Before Black Friday, you have to navigate Thanksgiving. This American holiday is the official kick-off for the holiday season and you are planning to host everyone at your house this year. If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of planning your ideal Thanksgiving, here are some important tips for planning and organizing the tasks associated with a successful Thanksgiving meal.

1. Make General Decisions — Now

This means setting the time for your meal, brainstorming the general menu (not specific recipes), making a guest list, and outlining what you’ll need for decor and ambiance. Go ahead and send out invitations as soon as possible so that you can get RSVPs well in advance of shopping.

2. Narrow Your Options

At least two weeks in advance you should be making final choices.  This is the time to finalize the menu, pick recipes, and choose linens, tableware, etc. You may need to test drive a few recipes to choose a winner. This is also when you’ll need to decide how much of this work you can actually handle yourself. Do you need to delegate some cooking or shopping tasks to other family members or ask friends to bring desserts? If you are delegating tasks, those people need to know as soon as possible so that they can plan.

3. Make a Schedule — for Everything

Note what days you’ll shop for which groceries, when you’ll clean the linens, where you’ll store purchased items until they are needed, when you’ll pick up or receive rented tables or chairs, etc. Consider all the following:

  • Can you pre-order a turkey and when can you pick it up?
  • How many days will the turkey need to thaw?
  • How many hours will it take to cook the turkey?
  • Which side dishes and desserts can you make a day or two in advance?
  • Can you make anything a week or two early and freeze it?
  • Can you decorate the weekend before Thanksgiving?
  • Is it possible for you to set the tablescape two or three days early?

Make sure that your schedule for the 24 hours before dinner takes into account all thawing, prep, cooking, and cooling times for individual dishes. You should also include a timeline for storing leftovers to prevent food spoilage and if/how you’ll be sending food home with guests. Don’t forget to include clean up time — and if you’re delegating that to your spouse or children.

4. Enjoy the Process

While there is a lot to get done, each completed step brings you closer to having a wonderful meal with your loved ones. You can prolong this process by getting family members involved in various steps. Have your children help you decorate and set the table together. Invite a sibling or friend over the evening before to bake pies. Take a few moments to smell the turkey, see the smiles of family members, and hug your friends as they arrive.

It all comes down to having a plan, sticking to it, and remembering to be grateful for the opportunity to prepare this meal for your loved ones.

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