notes on planning a thanksgiving feast

salt roast turkey 1

I am a list maker. When I got it in my head to make a big turkey dinner just for me and Dave last year, I had just as much fun planning it as I did cooking it. Eating it was nice too, but that’s just the bonus.


The first step, and possibly my favorite, was to look for recipes. Because I knew I’d get a traditional turkey dinner on the real holiday, I had fun choosing new recipes. I edited each one for precisely how I was going to make it, not just adapting them for my tastes, but writing the directions for the number of servings I’d be making. I knew I’d have a lot to do when it came time to cook, so I wanted to do all of my thinking in advance.

prep schedule

Once my recipes were set, I could write a schedule for myself. I noted everything that I could do in advance and figured out when I would do it. I was fortunate that I had the day off from work the day before my big dinner, so I spent that whole day doing all of my prep. I made myself a detailed schedule for that day – which I was perpetually behind on, but that was okay because there were no deadline for that day; it was just prep.

cooking schedule

Then I made a detailed schedule for the day of my dinner. I started with my dinner time and counted back from there. Basing my cooking schedule on the oven requirements helped me plan. Again, the idea here is to do all of the thinking beforehand, so that when you’re trying to greet guests, serve them drinks, and do inevitable troubleshooting, you know exactly what needs to be done. In your schedule, don’t forget to account for the time it takes transfer the food from the cooking part of the kitchen to the eating part of the kitchen. With as many courses as Thanksgiving feasts include, this is no small task.

grocery list

I find it convenient to make my grocery list for a big meal by recipe, and then put it all together (and arrange by the route I take through the store; I’m hardcore). Finally, I note which pans and serving dishes I’ll need for each recipe; again, the idea is to make all decisions before Go Time so I’m not scrambling to wash my favorite saucepan at the last minute.

dishes big

Of course, even the most careful planning can’t take into account your husband accidentally turning the oven off right as the turkey goes in. A positive attitude is an advantage too.

The attached Excel file has all of my plans in it. Feel free to use it as a template if you think it will help you plan. Over the next two weeks, I’ll blog each of the recipes I made.

salt roast turkey 2

Here’s the complete menu:
Breakfast: Steel-Cut Oatmeal with Maple Sautéed Apples
Snack: Glazed Pecans
Appetizer: Phyllo Cigars with Squash, Pancetta and Rosemary
Turkey: Salted Roast Turkey with Herbs
Gravy: White Wine Gravy
Stuffing: Cornbread Dressing with Roasted Root Vegetables
Potato: Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Gratin
Vegetable: Cauliflower with Mustard Lemon Butter
Cranberries: Cranberry Sauce with Port and Dried Figs
Bread: Cheddar Puffs with Green Onions
Dessert: Maple Pumpkin Pots de Crème

Two years ago: Pork Chops Loco Moco
Three years ago: Pumpkin Pancakes

fall collage


  1. Wow, nice organization! You are way ahead of me. I love that you even have a Thanksgiving breakfast planned out. You menu looks delicious!

  2. Nice! I go this route if I’m hosting, but this year some friends and I have rented a house and invited our in-laws as well. So I set up a Google Doc spreadsheet and shared it with them, so we can all access it. It has pages for each day’s meal, prep lists for each of us, shopping lists, etc. Swell for a multi-host gig.

    Love your blog!

  3. Debbie says:

    I knew I loved this blog… but I love it even more right now knowing I am not the only Excel Spreadsheeter on holidays! I have spreadsheet converting recipes according to how many people I’ll be cooking for or how many dozen cookies I need to bake- along with the ingredient counts. LOVE, love, love this site!! Thank you!

  4. bridget says:

    Debbie – It’s the blog for the organization obsessed! Haha.

  5. Oh my, you are awesome! I’m a list maker too and I love this.

  6. Can’t wait to see the recipes! I love that you made a spreadsheet. Which I’m totally jealous of!

  7. Absolutely love it!! I did something similar to…I’m such a list maker!! Looking forward to following along with you!

  8. Wow, this is incredibly thorough! Great planning! I’m doing my own Thanksgiving for the first time this year, I probably won’t be as intense as you are with the organization, but I’m looking forward to reading your recipes!

  9. I wish I did my projects this well thought out.. leave alone dinner ..*** sigh ***

  10. Gianna says:

    This is marvelous! Thank you for the idea. I am going to start mine now. I have been enjoying your blog and your recipes for some time. The Creamy-Taco Mac got me hooked. Thanks again.

  11. I don’t know why, but I’ve never really thought to use excel for that purpose. Have you thought of turning your spreadsheets into a gantt chart so you don’t have flip between sheets? I’m definitely going to use your templates for Christmas Day breakfast – my parents asked me to make something…so excited! 🙂 Thank you for the template!

  12. I seriously love this. I do this kind of planning for all my dinner parties, but usually just scribbled on scratch paper. This Excel sheet is going to take it to the next level, I’m sure. Love your blog; love the way you think!

  13. Thank you so much for this spreadsheet. This is exactly what I needed. I am totally the type of person to plan everything out and for the last couple of years I have tried different methods for planning Thanksgiving but this is a perfect starting point for the perfect planning tool. I love it already.


  14. I just wanted to thank you again for this amazing tool. I have everything about 99% planned out starting with my shopping trip tomorrow morning. 🙂


  15. Just downloaded this to plan the christmas eve dinner, christmas breakfast & christmas dinner. Have only just filled out the “menu” tab and can’t wait to get to the rest! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  16. ….everyone doesn’t make their lists based on route through the grocery store? Oops.

  17. Sandra says:

    Thank you! I have been all over the internet looking for an Excel document that could help me manage my first Thanksgiving dinner as a host. I was about to give up and create one when I found yours. I can’t wait to put it to work. I really can’t thank you enough!