Thanksgiving Timeline & Make-Ahead Tips

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Want a stress-free Thanksgiving dinner? Find out what you can make-ahead and follow the timeline to get it all done on time!

Are you a list maker? Do you love having a plan for everything and then checking things off? If so, this post is for you.

Have you hosted Thanksgiving in the past, but always wind up feeling overwhelmed by dinner time? Want a game plan for the week before to make it all feel doable?

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Homemade Green Bean Casserole

Are you cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the first time? Wondering where to even begin? I’ve got you covered here.

Even though this year’s Thanksgiving day may look different than years past, you can bet that I’ll be preparing a feast and we’ll be remembering how many things we do have to be grateful for this year.

Keep reading, friends. I’ve been following this exact plan for several years now and I swear by it. I’m all about planning things out in advance and prepping as much as possible ahead of time.

Smashed Potatoes

Slow Cooker Thanksgiving Tips

Okay, brace yourself, the key to a hassle-free Thanksgiving day for me has been using multiple crock-pots.

And just to clarify, I do not actually cook anything in the crock-pots. Everything is simply warmed in the slow cookers on Thanksgiving day.

I realize it might sound crazy, but not having to juggle side dishes in and out of the oven for hours and then trying to keep things warm? That’s been the best thing ever for our holiday meals.

Sourdough stuffing with apples, cranberries, sausage, and herbs

I use 4QT Crock-Pots for Rustic Mashed Potatoes and Creamed Corn. Most years, we alternate between Creamed Corn and Corn Pudding Casserole – though truthfully, I wouldn’t be sad to serve both corn dishes.

An oval 6QT Crock-Pot works well for Green Bean Casserole, and a 2 QT Crock-Pot for Vanilla Bean Whipped Sweet Potatoes.

Pretty much any size slow cookers will work, but these are the sizes that I have and they work for me.

While I maintain that it would be worth stashing a couple of extra crock-pots in the garage just to have the easiest holiday meals ever, I actually use them all throughout the year.

I watched for sales and picked them all up inexpensively and I’ve used the heck out of them over the years.

That said, if you aren’t ready to invest in a couple of extra slow cookers, I highly recommend using what you have to reheat as much as possible without using the oven.

Balsamic Dijon Ham

When To Thaw A Turkey

The general rule for thawing turkeys, according to the USDA, says that you should move your turkey from the freezer to the refrigerator:

  • 4 to 12 pounds — 1 to 3 days
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 3 to 4 days
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 4 to 5 days

Most of the time, I move the turkey to the refrigerator on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. I’d much rather thaw it a couple days early than be dealing with a partially frozen bird on Thanksgiving morning.

Roast Turkey with Wine and Herbs

Best Turkey Ever

Roast Turkey with Wine and Herbs lets you skip carving at the table and speed up the roasting process.

By cutting the turkey into parts before cooking, you get a faster and easier way to make a great roasted turkey.

Using this method, you can cook a 12-pound turkey from start to finish in under an hour!

Made from Scratch Corn Pudding is the best corn pudding ever! get the recipe at

Clean Out The Refrigerator

It isn’t the fanciest part of the holiday cooking prep, but spending an hour or so prepping the fridge will make the whole week easier.

I try to clear as much space as possible the weekend before Thanksgiving, since the fridge is about to become Thanksgiving central.

Whipped Vanilla Bean Sweet Potatoes Recipe

Plan Ahead

Please note that there are two printable recipe cards here. The first one will give you the timeline for the week leading up to Thanksgiving.

The second card is the timeline for Thanksgiving day. We like to eat dinner around 3pm, however, the hours are easily adjustable. Feel free to tweak the timeline for your preferred meal time.

I highly recommend printing off your holiday recipes and saving them in a binder. I’ve been using binders to save my favorite recipes for as long as I’ve been married.

And I’ve been using this holiday binder for several years now. It makes holiday meals a breeze. When it’s time to start prepping for Thanksgiving, I grab the holiday binder and the grocery list and the schedule is as easy as can be.

Want a peek into my old-school recipe binders? This was what my recipe files looked like before I started blogging. Yes, I have always been this nuts about organizing my recipes.

Starting this recipe website made sorting through all of those recipes easier and in the process gave me the greatest job ever. So, thanks for being here and making Barefeet in the Kitchen the most fun I’ve ever had while working.

Happy Thanksgiving planning, friends!

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Sourdough stuffing with apples, cranberries, sausage, and herbs

Thanksgiving Week Meal Prep

4.67 from 6 votes
All the tips and timing suggestions to get Thanksgiving dinner on the table with a minimum of stress!



