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The Ultimate Holiday Entertaining Checklist



Hosting a big party or holiday dinner can be stressful! This year, take action and pull off a flawless feast without breaking a sweat. Divide your workload into manageable tasks with my ultimate

#RetroRad host[ess] with the mostest checklist


One Month to Three Weeks before Thanksgiving: 


🔲Guest List!

Reach out to family and friends the earlier the better to establish a headcount.  

  • Note dietary restrictions!  
  • Note if guests are staying over and write down travel details in your calendar.

🔲Create Menu

When it comes to a big festive feast like Thanksgiving, planning earlier is always better.

  • Perfect time to create a shopping list of perishables and non-perishables.  This will allow you to pick up items slowly throughout the month instead of running through the grocery store in a rush.
  • Order your fresh turkey now.

🔲Make your to-do checklist

List all the little things that must get done prior to Thanksgiving.

🔲Coordinate and Outsource

With guest list is finalized, you can begin coordinating tasks and assigning menu items. Especially if planning a potluck Thanksgiving meal, keep track of who is bringing what to the family feast.

  • Nearby family members can pitch in with perishable items like favorite Thanksgiving side dishes and family members who are traveling can help by grabbing non-perishable items like drinks and decorations.


Two Weeks before Thanksgiving:


Finalize guest list and menu

Make follow up calls to guests.

Map out a cooking timetable to ensure all dishes are done when needed and note which dishes will be made ahead of time.

🔲Prepare make-ahead recipes and freeze

I like to minimize stress by making all the casseroles and baked items ahead of time, and then freezing them to later be warmed up to serving temp on that special day.  I even make cheese balls ahead of time and freeze the base!

Here are my favorite make-ahead holiday dishes:

🔲Make Cheese Ball Wreath 

Cheese balls can be made and frozen and then rolled in toppings on the day ready to set out on cheese board.

🔲Make ahead Scalloped Potatoes and Squash 

Wrap tightly and freeze before baking.

 🔲Make Ahead Green Bean Casserole Stuffed Onions

Gently place in a tight-fitting plastic freezer-proof container and freeze before baking.

🔲Make ahead Cauliflower “Mac” and Cheese

Wrap tightly and freeze before baking.



One Week before Thanksgiving:


🔲Clean out the fridge!

This is the time to give your fridge a wipe down and clean out. Eat all your leftovers and use up marinades, sauces, and extra veggies and sides that will clutter up your valuable storage space.

🔲Take Inventory

Double-check your home to make sure you have enough of everything for everyone. Think napkins, plates, serving bowls, name cards—even ice!

🔲Deep Clean

Clean up the yard and rake the leaves.

Wash bed linens, towels, and blankets for overnight guests.

Deep clean common areas so you will just have to do a quick wipe down and vacuum the day before.

This is a good time to wash or dry-clean (note that your dry cleaners press your linens…this is one of the best time-saving tips) your table linens, too!


Decorate porch and/or front door.

Purchase or make table decorations.

  • Adding little pops of color with pumpkins and gourds and/or running decorative wrapping paper down the center of the table is a great and inexpensive way to add a simple holiday statement.

Plan entertainment especially if children will be attending.

  • Get out Thanksgiving movies or games that kids will love.
  • Will you need a high chair, crib, or booster seat? Get them out and clean, or arrange to borrow these items from a friend or the parent.  If you don’t get to everything in the next week, don’t fret. Family and friends will appreciate your efforts big and small.


Four to Five Days before Thanksgiving:


🔲Go Grocery Shopping

Comb through your pantry, liquor cabinet, and fridge. Make a list of items you’ll need to buy; remember to consider meals for the rest of the weekend if guests are sticking around.

Turkey should be first and foremost if it isn’t already ordered.

If purchasing a frozen bird, allow the turkey to thaw in your fridge for 24 hours for every 4 pounds of turkey.  You can keep a fully thawed turkey in the refrigerator for up to four days before cooking.

Consider purchasing perishables like milk and fresh fruit a day or two before the party so they don’t go bad and clog refrigerator.

🔲Make Ice

Save money on ice by making your own ice cubes now. When they’re frozen, dump them in a freezer bag and begin the next batch.

🔲Plan for Leftovers

Organize to-go containers, bags, and wraps so your Thanksgiving guests can take home the meal’s bounty.

Make sure you have spices, veggies, and stock to remix your leftovers into delicious family favorites like this Slow Cooker Turkey and Sweet Potato Chili or Turkey Glop Flop

🔲Set Up Bar

A self-serve bar is the key to a stress-free party.  

Also, move the bar out of the kitchen to encourage guests to circulate around the house.

Ensure you have all of the tools, glassware, mixers, alcohol, non-alcoholic options, and ice guests need to help themselves.

Including a pitcher or dispenser of a pre-mixed holiday cocktail is an easy option.  Try this Spiced Apple Cider Sangria Spritzer

Things to remember:

Pitcher or dispenser for water

Container for ice

Wine & Beer Opener

Cocktail Napkins



Two to Three Days before Thanksgiving:


🔲Set Table

Wash the good dishware, flatware, and glasses that will be used for the party

🔲Prepare Party Favors

If you feel like going above and beyond this year, send guests home with something sweet and deliciously unique, like these Spiced Maple Ginger Cakes.  Use a made-from-scratch recipe or decorate a batch of plain store-bought cupcakes—either way, your guests will surely appreciate it!

🔲Start Cooking

  • Marinade/Brine Turkey
  • Make gravy
  • Make cranberry sauce and salsa 
  • Make any casseroles that were not made ahead and frozen
  • Cook make-ahead appetizers
  • Cook make-ahead desserts


One Day before Thanksgiving:


🔲Surface Clean

🔲Thaw the Make-Ahead Casseroles and Dishes

🔲Make Pies and Desserts


Thanksgiving Morning:



🔲Turkey Time!

The general rule for cooking a turkey is 20 minutes per pound.  But, remember, the only true test for doneness is the temperature of the meat.  The turkey is done when the thigh meat reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. To get an accurate reading, be sure that your thermometer is not touching the bone.


🔲Make coffee and breakfast and watch the Macy’s Day Parade.

Our family “Go To”  is  Coffeecake 




Four Hours before Thanksgiving:


🔲Make fresh salads

🔲Remove casseroles and items that need to be baked from the refrigerator and bring up to room temperature


Two to Three Hours before Thanksgiving:


🔲Stock bar with ice

🔲Stock bar with chilled drinks

🔲Lay out appetizers and make cheese trays


One Hour before Thanksgiving:


🔲Warm through casseroles and items that need to be baked

🔲Finish gravy

🔲Bring all the refrigerated dishes out to come to room temperature

🔲Unmold jellied dishes



Half Hour before Thanksgiving:


🔲Rest Turkey

🔲Warm Biscuits


Before Dinner:


🔲Give Thanks!

🔲Propose a Toast!

🔲Carve Turkey!


Enjoy a Stress-free Thanksgiving Dinner!