How To Have A Stress Free Thanksgiving

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If you love Thanksgiving and find yourself hosting this year, then this article on how to have a stress-free Thanksgiving will help you get ready the easier way.

Tips for living a simple life during the holidays: banishing the overwhelm so you can put your focus on creating memories. Don’t forget to download our FREE Thanksgiving planner below!

stress-free thanksgiving

I simply love Thanksgiving. There is nothing I treasure more than the smell of turkey in the oven, family, and friends laughing around the table, and football playing in the background. It is the trifecta of a perfect day.

If you are lucky enough to be this year’s host of the big meal, the last thing you need on turkey day is to be stressed and frazzled. Yes, there definitely is no fun in that! This year, I want you to be able to enjoy the holiday as much as your guests will. And with just a few simple tips you will be able to do just that.

Follow this guide to ensure you have a smooth and stress free thanksgiving.

Over the years of hosting dinner at our home, I have learned how to plan out the day so I am able to skip the stress completely and just enjoy the dinner along with my guests. As with anything, planning is the key to a smooth day.

Learning what to do and when to do it will keep you from having to do all the things in one long never-ending day. Instead, I want you to spread things out into small steps so you are doing a little every day.

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How to Have a Stress-Free Thanksgiving

As I said before, the trick is to break things down and spread them out so you are doing a little here and there in just a few minutes at a time.

2 Weeks Before – Thanksgiving Prep list

Step #1.  Decide on the Menu 

This is my favorite part of Thanksgiving. There is just something about researching dishes and planning out the meal that I love. By doing this early you may be able to slip in a new dish for your guests. Planning is so much easier if you have a visual and once you do, things are less likely to fall through the cracks.

Step #2.  Finalize Your Guest List 

Next, make sure everyone is confirmed so you know exactly what your headcount is. If you are asking your guests to contribute to the dinner, now is the time to finalize and adjust your menu and shopping list accordingly.

SLCG Pro tip: Are there things on the menu you hate to make? Enlist your family and friends to bring those dishes you aren’t too fond of. This will keep those dishes on the menu and also keep you from having to stress out over making them!

Step #3. Make Out Your Shopping List

Go down the menu one dish at a time making sure you have all the ingredients on hand. Remember to always shop your pantry and freezer first, checking off items as you go. Write up a list of anything you do not have and double-check this list to your menu. This will confirm that all the ingredients you need are either already in your kitchen or are listed on your shopping list. 

How big of a turkey do you need?

Refer to your guest list when deciding on the size of your turkey. A good rule of thumb is 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person. Write the weight next to “Turkey” on your shopping list.

Don’t forget other supplies when writing up your list such as the turkey bag, foil, toothpicks, napkins, decor, and dessert plates. Again shop your home first even for these supplies. You just might be surprised at what you may have stashed in the back of a cabinet. 

If you are not sure if you have everything you need on your list, try this trick. Visualize the day by walking through things in your mind from start to finish. This will help you to remember the little touches such as a candle for the bathroom or mints in the entryway.

The key to an effective shopping list is to get everything down on paper. Everything. Remember you can always remove items later that your budget will not allow, but for now, the sky’s the limit.

Step 4.  Set Your Budget 

Things can quickly get out of hand with a budget when hosting a dinner of this size. For that reason, you will want to set your budget early to help keep things in check. If there are extras on the list that your budget just can’t handle, maybe it’s time to think outside of the box. Is there something you can cut out so you can make room for something else?

Maybe you can make decorative napkins rather than buy them? That way you can buy a new candle for the bathroom. Remember, it’s all a matter of give and take when you are on a budget. Even a tight one.

If you are looking for ways to save money on your dinner, you can read: 10 Ways to Save on Thanksgiving Dinner for more great tips.

1 Week Before – Thanksgiving Prep list

Step #1. Get Your Shopping Done  

The week before Thanksgiving is usually the week turkeys and all the fixings go on sale, so this is officially shopping week. Take your list and buy any items that will not spoil if purchased this early. Save any fresh produce for your “Week Of” shopping trip. 

