10 Thanksgiving Dinner Time Management Tips

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Are you preparing Thanksgiving dinner this year for your family and friends?

Do you need help managing your time in the kitchen?

Thanksgiving dinner planning requires a lot of work.

There’s menu planning, followed by grocery shopping, not to mention the preparation and serving of food!

So, just how are you supposed to keep everything streamlined and on schedule?

In this post, I offer ten time management tips to help you manage the complicated ritual of preparing a Thanksgiving dinner.

These tips offer some helpful pointers when it comes to planning and preparation.

Get ready, it’s time to manage your time…the smart way!


Choose dishes that require minimal preparation.

Thanksgiving dinner is not the time to choose five complex, overly laborious, and time-consuming menu items.

You’ll be attending to many different things at once on Thanksgiving day, so it’s important to plan smart so you can properly manage your time.

One easy way to do this is to select simple recipes or dish preparations that require minimal preparation steps.

You’ll spend less time overall chopping, slicing, dicing, mixing, roasting, baking, grilling, and finishing recipes.

But what if you’re really set on preparing a complex dish for the holiday?

Select one key dish and be sure to factor in extra preparation time for your masterpiece.

Once you have your complex dish in mind, you’ll want to make sure you balance the preparation of this dish with a collection of basic menu items.

Create a meal preparation timeline.

A meal preparation timeline can help you easily keep track of items on Thanksgiving Day. This document includes your targeted dinner time, as well as the preparation times, and stages for each of your dishes.

You can create your timeline with pencil and a sheet of paper or you can put together a spreadsheet on your computer.

It’s extremely important you make a list of the dishes you’re going to prepare before you create your timeline. You’ll also want to have recipes or instructions for each of the dishes, as well as your estimated dinner time.

Once you have everything gathered, you’ll want to work your way backwards from dinnertime, counting all the steps involved. You’ll be factoring all the dishes you’re going to prepare along with their preparation times.

Here’s an example of how to do just that: let’s say you want to have dinner at 6 P.M. You know you’ll need approximately three hours to cook the turkey.

In this case, you’ll want to make plans to prepare the turkey around 1:30 P.M., preheat the oven around 2 P.M., and aim to get the turkey is in the oven by 2:30 P.M., with ample time left for cooking.

Review your kitchen’s resources.

It’s definitely worth taking some time to take inventory of the resources and tools in your kitchen before you begin your dinner preparations.

You want to ensure you have enough kitchen materials and items on hand, from cookware, to utensils, to serving dishes, in order to cook all of your dishes at once.

Otherwise, you’ll have to wait for pots and pans to become available as you cook. Needless to say, this can be quite a trying experience!

How many pots, pans, tables, trays, dishes, and lids do you have in your kitchen? Do you need to purchase items in advance?

Will you need to borrow items from friends and family? If this is case for you, make a note to get in touch and ask for assistance sooner rather than later.

Assign duties to other people.

You shouldn’t have to do all the work on Thanksgiving day. After all, Thanksgiving is a time to share, give thanks, and simply spend time with one another.

Why not get your family and friends involved in the preparation of your meal? When everyone pitches in and does their part, it makes the process less time-consuming for all.

There’s lots of ways people can be of help on Thanksgiving Day. All you have to do is use your imagination.

For example, family and friends can welcome and attend to guests, set the dinner table, refill beverages and snacks, prepare dishes in the kitchen, or be on clean-up brigade washing up dirty pots, pans, cutting boards, and utensils.

Check out this post for tips on how to organize a group of volunteers to help you with meal preparation.

Give yourself more time than you think you’ll need.

Do you think it will take you one hour to prepare a complex dish? Or perhaps 10 minutes to wash, dry, chop, slice, and dice food for three dishes?

If you’re unsure as to how long it will take you to prepare certain dishes, it’s always best to give yourself more time.

You’ll be able to make any corrections to your preparation timeline as necessary, without feeling any undue time pressure.

Don’t be afraid to add in an hour or two (or more!) to your Thanksgiving dinner planning estimations.

Remember, you can always find ways to fill or spend your time in the kitchen.

At the very least, you can give yourself a much-needed break!

Check your progress at the top of every hour.

A great way to stay on track in your Thanksgiving preparations is to review your preparation progress at the start of every hour.

Our family does this each year, and I have to say, it is a handy way to keep track of dishes!

All you have to do is have a clock or watch on hand, pull out your Thanksgiving timeline, and ask yourself these three basic questions:

  1.  Which dishes need to get started?
  2. Which dishes are currently cooking?
  3. Which dishes are almost done?

Once you’ve gone through your timeline, you can then make any adjustments or modifications to dishes as needed.

Prep vegetables the night before.

Who says you have to prepare everything on Thanksgiving Day?

You can save a bunch of time by pre-chopping and pre-cutting vegetables on Thanksgiving Eve.

Which vegetables could you prepare the day or night before? How about cleaning, cutting, and preparing several recipes’ worth of onions, garlic, carrots, celery, and peppers?

Store individual vegetables in air-tight food storage bags or containers, and label as necessary.

And what about those items that quickly turn brown when exposed to air, such as potatoes, apples, and the like? Make a plan to prepare these items early on Thanksgiving Day.

Set dinnertime for later in the day.

At what time do you typically eat Thanksgiving dinner? Is it at 12:00 P.M.? 1 or 2 P.M.?

If your friends, family, and other guests are flexible, see if you can schedule dinner for the latter part of the day.

This way, you won’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn to start preparations for a 12 or 1 P.M. meal!

This slight time adjustment can be a true lifesaver…especially if you’re not an early riser.

Prepare a couple of dishes ahead of time.

Since time is limited on Thanksgiving Day, you should strongly consider preparing a handful of items a day or two in advance.

These dishes should be able to keep relatively well in the refrigerator or larder. Some ideas include baked pies and cakes, as well as cold dishes, such as cranberry sauce and pickles.

Pull out your dinner meal plan and see which of your dishes can be prepared ahead of time. You’ve nothing to lose but a few minutes’ worth of prep time on Thanksgiving Day.

Don’t wait until the last-minute to begin your planning.

As mentioned earlier, it’s extremely difficult to make up for lost time.

Taking even the most basic of preparation steps can be a big help to you as you prepare your meal.

Start planning your Thanksgiving dinner as soon as possible. There’s lots of different things you do in advance: how about brainstorming the dishes you want to prepare, making a grocery list (or two), going shopping for dry and non-perishable goods, sketching out your dinner table centerpiece, preparing holiday decorations, or making seating charts?

This is well-worth repeating, so I’ll say it again: start your planning as soon as you possibly can.

When Thanksgiving Day rolls around, you’ll be extremely thankful you did!

How about you? Which of the above tips resonated most with you? What are you going to change this year for your Thanksgiving day preparations? Join the conversation and leave a comment below!  

Follow Rashelle:
Rashelle Isip is a New York City-based professional organizer and productivity consultant who helps people get organized so they can stress less, have more fun, and be happier at home. Her work has been featured in Good Housekeeping, Fast Company, Cosmopolitan, The Washington Post, Business Insider, and The Atlantic. Get access to her free guide, 10 Simple Ways to Make Your To-Do Lists More Effective, by clicking here.