Thanksgiving Dinner Plan: A Dinner Guide

Thanksgiving dinner planning

Table of Contents

Gratitude is good for your mental health – so says Harvard, Forbes and Psychology Today. It stands to reason then that Thanksgiving should deliver a high-dose of concentrated well-being.

True maybe for your guests, but if you’re orchestrating a multi-course meal, Thanksgiving can feel pretty stressful.

No matter how grateful you are for friends and family, there are those moments where it all seems like too much. Too much shopping, too many dishes and way too many last minute pressures.

Does it need to be so stressful?

When the dishes are cleared and you’ve had a glass of wine, you realize, ok, maybe some of that pressure was self-imposed. Maybe it didn’t need to feel so crazy.

So how can you skip the stress and get straight to the cheer?

Well, of course, before you pull on your apron, prep yourself a nice bubbly cup of Natural Calm – the anti-stress drink. Breathe deep, and take what tips you may from this guide to calmful dinner planning. Here’s part one – stay tuned for part two.


Before you so much as price check turkeys, reach out, by which I mean check-in with your invitees. A quick note to confirm plans should get the conversation rolling.

If your guests offer to bring a dish, don’t be a hero: accept, and while you’re at it, be strategic. Resist the urge to say, ‘Oh, just bring anything at all. Maybe an appetizer?’

Appetizers are fabulous, for cocktail parties, but you are about to feed your guests in a substantial way. They don’t need hot cheese dip, or phyllo-wrapped brie.

Your best bet is to ask your volunteering guests to bring a salad or dessert. These are time-intensive, but keep well and don’t generally need to be served at a perfect temperature.

What you don’t want are last-minute contributions that require your attention or appliances. That’s just too stressful.

And you may be in charge of the meal, but you shouldn’t have to do everything else. If you share your home, get very clear on what roles your partner or kids can play. Here are a number of tasks that you should be able to delegate well in advance of the main event:

  • Grocery shopping
  • Cleaning the house
  • Washing the dishes made during meal prep
  • Making a music playlist
  • Spot-checking (or polishing) silverware, dinnerware, and all glassware or crystal
  • Setting the table
  • Garbage duty, before and during the party
  • Greeting guest, taking coats, getting drinks
  • Lighting candles
  • Setting out hot dishes
  • Carving the turkey
  • Keeping drinks filled
  • Making and serving coffee and tea

Even if their only job is to steer clear of the party zone, get that agreement signed-off so that you’re not raging with frustration on the day-of.


If the majority of the food prep is up to you, you’ll want to approach it strategically. Here are a few ways to tame the madness:

  • Go with what you know – at least for 50% of the dishes. Trying new recipes can fire up your creative juices, so we get it if you want to mix things up a bit. Just choose a few tried-and-true dishes that you can pull-off in your sleep. Save your mental energy for the uncharted recipe territory.
  • Plan the menu when you’re full. If you’ve ever made the mistake of opening Pinterest on an empty stomach, you know why. A hungry stomach will create a mad, mad menu that no reasonable human could comfortably consume.
  • Think make-ahead. The biggest challenge with holiday meal prep is around oven logistics. What with all of the gorgeous casseroles and roast veggies, it can be easy to forget that we’re not working in a studio kitchen. In the resources section below you will find links to make-ahead recipe compilations.
  • Avoid crazy-making ingredients. Before you add a recipe to your definitive menu, check to see whether sourcing the ingredients is going to be an exercise in frustration. Need chorizo? Saffron? Don’t assume your 50,000 square foot grocery store will have these on hand. Heart set on a statement recipe with hard-to-get ingredients? See if the tricky items can be bought well in advance.
  • Outsource strategically. Is baking your own rolls really adding value? Unless it’s a labour of love, let the professionals take care of breads and buns. It’s so easy – and inexpensive – to buy really excellent bread, there’s little reason to DIY. Some people might say the same about dessert…but hopefully, you’ll let your helpful guests take care of the sweet finale.