SLCG Pro Tip: If you need more than one turkey for the entire year (a great way to eat frugally) you can break your list down by the store to take advantage of all the sales. Usually, a minimum purchase is required to get a turkey at the sale price. By breaking your list down into smaller lists and using one at each store you will be able to stock up with 2 or even 3 turkeys at just pennies a pound.

A shopper in a grocery store crosses items off a list. Lists are helpful in having a stress-free Thanksgiving.

I prefer to do my shopping all in one day. Fewer trips to the store saves time and money. You do not have to do all of your shopping in one day, the key to a stress-free Thanksgiving is to keep things simple. If a one-day marathon shopping binge isn’t for you, break those trips up to make it easier…..especially if you have little ones tagging along.

Tips for Kids:

Consider using brown paper to cover the kid’s table and put a supply of crayons and colored pencils in the middle of the table. Add a few Thanksgiving stickers at each plate to keep your young guests entertained during dinner.

Tips for Pets:

If so don’t forget your furry friends when shopping, a fresh bone during dinner or a few cat treats is a nice way to ensure you are able to eat in peace.

Turkey Prep

Check safe thawing directions and times on your turkey and place that item on your to-do list now. Nothing cooks slower on Thanksgiving day than a frozen bird.

Step #2. Prepare Linens

I just love to use cloth napkins for our dinner along with a cloth tablecloth.  If you are like me, this is the time to get everything ironed and ready to go. Check for stains or areas that may need mending and correct them now.

SLCG Pro Tip:  Do you have a few stains or snags in the middle of your tablecloth? Don’t throw it out just yet. Instead strategically place a runner and center piece over the areas in question and get another year out of you table cloth. After holiday sales will allow you to replace your table cloth at a fraction of the cost.

Step 3.  Make Your Centerpiece 

This is the fun part of Thanksgiving for me. I just love to create rustic centerpieces using items I have on hand and bringing in a few pieces from the outdoors. Candles, acorns, pine cones, and small pumpkins look lovely on a table and cost little or even no money.

Step #4.  Make Your Own Place Settings

This is another fun part of Turkey Day. I just love to do fun and comical place settings. You can get your creative juices flowing by reading my post Fun and Easy Place SettingsThis post lists (and shows you) my top place settings that I have used over the years. They are super simple and require no crafting skills whatsoever!! 

I have a couple of fun options there you can try all using items you have on hand.

Step 5.  Create a Timeline To-Do list

A timeline to-do list is one that maps things out so things are easier to implement. 2 weeks out, 1-week out, the week of, and so on. Again, by breaking things down into small simple, steps you really do eliminate the stress that this dinner brings with it.  

SLCG Pro Tip: Spread out your cooking and baking to-do list. Make mashed potatoes the day before and reheat them in a crockpot the day of. Bake pies earlier in the week and reheat them in the turned-off yet still warm oven while you are eating dinner. This will heat up the pies without cooking them. 

Step 5. Set Up a Day of Timeline 

This is my number one tip for a stress-free day. The trick here is to map out every single minute of the day up until mealtime. Trust me on this, you must map every single thing out for this step to work as effectively as it is meant to.

Knowing exactly when everything needs to be started, prepped, or placed in the oven is such a huge stress reliever. With a timeline in place, you can then relax and just follow your list knowing it’s all on there and mapped out.

The easiest way to set up your timeline is to decide at what time to serve dinner and work your way back from there. Make sure to include every single thing you need to get done that day no matter how minor it is.  This way you know you have all your bases covered.

SLCG Pro Tip: When setting up your timeline you really do want to include every single thing. Have little ones? Jot down at what time they need to shower and dress. And don’t forget to write in what time YOU are getting ready. Make sure not only appetizers are on the table when guests arrive, but you are dressed and ready to go as well.

The Week Of – Thanksgiving Prep list

Monday –Clean, clean, clean.

