Thanksgiving prep that will save you time, money, and stress

Jennifer Blair

To prevent any details from falling through the cracks, create a schedule of all the prep work you plan to do ahead of time and when you’ ll do each task.

Thanksgiving isn't just about all the delicious food -- it's a time to gather with family and friends and remind ourselves what we're grateful for. If you're playing host for the big day, it's hard to look past all the cooking, cleaning, and decorating you need to do. But if you take care of a few key details ahead of time, you can have a much more enjoyable Thanksgiving with your loved ones. It's just a matter of knowing which tasks to do and when.

Check out these eight Thanksgiving prep tasks that can save you time, anxiety, and maybe even a few dollars to help make your holiday as happy and relaxing as possible.

Get the house ready at the start of the week.

You definitely don't want to be running the vacuum or dusting the furniture right before your guests arrive for Thanksgiving dinner. Take some of the pressure off the big day by doing a thorough cleaning of your home the weekend before or early in the week of Thanksgiving. If you're feeling overwhelmed and have the budget for it, you might even want to hire a cleaning service to help you get the place tidied up.

Don't forget to decorate ahead of time, too. Make a display with some mini pumpkins, or scatter mums and other fall flowers around the house to give it a festive flair. An autumn-inspired wreath of dried berries, apples, pinecones, and leaves is the perfect way to greet guests as they approach your door, too.

Delegate when possible.

An easy way to minimize your stress and keep your Thanksgiving as manageable as possible is to accept help from family and friends. If your guests offer to bring something for the meal, don't be shy about accepting. It allows you to cross items off your to-do list without doing any work at all. Ask a sibling to take care of the appetizers, or let your aunt with the famous pumpkin pie recipe bring dessert.

If you're feeling particularly stressed, you could make the entire event a potluck -- you handle the turkey and stuffing and divvy up the rest of the dishes among your guests.

Prepare the condiments ahead of time.

Condiments may not be as important as the main course, but no Thanksgiving meal is complete without delicious gravy or cranberry sauce. Instead of rushing to make them while you're roasting the turkey, save yourself a headache and prepare these dishes ahead of time.

You can make gravy without drippings if you use a premade gravy base, and you can keep it frozen for two to three weeks before Thanksgiving. Thaw it in the fridge the night before, and reheat it on low on the big day. If you want really fresh flavor, you can mix in some drippings from the turkey just before serving.

Cranberry sauce can also be made a week or two ahead of the holiday and frozen or stored in an airtight container in the fridge. You might even find that your cranberry sauce tastes better when prepared in advance because the flavors have time to meld.

Freeze your potatoes.

What would Thanksgiving dinner be without mashed potatoes? But they're a pretty time-consuming dish to prepare on the big day. The good news is that potatoes are another great candidate for freezing because the fat in the milk and butter protects the frozen potatoes. Simply prepare your favorite mashed potato recipe with full-fat milk and butter, and freeze them for up to a month ahead of time. For the big day, thaw the potatoes in the fridge overnight. Reheat them on the stove or in a handy slow cooker.

Take advantage of make-ahead veggie casseroles.

Instead of preparing your vegetable sides on Thanksgiving Day, choose some creative veggie casseroles that you can make up to three days in advance and keep in the fridge until it's time to bake them. Classic green bean casserole is always a hit on Thanksgiving and is a perfect make-ahead option. For the best tasting casserole, leave off toppings like fried onions or cheese until just before you put the dish in the oven.

Ready the turkey for roasting.

The turkey is the star of the show on Thanksgiving, so it has to be ready to roast that morning. If you're cooking a frozen turkey, you'll need at least 24 hours of thawing time for every five pounds, so make sure to start defrosting as early as you need to for the size of your bird.

If you're planning to brine the turkey, mix your brine recipe a couple of days before Thanksgiving so it has time to fully chill. Place the turkey in the brine at least a day before T-Day to give it time to really soak up the flavor.

Have your roasting pan clean and ready to go the day before Thanksgiving, too, so you don't have to look for it when it's time for the turkey to go in the oven.

Chop and dice the day before.

Thanksgiving recipes seem to call for tons of chopping and dicing, which can take up valuable time. Save yourself some trouble by chopping and dicing onions, celery, herbs, and other garnishes the Wednesday before the holiday so you don't need to rush on the big day. Store them in airtight containers in the fridge until you need them.

For some dishes, such as stuffing, you can saute the chopped ingredients the day before, keep them chilled in the fridge, and then mix them with the rest of the ingredients just before they go in the oven.

If you're making pies for dessert, you can also prepare the fillings the day before and store them in the fridge. Save a little more time by using frozen pie crust and defrosting it the Wednesday before.

Set the table the day before.

When you have such a large meal to prepare, you definitely don't want to be worrying about getting the table ready for your guests. Put out all of the place settings, glasses, and silverware the day before, so your table is ready as soon as you're finished cooking the meal. Don't forget to set out your centerpiece and table decorations for a truly festive table.


Pulling off a successful Thanksgiving dinner doesn't have to be stressful. If you take care of some of the items on your to-do list ahead of the big day, you'll have plenty of time to enjoy the holiday with your family and friends.


Jennifer Blair is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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