Here are some Thanksgiving recipe and planning resources to help:

Next, let’ll tackle strategic shopping, including how to keep it all under control as the big day approaches, plus how to keep the mayhem in check on Thanksgiving day.

Are you with us? Here we go!


Divide and conquer. This takes a few extra minutes, but as you plan your menu, divide your shopping list into non-perishables, slow-perishables and fast-perishables.

Get the non-perishables as soon as possible; pick up slow-perishables (things like meat, dairy, squashes, turnips and potatoes) several days before the big event, and leave only the very perishable items for the day before: fresh bread, for example.

Do a cost-benefit analysis on grocery delivery. It is such a time-saver to order online, skip the crowded aisles, the parking lot and the struggle with bags. Once you get the hang of it, you can do a big grocery shop in 10 or so minutes – compared to an hour in-person.

Sound like a luxury? Look for low-fee or no-fee delivery offers from the grocers near you. You may get free delivery over a certain purchase amount, or on certain days. Even if there is a fee involved – say, $10 – you might find that the price of gas plus your time, makes this rate a real bargain.


By a few days before the big event, you have a good idea of what needs to be done. Get it out of your head and down on paper. Go so far as to list tasks out in sequence, with a timeline. If you’re working as a team, create a separate list for everyone who has a role (hint: partner, kids).

You’ll hear a lot of advice around setting up your kitchen equipment in advance; arranging your tools, your ingredients in a logical fashion. It sounds good, but of course, everyone has their own system in the kitchen. When it comes to the actual mechanics of whipping it all together, you know what you need to do.

will say that true calm starts with taking care of yourself, and so…


Stress peaks when we’re physically drained. Make sure you have what you need to keep up your energy and stay calm. For example:

  • Fill up a few bottles of water to have on hand. It’s amazing how many hours can pass in the kitchen, within easy reach of the tap, without taking the time to rehydrate.
  • Better yet, dissolve some Natural Calm in a small amount of hot water, then add that solution to your cold water. You’ll have a naturally calming drink to sip all day!
  • Prepare small, healthy foods to grab on the go during meal prep. Don’t leave your own nourishment to chance – even if you are saving room for the big meal. It’s better to keep your blood sugar level and come to the table with a reasonable – not a ravenous – appetite.
  • Block out some time out for a walk or a quick workout during the day. Ask a partner to watch the oven, if necessary, but do get out. You won’t feel like a truly gracious host if you’ve been slaving over a hot stove all day.

Notice a theme here? It’s all about pre-empting stress.

While planning, take a few moments to remember your past hosting successes and failures. What went well? What didn’t? Why? Were there particular moments where you thought you would lose your mind?

My stress always peaks in the half-hour before the meal is served. At that point, it’s no longer just me in the kitchen, unobserved, silent, master of my domain. It’s me crushed into a corner of the kitchen fielding a lot of questions and well-intentioned offers of help.

Am I alone on this one? I think not.

It’s just a short window of time, but when I think of hosting, I think of those moments. It’s a pattern I need to break.

If this sounds familiar, here’s what I propose:

  • Make the kitchen a no-go zone. (Alright, not really friendly, is it?)
  • Enlist a partner to take on the host role, even if that partner is another guest. Ask them to arrive early to get the lay of the land. Their role should be to get guests what they need and gently steer them clear of the kitchen.
  • Decide which tasks you can delegate to those guests who are determined to lend a hand at the last minute. Make it something that requires little explanation from you.

These are just three easy ideas, simple to execute, but I had to make a bit of a mental shift to get there. I had to think, ‘Alright, what can I do to make things different this year?”

What about you? What trips you up, and what are your best strategies for a stress-less Thanksgiving? Leave us a comment here or on our Facebook page.

Get the best of the
Stay Calm blog sent to your inbox

From The Stay Calm Blog