11/13/2014 04:04 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Your Guide to Stress-Free Thanksgiving Prep

Damon Dahlen, AOL

Laura Gaskill, Houzz Contributor

Hosting Thanksgiving at your house this year? With so many details to coordinate, guests to host and dishes to cook, having a plan will save headaches and pave the way for a beautiful feast you can really feel grateful for. This breakdown of just what to do and when, from the early preparations to Thanksgiving day, can help.

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Two to Three Weeks Ahead

• Make any DIY table decor you'd like to personalize, such as napkin rings, candleholders and place cards.
• Make your shopping lists: one for perishables and another for nonperishables.
• Make your cooking schedule. Look up all the recipes you will be making, noting down cooking times and temperatures, as well as which dishes can be made in advance (and how far in advance).

• Shop for all the items on your nonperishables list, but don't unpack them. Instead leave them neatly packed in their bags and tuck them away in a closet or cupboard. This saves you time putting everything away now -- and helps on turkey day when you don't have to go rummaging around for, say, the canned pumpkin.
• A few extras you may want to think about including: paper takeout containers for handing out leftovers, crayons and butcher paper for the kids' table and wineglass charms or removable stickers for glasses.

The Weekend Before

• Give your house an all-over cleaning. Don't waste your time with hidden areas and deep clutter -- focus on the entryway, bathrooms, dining room and living room.
• Tidy up the front porch, check porch lighting and add a few fresh potted plants or a wreath on the door.
• Clean out the fridge and freezer.
• If you're buying a frozen turkey, pick it up now and begin thawing it in fridge.
• Shop for and begin cooking dishes that can be made ahead and frozen, like pie dough.

• Review the menu and gather all necessary serving pieces and trivets in one spot; use sticky notes to label each platter with the dish it will hold.
• Polish any silver you'll be using.
• If you want to be super organized, print copies of all your Thanksgiving recipes and put them in a presentation binder with clear plastic sleeves. After the big day, you can add notes and shopping lists, and next year you'll be ready to go!

Thanksgiving Week

• Shop for perishables.
• Pick up the turkey if you're buying fresh.
• Unless you made a Thanksgiving binder over the weekend (see above), now is the time to gather your recipes. Pin copies to a bulletin board, tape them to the kitchen wall or at least bookmark them in your cookbooks for easy reference.
• Write the cooking plan (oven temperatures and cooking times) on a whiteboard or tape it to the wall, somewhere that you and your helpers can easily check it.

The Night Before

• Set the dining table if you're serving family style or set up the buffet.
• Put labeled serving dishes and implements on trivets on the table or buffet.
• Tidy up around the house.
• Prep any dishes you can to ease the workload for the next day.
• Put anything you made in advance and froze in the fridge to thaw.
• Set up the kids' table.
• Arrange flowers.
• Put out place cards.

On Thanksgiving Day

• Fill a dishpan with soapy water and use it to clean as you go.
• Start the turkey in the morning and follow your cooking plan.
• If anyone offers to help, accept!
• Wrap up leftovers promptly to avoid food-borne illnesses. If you're giving leftovers to guests, pack the food in takeout containers and store it in the fridge until it's time to go.
• Run a load of dishes in the dishwasher before sitting down to dessert.
• Now sit back and enjoy that pie!


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