Take the time now to get things ready for the big day. When my kids were younger I would clean the guest bathroom and then lock it. That ensured at least one room was ready even if the rest were not.

Get the deep cleaning done now so all you need to do that day is a once-over to neaten things up.


Tuesday –Go over your lists

Review your lists and check them twice. Make sure you have everything you need now when you still have time to run to the store. Having guests over for the night? Prep those rooms now. Clean sheets, fresh pillows, and a basket filled with toiletries and sweet trinkets as souvenirs are a great touch and takes so little effort.

Also, make sure all clothing is ready for the family. Iron any shirts or dresses and do any necessary mending.

Wednesday – Menu review

Go over your menu and find those items that can be made early to help save time on the big day. Pies, mashed potatoes, meat and cheese trays, vegetable trays, cookies, and any appetizers all can be done a day or two ahead of time.

Yes, make those mashed potatoes the day before!! Once made put them into your crockpot (make sure you have a crockpot with a removable insert ) and then just begin to heat them up an hour or two before depending on how much you have.

Also, you will want to prep any ingredients and have them ready to go. Nothing will ruin makeup quicker than dicing up a batch of onions for the dressing. Do it all now and seal it in airtight containers. Label each container with a Post-It note so you can toss and go as you are cooking.

A woman chops an onion - having a stress-free Thanksgiving includes prepping what you can ahead of time.

Wednesday – Early Setup

There are also a few things you can do the day before to get different areas ready for company.

#1. Preset the table – Completely set the tables so they are company-ready. Turn glasses upside down to keep them dust-free.

If you have overnight guests at your home now, you may need to postpone this task until after breakfast is finished.

#2. Breakfast – Make a casserole for breakfast and put it in the refrigerator. In the morning, simply place in the oven and set the counter with paper plates. This is an easy way to feed your family and any guests without having added yet another chore to your to-do list.

#3. Set up extra seating – If extra seating is needed, now is the time to get everything set up in a comfortable way. Be sure to allow room for your guests to eat without being overcrowded.

#4. Timeline – Go over your timeline for tomorrow double-checking to be sure you have included all the things. Delegate any tasks by writing the name of the person next to it. Take the time now to give those designated helpers a warning of what they will be responsible for. 

Thanksgiving Day – Thanksgiving Prep list

Thanksgiving day is here, so all you need to do is wake up, pour yourself some coffee, and just follow your timeline because that is the beauty of this system. Your timeline lets you walk instead of running through your entire day. Having such a large meal broken down into simple, short steps is the key to a happy and pleasant meal.

Be sure to download our FREE Thanksgiving planner to get all the lists and pages you need to streamline your holiday dinner! Be sure to use the day-of timeline sheet to help you put your day on auto pilot.

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Having a stress free Thanksgiving is easy to do when you have the tools to help. Bookmark this article so you can refer to it whenever you have a large dinner to host. Sit back and relax, and enjoy the holidays just like you are one of the guests!

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Get your FREE Thanksgiving planner and follow this step by step guide to a stress-free and enjoyable dinner this year. Break things down in a simple way that will have you loving Thanksgiving again no matter how big your guest list is.
How to have a completely stress-free Thanksgiving Dinner this year.


  1. I am already late trying to be I was suppose to have started this list several days ago..argh.

    Well I suppose better late then never to get organized right? I am trying to plan a family Thanksgiving gathering for this year and though this is our 3rd year doing it this year we are having around 40 people there so I am feeling the stress already.

    Thank you for sharing these ideas, I am for sure going to be utilizing your list in hopes it makes my preparations less stressful and more enjoyable.

    The Broke Dad

    1. I sure do hope my printables help you out! If you can think of anything else that may be useful, please let me know. I am always looking for printable ideas. Good luck, there is still lots of time to get ready. 🙂

      Tracy Lynn

  2. I was panicked with so many Thanksgiving issues. Thank you for your suggestions, even with a smaller group that last few minutes of cooking is so stressful as people are arriving and want to chat while I make gravy.Looking forward to trying your method.

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