Your Thanksgiving Game Plan: 30+ Time-Saving, Prep-Ahead and Shopping Tips

Plan, shop and cook your way to your best meal yet with our week-by-week, day-by-day timeline.

Thanksgiving table with turkey, side dishes and gravy

Whether you’re a first-time host or you’ve committed to cooking the entire meal this year, we’re here to help you organize, plan, shop, prep and cook your way to your best Thanksgiving yet. It goes without saying that planning ahead can be a game changer (and sanity saver!). Follow our Thanksgiving timeline so you can kick back and focus on the fun stuff.

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4 weeks ahead: Stock the freezer

This early in the game, it’s all about the freezer, aka the treasure chest that saves Thanksgiving. Clear out room, because you’ll need the extra space. Pick up turkey drumsticks and wings from our Meat department, roast them and use them to make turkey stock — freeze it now and use it for gravy, stuffing and soup later. You can also prep and freeze discs of pie dough, pumpkin bread and cranberry sauce.

Looking for more freezer-stocking tricks? Check out our Thanksgiving Cooking Hacks.

3 weeks ahead: Plan your menu

Get ahead of the curve by planning your Thanksgiving menu early. Start with the big questions like: How many are you serving? Are you cooking the entire meal from scratch or will you assign out a few dishes? Next, start pulling your recipes. Our Thanksgiving Menus are jam-packed with all the meal inspiration you’ll need — and don’t miss our Holiday Recipe Collection either.

Not planning to cook the entire meal? Our holiday catering menu has got you. Here are several different ways to order turkey, side dishes, desserts and more:

2 weeks ahead: Prep your kitchen

Your biggest grocery shop of the year is coming up soon, so it’s never too early to get your kitchen organized. From baking supplies to the turkey itself, Thanksgiving essentials can take up precious pantry and fridge space. Set aside some time to go through every nook and cranny in your kitchen. That nearly empty bottle of ketchup? Toss it. That box of crackers that’s nearing its expiration date? Toss it. Be brutal — you’ll thank yourself later.

Check out our Guide to Organizing Your Kitchen for more clever tips and tricks.

This is also a great time for an equipment check. Check out your kitchen supplies to make sure you’ve got a roasting pan and a reliable kitchen thermometer. (You know, those things you tend to pull out once a year.)

handwritten shopping list in notebook

1 week ahead: Create your shopping list

If you have a lot of items to buy, which you probably do, making a grocery list ahead of time can save you serious stress. First, use our Holiday Servings Calculator to figure out how much to buy based on the number of people you’re feeding. Next, take a look at your menu and start building your list. Double-check your pantry and fridge to make sure you’re not duplicating ingredients you already have on hand, like spices, flours and stock.

Pro tip: Instead of writing it by hand, use our handy shopping list feature in the Whole Foods Market app. Each time you add an item to your list, it’s automatically grouped by department so you can quickly locate it in our stores. Start building your list opens in a new tab.

If you have a frozen turkey, consider thawing it in the refrigerator to make sure you have enough time to brine it. Check out our Turkey Buying Guide for thawing instructions based on size.

5 days ahead: Hit the store

If you haven’t done your shopping, now’s the time to do it. Skip the lines by hitting our stores early. We also have special sales on turkey, wine and other Thanksgiving essentials. For more insider tips, check out our Thanksgiving Shopping Guide.

After crossing the items off your list, be sure to pick up the turkey you reserved a week or two ago. At home, you can also start thawing out turkey stock, pie crust and anything else you made and froze a few weeks ago.

labeled serving dishes with names of thanksgiving dishes

4 days ahead: Choose your serving dishes

Take a moment to dig out the serving platters you want to use — we promise it will save time later. Label the bottoms with their intended dishes: serving spoons, baking dishes and place settings you might need. If you’re worried about table real estate, lay everything out to get an idea of how much space you’ll need.

Don’t forget to take time to relax. You’re about to enter full-on Thanksgiving prep mode.

2–3 days ahead: Start prepping

If you have turkey stock on hand, make your gravy and refrigerate until Thanksgiving. It will intensify in flavor, plus you’ll thank yourself for the saved time. Need a recipe? Try our Easy Turkey Gravy.

If you have time, you can also cook your stuffing, casseroles and mashed potatoes, and refrigerate them until Thanksgiving. They reheat well, and they’re just as, if not more, delicious since the flavors will have had time to develop.

Hands prepping brussels sprouts for roasting

The day before: Make the final touches

Bake your pies in the morning, then store until tomorrow. Keep in mind that any pies that contain eggs or dairy — like pumpkin, custard, mousses or chiffon — should be refrigerated as soon as they’ve completely cooled. Fruit pies, on the other hand, can stand at room temperature for up to two days.

Meanwhile, clean and trim veggies such as green beans and Brussels sprouts, and cook your stuffing, mashed potatoes and casseroles if you haven’t already. Lastly, brine your turkey. For wet and dry brines, you’ll need to start the process at least 8 to 24 hours before cooking.

Thanksgiving Day: Game time!

Roast your expertly brined turkey (this always takes longer than you think — remember to factor in resting time once the turkey’s out of the oven). Cook or reheat your sides and set out your appetizers. Enjoy the day and the incredible meal you pulled off, thanks to your careful planning.

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