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The Ultimate Thanksgiving Dinner Cheat Sheet: all the Essentials Needed for the Perfect Holiday Family Dinner


We are less than one month away from Thanksgiving.  What does that mean?  Well, besides the fact that I am already thinking about pumpkin pie {and cookies}.  It means that the more planning I do ahead of time, the more prepared I will be and the more I will enjoy the day.  

So today I have decided to share all of my tips and tricks for planning the ultimate Thanksgiving dinner in this Thanksgiving Dinner Cheat Sheet.  I want to help take the guess work out of deciding how much to make of each item and what can be made ahead of time.  Because let’s face it, we all want more time with our family and friends.

Now I just want to tell you right now that the meal I am helping you plan is totally traditional.  We are talking turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, sides and dessert.  If you’re planning something different this year then this Thanksgiving Dinner Cheat Sheet can totally help with an estimate but it might not be exact.

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Thanksgiving Dinner Cheat Sheet

Below you are going to find everything you need for taking the stress out of Thanksgiving meal planning.  I have gathered information from my own resources, as well as other places and compiled it into one chart so that you can easily navigate the amounts you are going to need depending on the amount of guest you will have.

I have also given you a pan size conversion into cups.  That way you will know how much each pan will serve.

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Thanksgiving Dinner Cheat Sheet featured by top US food blog, Practically Homemade

Maybe you are only in charge of a couple of items?  This Thanksgiving Dinner Cheat Sheet will totally help you too!  Just find what you are looking for, how many guest you are serving and you are all set.

Thanksgiving Dinner Make Ahead Tips

Alright, so now we know how much of each item to make.  What can be made ahead of time?  Let’s jump in and take one item at a time.


Obviously you can’t cook the turkey ahead of time.  There are however quite a few things that you can do before the big day.  First of all, remember to give it adequate time to defrost if you are not buying it fresh.  This can take a couple of days, so plan ample time.  If you are brining your turkey that can be done up to 3 days ahead of time.  On the other hand, if you like to use a flavored butter on your turkey, it can be made a couple of days ahead and stored until ready to use.

Mashed Potatoes

They can actually be made ahead of time and frozen for up to 3 months.  Just know that when you defrost them that they become a little watery.  All you need to do is to add a little sour cream or cream cheese to them when you heat them up and that will take care of it.  Another idea is to made them early in the day and keep them in your slow cooker on low all day.  This frees up stove top space and gives you extra time right before the big meal.


Yes, gravy can absolutely be made ahead of time and frozen.  The only problem being that you will most likely be making it without the drippings.  Just thaw it out and reheat it when ready.

Cranberry Sauce

I actually suggest that you make this ahead of time.  Cranberry sauce is basically a jam of sorts, so it keeps in the refrigerator well for at least a couple of days and the flavor actually gets better.  It can also be frozen.


Depending on how homemade you go with your stuffing, a lot of things can be made ahead of time.  If you plan to use homemade stock, then I suggest making it ahead of time and freezing it.  Do you make special bread or even cornbread?  Make it ahead and freeze it.  Then everything can be defrosted and put together easily on Turkey Day.

Green Bean Casserole

If you are taking shortcuts with this dish then there isn’t a lot that needs to be made ahead of time.  I would suggest assembling it in the morning and then adding the fried onions right before baking.  But if you are using fresh green beans and fry your own onions, then I would think more about each element and what elements could be prepped ahead.  This Frozen Vegetable Casserole is a fun alternative.

Sweet Potato Casserole

Chunks of sweet potatoes will not freeze well but if you are using a puree then it will freeze nicely.  Otherwise make it the morning and bake before dinner.

Dinner Rolls

Bake ahead of time, freeze and warm up!  Baking bread can be labor intensive, so making it ahead of time will save you a ton of time.  Try these One Rise Crescent Rolls for a quick and delicious option.


Prep each ingredient individually and have the dressing made.  Then everything can be assembled quickly.  A Broccoli Salad is always a nice addition.


There are a few ways that pies can be handled ahead of time.  You could bake the crust ahead of time and add the filling later or you can actually make the pie entirely and freeze it unbaked.  Bake it the day before or morning of for a fresh and delicious pie.  If a no bake pie is more your speed then this No Bake Peanut Butter Pie is easy and tasty.


Have your coffee pot ready to go, so that all you have to do is hit brew.  Chill wine and other beverages that need it in plenty of time.  Mix up a Apple Cider Sangria for an extra special drink.  Also…don’t forget the ice!

Thanksgiving Dinner Cheat Sheet: Countdown Planning

Now if you feel yourself getting a little overwhelmed, the best thing to do is take everything a little at a time.  Plan everything out over a few weeks, so that everything isn’t last minute.  Here is a good guide for getting it all done.

  • 3 weeks outFinalize your guest list, this way you know or at least have a good estimate of how many will be attending.  This helps with not only how much food you need but also how many places at the table you will need and even parking spots outside.  My best advice is that if you are having a house full, plan a buffet dinner and keep things a little simpler.
  • 3 weeks outPlan your menu, if you are like me and like to go traditional then the menu isn’t too hard to plan.  You can however decide what you want guests to bring, that way you can take a few things off of your to do list.
  • 3-2 weeks out – Think about items you might need and get them.  Do you need a turkey roasting pan or a gravy boat?  What items have you been needing or wanting?  Now is a great time to gather them up.
  • 2 weeks out – Make your grocery list.  You know how many guests you are having, you also know what you are having and what others are bringing.  Making a list now should be fairly easy.  It will be a working list but it is good to have one started.  Divide the list into perishable items and non perishable items.
  • 2 weeks out – Shop for drinks.  Drinks are something that you can buy ahead of time, so go ahead and get that out of the way.  Store them in the pantry and refrigerate them a couple of days before Thanksgiving.
  • 2 weeks outClean out your freezer.  Make room for food that you will be making in the next couple of weeks.
  • 2 weeks out – Decide on table decorations.  I would suggest using what you have and keeping it simple.  If you don’t have anything then a quick trip to the grocery store for a few small pumpkins and other tasty treats always works great.
  • 2 weeks outRolls, Pies and Stocks can be made ahead and frozen.
  • 1 week outShop for non perishables -Go to your list and shop the non perishable section of your grocery list.  Don’t forget to buy some containers for leftovers.
  • 1 week outPlan a cooking schedule.  If you have a plan of what needs to be cooked and on what day then you will easily stay on track.
  • 1 week out – If you haven’t already gotten a turkey then now is the time to do so, especially if it needs to be defrosted.
  • 3 days outBuy perishable items.  If items needs prepped, then now is a great time to do so.
  • 2 days out – Make any side dishes that can be made ahead and refrigerated.
  • 1 day outBake pies and prep last minute ingredients.  If your stuffing calls for stale bread then now is a great time to get that done.
  • 1 day outRefrigerate beverages.  Don’t wait until the big day, get it done the day before and take the task off of your plate.
  • Thanksgiving DayPreheat your oven early and get your turkey roasting.  Finish any side dishes that need done while your turkey is roasting.  Finish gravy while turkey is resting and pull salads together.
  • Most of all – Have fun and enjoy yourself!

My biggest piece of advice when planning Thanksgiving dinner or any big meal for that matter is to keep things simple and delegate.  Guests want to be able to contribute, so let them but be specific.  If you need an apple pie, then tell them to bring just that.  The more specific you are with them the easier it is for everyone.

I hope that all of this information is helpful and remember that when you plan a holiday meal, you are helping create traditions and memories for those you love.  Guest may not remember exactly what you served on that day but they will always remember how you made them feel, so enjoy yourself and they will too!.

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