When should I order my Thanksgiving turkey? What side dishes can be made ahead? Can my pies be made the day before? Here is my free downloadable guide to planning your perfect Thanksgiving meal. Plus I share the answers to your Thanksgiving dinner timeline questions with my complete list of tips plus 30 plus healthy recipes to help you plan your menu.

overhead view of the turkey on the platter

This post contains affiliate links. This post was originally published on November 20, 2014.

Free Printable Planner

Below you’ll find the recipes and timeline breakdown, but before we get to that I just wanted to share a very special offer I have for emails subscribers! A complete guide to planning the perfect Thanksgiving holiday. In this downloadable packet you will get:

  • Thanksgiving Checklist
  • Thanksgiving Menu Plan
  • Thanksgiving Grocery List
  • Thanksgiving Shopping List
  • Thanksgiving Guest List
  • Thanksgiving Day Schedule
printable preview

Subscribe now to receive your packet to download today!

Planning Timeline- Countdown to Thanksgiving

3 Weeks to 1 Week Before Thanksgiving

*Now is the time to order your turkey if buying a fresh one.

Make Lists

Once you have downloaded your planner, use the printable to make your shopping list for non-perishible items and foods that can be purchased in advance. Plan your menu, Thanksgiving day timeline and your grocery list. I also make a detailed prep list for myself so that I don’t feel like I have to try to remember everything.

I usually have to make a few shopping lists. I’ll do one big shop the weekend before, and then sometimes a small one on Tuesday or Wednesday for the last-minute fresh items. I also know that it is rare that I can get everything at one store. So I’ll make a small list of specialty items that I know I may have to hunt for.

Buy Non-Perishables

Now is the time to make sure you have all the cooking equipment you need, and stemware etc. I recommend buying a high-quality digital thermometer (like this one.) Whether you are a seasoned pro or if you are cooking a turkey for the first time. It takes the guesswork out of cooking a perfectly roasted turkey. You’ll also want to order a heavy gauge turkey pan with a roasting rack if you do not already have one. This is the one I use.

Now is the time to buy non-perishables and the Booze, wine and beer. Have fun talking to the experts at the local wine shop about what you’ll be serving. I love to have a sparkling rose on hand and fixins for some sort of festive holiday cocktail. {in the name of research I say take these Lemon Drop Pomegranate Martini or Maple Whiskey Sour for a test run this weekend!}

Find a cool dry spot to store the liquor, beer and wine, but note that beer freezes at around 28 degrees so don’t leave it outside if it is going to be cold in your area.

I also stock up on seltzer and juices. And maybe a bottle of sparkling grape juice too for the kiddos. 

Make Plan For House guests

Since we are having out-of-town guests at our house, I will also be making lists for our other meals, and making sure that the linens are ready to go.

Bake ahead and Freeze Meals and Baked Items

If you also having house guests, I would recommend that you freeze anything for the time they are there, Stuffed Shells and Veggie Lasagna are great freeze-ahead ideas. I’m making this awesome sweet potato soup with peanuts and coconut and freezing it for the night before.

Now is also a great time to bake and freeze muffins and quickbreads. Just plan to defrost on Thanksgiving day and then rewarm in the oven to refreshen.

1 Week Before or The Weekend Before

Thaw Frozen Turkey:

If your turkey is frozen it will need to defrost in the refrigerator for four to five days. If you plan to brine your turkey, add an additional day for defrosting.

Sunday before 1 pm: Go grocery Shopping. Saturday during the day the weekend before Thanksgiving is extremely hectic.

My recommendation is that if you can not get to the grocery very early on Saturday morning, it is better to actually wait a day, let the stores restock, and then go. As you know, it will still be more crowded than usual but Sunday morning is not nearly as bad as Saturday.

Thanksgiving Week

Sunday evening: Make pie doughs, wrap and refrigerate. Make salad dressing. Make cranberry sauce.

Monday: Pick up your fresh turkey. By the way, my guide to roasting the perfect Thanksgiving Turkey is here to answer any turkey-specific timeline questions.

Do any small prep jobs that can be done in advance, including toasting nuts, mixing dry ingredients for baking recipes. Make sure napkins are ironed. Make croutons and crostini and store them at room temp in a sealed container once completely cool and dry.

Tuesday: Make any other sauces, soups and dips. Including pesto and white bean puree for the appetizers. Make cornbread for stuffing. Pick up and arrange flowers.

Wednesday: Bake Pies and Prep stuffing. Trim green beans and brussels, peel potatoes and store them in cold water. If making vegetarian entree or casseroles that can be made ahead, you can make that now. If serving anything that needs to be roasted do it today. Buy ice. And before bed, get your turkey in the brine. It will need to be in for 10 to 16 hours.

Thanksgiving Day

Thursday: Paste your Thanksgiving Day Timeline on the kitchen wall. Then go take a moment to workout. Put on your apron, but keep your running shoes on. Roast Turkey. Make the sides, and get lots of helpers. Breathe. Make liberal use of your timers and thermometers. Have fun. Enjoy yourself.

