How to Create a Thanksgiving Dinner Timeline

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Are you getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving Day?  How to Create a Thanksgiving Dinner Timeline

Do you need help preparing a Thanksgiving dinner timeline so you can keep track of dishes…and your cooking schedule?

In this post, I offer several tips to help you prepare a convenient and easy-to-follow Thanksgiving dinner timeline.

Keep in mind, you don’t have to prepare a timeline just for Thanksgiving dinner.

These tips can be helpful in preparing a timeline for any large (or small) dinner or meal where you’re doing a lot of chopping, slicing, dicing, simmering, baking, or stewing.

Now, on to the post!


Plan dinner time.

Setting a specific dinnertime makes it easier to create a timeline.

Why? Well, you have a definite finish or ending point.

You know exactly when (give or a take a few minutes) all the various dishes and foods need to be prepared and finished.

That being said, at what time would you like to have dinner?

Early in the afternoon at 1 P.M., or perhaps later in day in the early evening around 6 P.M.?

Be sure to select your dinnertime with care.

Keep in mind, the earlier the dinner, the earlier in the day you will need to begin your preparations.

Organize your timeline by dish preparation.

When it comes to creating your timeline, it can be helpful to plot out the individual dishes you’ll be preparing.

Not only will you keep track of the time, but you’ll also keep track of the preparation progress for individual dishes.

It’s quite helpful to have all your dishes and recipes selected in advance. This way, have specific time references to work with, and can plot out your schedule accordingly.

How should you set up your timeline?

Grab a sheet of paper, and write out a timeline on the left hand side, making sure to end with your selected dinnertime. Then, list out each of your dishes on a single row above the timeline.

Factor in cooling, rising, and resting time.

A dish is done when it comes out of the oven or off the burner, right? This isn’t necessarily so.

Different dishes require different preparation methods. Some foods require time to rise or marinate in advance, while others need to cool or rest after they’ve come out of a hot oven. The same holds true for the actual preparation of dishes, such as cutting, chopping, peeling, soaking, measuring, and so on.

Keeping this in mind, take a second look at your recipes. Make sure you’ve factored in enough time in your timeline for these requirements.

Which dishes need additional preparation time? Which dishes require additional resting or cooling time?

Schedule timeline reviews.

If you want to stay on schedule with your meal preparations, it is imperative you regularly check your progress. A helpful way to do this is to plan regular check-ins over the course of the day. These check-ins will be times when you check the progress of every single dish.

Go ahead and pencil in several check-ins times into your timeline over the course of the day. For example, you could check your timeline at the top of every hour or half-hour or set a timer to go off every 45 minutes or so. When the check-in arrives, take a moment to evaluate the status of each of your dishes.

Select a kitchen-friendly way to display your timeline.

Things will be quite busy in the kitchen, so you’ll want to have a timeline that is easy to read and that you won’t mind getting dirty or messy. Case in point: this may not be the time to create a timeline using your brand new tablet or smart phone!

What are some timeline display options? You could write out your timeline on a large piece of butcher’s paper, and tape or tack it to the back of a door or on a wall.

You could temporarily mount a large white or dry-erase board on the wall.

Likewise, you could print out or create a timeline with pen and paper on a sheet of paper, and use magnets to hold up your timeline on your refrigerator’s door.

Make sure you keep a few pens, pencils, or dry-erase markers handy in order to make quick notes and updates as the day progresses.

How about you? Which of these tips will you keep in the front of your mind as you prepare Thanksgiving dinner? Do you have your own Thanksgiving time management tips that you’d like to share? Join in the conversation and leave a comment below!

A version of this post originally appeared on the blog in 2014.

Want help planning your party or event? I have an eBook and online course that can help you plan everything, from to start to finish. Click here to learn more! 

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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.