A Meal Hero Thanksgiving Guide  

One of the biggest challenges of a multi-dish meal is getting everything on the table, hot and ready, at the same time. Building a timeline for the days, hours, and minutes leading up to a big feast may sound intimidating, but having a solid plan with steps will save a lot of stress and mental power when it’s go-time, so you can sit down and enjoy! Even if you are hosting a much smaller gathering this year, having a complete Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings will feel even more rewarding with smooth sailing. 

Build the menu 

Crafting the menu and selecting recipes is an opportunity to get creative, while also signing yourself up for what is realistic. When choosing your recipes and before creating a shopping list, be sure to determine the number of guests and if there are any special requests or dietary restrictions. Keep in mind serving platters and bowls, and oven and refrigerator space at this step. Do you need to double, triple, or halve a recipe? Do you want there to be a lot of leftovers? Is there a certain item (I’m looking at you gravy) that’s never enough? Plan to up the recipe and plan accordingly. Once the menu is written, you can start to plan next steps. 

Find recipe inspiration from the Thanksgiving category on Meal Hero’s discovery page, including plenty of drool-worthy plant-based options. Or, search for other recipes directly in the app.  

The Classics: 

Cider-Brined Turkey

Turkey Gravy

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

Sausage Stuffing

Green Beans with Lemon Vinaigrette

Old Fashioned Candied Yams

Drunken Cranberry Sauce

Skillet Cornbread

Really Good Thanksgiving Salad

Pumpkin Pie

Old Fashioned Pecan Pie

Apple Pie

Create a timeline

Once the menu has been decided, and the recipes are gathered, take a look and see which elements or dishes can be made in advance. Depending on how far in advance you write your menu, you can even start some things a week or two in advance, like pie doughs and stocks, which can be frozen easily for later. Set yourself up for success by doing a little at a time leading up to the big day so when Thanksgiving Day rolls around, most of the work will already be done. 

More than a week before:

  • Order turkey
  • Finalize guest list 
  • Create menu
  • Print out recipes and game plan
  • Take inventory of the kitchen, serving dishes, utensils, and equipment 
  • Organize shopping lists

One week before: 

  • First shopping trip
  • Clean and organize fridge, freezers, ice chests, etc.
  • Make and freeze pie dough in disks 
  • Make and freeze stocks and gravy
  • Make and freeze cranberry sauce 
  • Toast and freeze nuts and breadcrumbs

Three days before (Monday):

  • Defrost turkey 
  • 2nd shopping trip
  • Make soups
  • Cube, dry, and toast bread for stuffing
  • Defrost pie dough 

Two days before (Tuesday):

  • Defrost any pre-made items from the freezer in the refrigerator
  • Make turkey brine, vinaigrettes, marinades, and sauces
  • Roll out pie crusts and chill. Pre-bake, if necessary
  • Prep vegetables (mirepoix, yams, green beans). Save scraps for turkey soup!
  • Roast squash for salad

The day before (Wednesday):

  • Prepare and bake pies and other desserts
  • Assemble and bake stuffing, candied yams, and casseroles. Cool completely. Chill overnight 
  • Peel and quarter potatoes, store in cold water in the refrigerator
  • Prepare appetizers to be ready to go tomorrow
  • Set the table
  • Chill the wine
  • Prepare dough if making homemade bread or rolls
  • Brine or dry-brine the turkey. Chill overnight 

Craft a Thanksgiving Day Game Plan

Think like a chef and start strategizing your cooking schedule for maximum time and space efficiency. The best way to time out your cooking is to work backward from dinner time. If you plan to sit down at 6pm, your Game Plan should look something like this:

1:00pm - Remove turkey from brine, pat dry, stuff, and tie legs together.

2:00pm - Turkey goes in the oven

2:15pm: Transfer cranberry sauce to serving bowl

2:30pm: Tidy up, get ready

3:30pm: Make mashed potatoes 

4:30pm: Set out appetizers and pull cold finished dishes from the fridge to take off the chill.

5:00pm: Prepare cornbread batter in skillet

5:15pm: Remove turkey from oven and let rest covered with foil (be sure to account for extra time for cooking, resting, carving, and plating)

5:20pm: Bake cornbread

5:30pm: Reheat potatoes, stuffing, yams, casseroles in the oven 

5:45pm: Reheat green beans in the microwave or oven. Toss with vinaigrette.

5:45pm: Carve and plate turkey while gravy heats on the stovetop. 

5:55pm: Toss and serve salad

6:00pm: Sit down, give thanks and enjoy!

8:00pm: Whip cream and serve with pies

Write shopping lists 

Divide shopping into two lists Start with the ingredients that will be prepared in advance (more than 3-4 days), and save the list for fresh ingredients needed for closer to Thanksgiving Day. Not only will this break up a big shopping trip into more manageable efforts, but it will also give relief to the breadth of your kitchen. Saving more delicate fresh ingredients like salad greens, leafy herbs, or fruit for desserts until later will also ensure higher quality. 

If you really want to go above and beyond and have room to store extra ingredients, you can do a preliminary shop to stock up on hearty, shelf-stable, and frozen  ingredients that will keep for a while to avoid shopping during the peak holiday week. Items like potatoes, yams, onions, garlic, frozen cranberries, wine, and any non-perishables will keep well. 

Make Space

Make the most of stove and oven space by utilizing other appliances for cooking or reheating dishes. You can also fashion a heavy duty cooler into a hot box by placing towel-wrapped casserole dishes inside with a snug lid. This will stay insulated as long as it is unopened. This works best for items that need to stay hot for less than an hour. 

Other alternatives to keep the goods warm, toasty, and ready to go:

Mashed potatoes - Crockpot, Instapot, sous vide, hot box, warm covered grill 

Candied yams - Gravy - Crockpot, Instapot, air fryer, toaster oven, hot box, warm covered grill

Gravy - sous vide, thermos, hot box, warm covered grill

Stuffing - air fryer, toaster oven, hot box, warm covered grill

Casseroles - air fryer, toaster oven, hot box, warm covered grill

Roasted vegetables - air fryer, toaster oven, hot box, warm covered grill

Delegate

Let others help. Assign guests and family members to bring and make drinks, desserts, appetizers, or salad. Have others set the table, help with dishes, and run last minute errands. Many hands make for light work!

Enjoy!

Now sit back, give thanks, pour a glass of wine, and enjoy the fruits of your labors. You’ve earned it!

Leftovers 

Debatably the best part of Thanksgiving - the leftovers. Save what’s left of the turkey and all the bones, vegetable scraps and herbs in a big stock pot covered with cold water and bring to a simmer. The longer it simmers the richer the broth will become. Strain, season, and add leftover turkey meat, noodles or rice, and some sliced carrots and celery for a big bowl of comfort. 

Thanksgiving leftover ideas:

Leftover Stuffing Waffles

Thanksgiving Leftover Breakfast Burritos

Lighter Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich

Thanksgiving Leftovers Pizza

Easy Leftover Turkey Soup

Turkey Risotto 

Mashed Potato Pancakes

Leftover Stuffing Quiche

Leftover Cranberry Sauce Parfait

Pie Crust Cookies

Need Help?

Have questions about the Game Plan or need Thanksgiving tips or advice? Our culinary advisor is here to help. Email us at culinary_expert@mealhero.com for all your holiday meal questions. 


Never miss a blog post

Sign up for our email list to get them straight to your inbox (plus other helpful cooking tips).

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.