Thanksgiving Recipes

Drinks and Starters

Cranberry Pesto Crostini with ChevreServed with crostini and chevre, it is a simple and flavorful appetizer perfect for the holidays. It takes mere minutes to make and the taste is majorly addictive. Seriously, I couldn’t stop eating these. Yum!

First Course

 Roasted Grapes Crostini with Goat Cheese and Walnuts | These slow-roasted grape crostini with goat cheese and walnuts with a drizzle of honey are truly sublime. They’re a yummy vegetarian appetizer for a fall gathering or they’re also great to serve for a cheese course.

Cranberry Vinaigrette | Cranberry vinaigrette recipe with fresh thyme and shallot. Vegan-friendly, paleo and gluten-free.

Thanksgiving Main Course Recipes

the roasted turkey on a platter from the side

Here is the best Thanksgiving Turkey! It is brined and then roasted with garlic and herbs. 

Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese with Gruyere and Rosemary | This macaroni and cheese with butternut squash is a healthy make-over of classic macaroni and cheese nommed-up with whole-grain pasta, gruyere cheese, rosemary and loads and loads of butternut squash! I’m telling you, it’s the most perfect comfort food casserole ever!!

Thanksgiving Stuffing/Dressing Recipes

Sausage Cranberry Stuffing  | This is the recipe that earned me the nickname of “the Stuffing Lady.” It is that good!

Gluten-free Walnut Kale Quinoa Stuffing | You don’t have to be gluten-free to appreciate this recipe! It has classic stuffing flavors everyone will enjoy!

Cornbread Stuffing with Apples and Pecans| complete make-ahead instructions, a short-cut and a gluten-free option and a vegetarian version as well.

Whole Grain Side Salad Ideas

This Wild Rice Pilaf with Pomegranate Arils or our Pumpkin Quinoa Thanksgiving Quinoa are two more vegetarian sides to consider.

Orange Vegetable Side Dishes for Thanksgiving

Roasted Butternut Squash with Paprika and Turmeric | You’re gonna love this vegan and paleo recipe for roasted butternut squash with smoked paprika and turmeric. Not only is it gluten-free but only takes 10 minutes to get it in the oven.

Air Fried Acorn Squash | Roasted acorn squash made in the Air Fryer is so easy!

5 Spice Mashed Sweet Potatoes | They couldn’t get much silkier- and not a marshmallow in sight.

For simple, no-cut side try Roasted Baby Carrots. And if you need more space in the oven do this Stovetop Cheesy Butternut Squash instead.

Green Vegetable Side Dish Recipes For Thanksgiving

Dirty Green Beans | It’s steamed green beans tossed with fermented black beans (which are fermented and salted black soybeans), shiitakes and garlic. They are totally umami {and a little dirty!}

Brussels Sprouts with Hazelnuts Oregano and Sage  | Steamed Brussels sprouts tossed with garlic, olive oil and butter and flavored with fresh chopped sage, oregano and toasted hazelnuts. A healthy and delicious low-carb, gluten-free and vegetarian side dish for thanksgiving (or the holidays.)

Green Beans with Walnuts and Balsamic | One of my favorite vegetable side dishes of all times, and a reader favorite. Green beans simply prepared with garlic, walnuts and balsamic vinegar. you can’t go wrong! Naturally gluten-free and vegan!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon| With a drizzle of Maple syrup! You do not want to miss this one my friends!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic| Silly easy, but so ddang good with other classic Thanskgiving recipes.

Green Bean Corn Salad | Simple salad made with green beans and sweet corn with cider vinegar and shallot dressing with fresh chopped basil. An easy vegan side salad. {Gluten-free}

More Thanksgiving Side Dish Ideas

Herb Smashed Mashed Potatoes | First of all, leave the potato skins on, because it’s easier and healthier for you. Then steam them until they’re very tender. Then lastly, tumble them with a bit of butter, sharp and tangy farm fresh yogurt and tons of chopped herbs.

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes | If your family is anything like mine, your Thanksgiving table would not be complete without mashed potatoes. Well, then you don’t want to miss these Healthy Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes! They may be lighter in calories with non-fat plain yogurt, but they are far from light on flavor with layer upon layer of yummy garlic!

Cranberry Sauce with Apple and Orange | This Cranberry Sauce with apple and orange has less sugar.  It’s a healthier version of the Thanksgiving classic and it’s vegan, gluten and wheat free!!

Parmesan and Leek Savory Muffins | These Savory Muffins are ready in 50 minutes and make the perfect make-ahead side. You can freeze them and just thaw rewarm for serving!

Mom’s 10 Minute Cranberry Relish| Made with raw cranberries and ground up orange. It is shockingly good and balances the whole meal.

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes| Because at the end of the day it’s really all about the gravy to mashed potato ratio isn’t it?

Thanksgiving Desserts

No Corn Syrup Maple Pecan Tart | Here is a healthy twist on pecan pie for Thanksgiving and the winter holidays. This version has dried cherries and is sweetened by all-natural pure maple syrup. So that means no corn-syrup!

Chocolate Swirl Pumpkin Pie | This Chocolate Swirl Pumpkin Pie will be your family’s new Thanksgiving tradition! It is made with a rich chocolate swirl and creamy spiced pumpkin pie in a home-made whole-wheat crust!