  • Clean out the refrigerator. Clear as much space as possible.
  • If you're serving turkey, check the above chart to determine the best day to move your turkey from the freezer to the refrigerator. For a large bird, move the turkey to the refrigerator now.



  • Make Rustic Mashed Potatoes. Let cool and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • Make Whipped Sweet Potatoes. Let cool and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • Cook the sausage mixture for the stuffing. Stir together the broth and melted butter. Let cool and store separately in airtight containers in the refrigerator.
  • Prep vegetables for snacking and make Homemade Ranch Dip.


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Toss the cans and make green bean casserole without the soup!

Thanksgiving Day Cooking Schedule

4.67 from 6 votes
Slow cookers are key to an easy and stress free Thanksgiving meal.


THANKSGIVING DAY – serving dinner at 3:00pm, adjust accordingly

  • 10:00am Start Creamed Corn in crock-pot on LOW. Stir after 2 hours and 4 hours. Reduce to WARM when creamy and hot.
  • 11:00am Set out cheeseball, crackers, and vegetables with ranch dip. Snack happy.
  • 12:00pm Set the ham or turkey out at room temp.
  • 12:15pm Transfer the mashed potatoes to a crock-pot on LOW. Stir at 2 hours, reduce to WARM when hot.
  • 12:30pm Combine green beans and mushroom sauce in a medium size crock-pot on HIGH. Stir at 2 hours, reduce to WARM and top with fried onions when hot.
  • 1:00pm Preheat oven to 325°F. Set stuffing ingredients out at room temp.
  • 1:10pm Transfer whipped sweet potatoes to a small crock-pot on LOW. Stir at 90 minutes, reduce to WARM when hot.
  • 1:30pm Start Balsamic Dijon Ham or Roast Turkey with Wine and Herbs in the oven. When finished cooking, tent loosely with foil and let rest on the counter.
  • 1:45pm Assemble the stuffing. Bake covered 30-40 minutes, stir and uncover, bake an additional 15 minutes.
  • 1:50pm Stir together the Corn Pudding. Bake for 55-60 minutes.
  • 2:45pm Warm the rolls. Warm the gravy in a small saucepan, if serving.
  • 2:50pm Set out cranberry sauce. Set out strawberry pretzel salad.
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Want a stress-free Thanksgiving dinner? Find out what you can make-ahead and follow the timeline to get it all done on time!

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Mary Younkin

Mary Younkin

Hi, I’m Mary. I’m the author, cook, photographer, and travel lover behind the scenes here at Barefeet In The Kitchen. I'm also the author of three cookbooks dedicated to making cooking from scratch as simple as possible.

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    • Mary Younkin says

      Hey Laurel, I don’t know why anyone would choose to “sit it out” and not eat on Thanksgiving day, but if that’s your preference, you go right ahead and do that. As for my family, we will absolutely still be enjoying a feast here at home. Do I wish that our extended family could be here with us? I sure do, but there’s always next year. Happy Thanksgiving to you, however you might choose to celebrate or not celebrate this year.

    • Delaney says

      If you mean that she should be “encouraging” people to avoid family gatherings and yadda yadda, I for one, am grateful that I stumbled across a blog that is simply stating the facts and not trying to take a political stance. And, yes, it IS political. I will be celebrating in my way, with whom I want, because here in the USA, the Constitution states that I can. We are not promised tomorrow, let alone another year of holidays, so I will be enjoying my life to its fullest. I’m glad that I was able to come to this site and read about a Thanksgiving Day schedule–which is what I wanted–without hearing about certain topics. FREEDOM is what America is all about and Thanksgiving is SO PIVOTAL to our American beginnings. Happy Thanksgiving!5 stars

    • Mary Younkin says

      I’m so glad that the schedule was helpful, Delaney! It is a beautiful thing to live in America and be able to celebrate however we choose. Happy Thanksgiving!

  1. R says

    I would also suggest doing all cutting & chopping of vegetables (like onions & celery & carrots, ect.) several days a head & storing in the refrigerator, so they are ready to go.
    Thanks so much for the thawing time-table; it will help me to have my turkey done on time.5 stars

  2. Jean says

    Mary, this is the greatest helper. I was thinking of doing some dishes ahead of time but didn’t know if I should. You just confirmed my thoughts. Thank you so much and Happy Thanksgiving.5 stars

    • Mary Younkin says

      Yes! Make those dishes ahead Jean! I love cooking for guests but also love a stress-free holiday and time to enjoy them. Happy Thanksgiving to you as well.