based desserts should be refrigerated though.
  • Begin brining the turkey. (Discover brining how-tos, tips and tricks.)
  • Set the dining table and buffet table laying out serving platters and utensils. Label the serving platters and bowls, if needed.

Thanksgiving Morning

  • Refrigerate beverages, or place them outside to cool if the temperature is right (about 40°F is ideal).
  • Make mashed potatoes early (boiling potatoes takes a long time!).
  • Put your turkey in to roast. (At 350°F, you can expect to cook your bird for about 13 minutes per pound.) Count backwards from the time you’ll want to serve it, being sure to leave enough time for it to rest before carving (usually about 30 minutes).
  • Prepare vegetable dishes and salads. Cover the tops of salads with damp towels to keep them freshest, and dress them at the last minute.
  • Cook remaining sides and stuffing.
  • Bake bread, rolls or desserts if still needed.
  • Prep and assemble appetizers.
  • Run and unload the dishwasher so it will be ready for post-meal clean up.
  • Whip some cream for dessert, and store it in the fridge until needed.

At the Last Minute

  • Put on music.
  • Set out your appetizers (heat as needed).
  • While the turkey rests, rewarm soups and sides, make gravy if you didn’t ahead of time and prepare salads.
  • Put pies in the warm (but turned-off) oven before the Thanksgiving meal begins.

The Day After

  • Recap! Make a list of what you loved, what you didn’t, what you might change next year. Put this list somewhere you can find next year—maybe go ahead and add it your calendar for next November when you start planning again.Add photos and fun or funny memories from the day, too, if you’re inclined!

Remember, you don't have to do it all! Order meals, entrées and celebration must-haves online, and then pick them up at the store. Order by November 22 — start shopping now!