Stress-Free Thanksgiving: 15 Practical Ways to Plan and Prepare

Are you feeling overwhelmed at the thought of hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year? With so much to plan and prepare, it’s easy to let the stress of the holiday get the best of you. But don’t worry, with a bit of planning and preparation, you can have a stress-free Thanksgiving that everyone will enjoy.

For those in a hurry, here are my Thanksgiving tips in a condensed version:

First, start by making a list of everything you need to do before the big day. This includes tasks such as grocery shopping, cleaning, and decorating. By breaking down the tasks into smaller, manageable steps, you’ll be able to tackle them one at a time without feeling overwhelmed. Be sure to delegate tasks to family members or friends who are willing to help out.

Next, plan your menu in advance and consider making some dishes ahead of time. This will not only save you time on Thanksgiving Day, but it will also help you avoid last-minute stress. Don’t forget to take into account any dietary restrictions or preferences of your guests. With a little bit of planning, you can have a delicious and stress-free Thanksgiving dinner that everyone will love.

Now, the rest of the article is for those who want a bit more depth on this topic. Let’s begin with some prep work…

Understanding Thanksgiving Stress

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s the one time a year that my entire family gets together and we easily host 20-30 people throughout the day. But as much as I love the holiday, it has its stressors and I know this to be the case for many people.

Identify Stress Triggers

Recognizing what raises my anxiety has been a game-changer for me. It’s helped me deal with stress before it happens and allowed me to actually enjoy the entire day. Of course, triggers are different for everyone, but some common ones include:

  • Family tensions: Spending time with family members who you don’t get along with can be a major source of stress.
  • Financial pressures: The cost of hosting a Thanksgiving meal or traveling to visit family can be a significant financial burden.
  • Cooking and meal preparation: Preparing a large meal can be stressful, especially if you are trying to make everything perfect.
  • Travel: Traveling during the busy holiday season can be stressful, especially if you encounter delays or other issues.

By identifying your specific stress triggers, you can take steps to minimize their impact on your holiday.

Effects of Stress on Thanksgiving

I think we all understand how stress can dampen a good time. But for many of us, we brush it off and don’t really think about the negative impact it has on us and could have on our Thanksgiving holiday. So let’s look at some of the more impactful effects stress can bring:

  • Reduced enjoyment of the holiday: When you are stressed, it can be difficult to relax and enjoy your time with family and friends.
  • Physical symptoms: Stress can cause physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, and fatigue.
  • Relationship strain: Stress can put a strain on your relationships with family members and friends.
  • Reduced productivity: When you are stressed, it can be difficult to focus and be productive.

So now that we’ve taken a moment to recognize what stress brings to the table, let’s look at some practical things we can do to lessen its effect.

Planning ahead for a Stress-Free Thanksgiving

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As I mentioned earlier, planning ahead is key. I know there are many things you must do in real time, but there are several things that you can do days ahead that really make a difference in managing the stress that comes with planning a big event.

Create a Thanksgiving Checklist

Creating a Thanksgiving checklist is essential if you want to plan ahead and get as much done early as possible. It will help you stay organized and ensure that you don’t forget anything important. Here are some items to include on your checklist:

  • Menu: Plan your Thanksgiving menu, including appetizers, side dishes, main course, and desserts.
  • Guest list: Make a list of all the guests you will be inviting and confirm their attendance.
  • Shopping list: Create a shopping list based on your menu and the number of guests you will be hosting.
  • Decorations: Decide on the decorations you want to use and make a list of what you will need.
  • Cleaning: Schedule time to clean your home before your guests arrive.

Delegate Tasks

Delegating tasks is something hosts/hostesses aren’t fond of doing but it’s really vital if you want to have a stress-free holiday. Just because we are hosting, does not mean we have to do everything. So make sure you’re delegating, it’ll reduce stress and ensure everything gets done on time. And try not to wait until Thanksgiving morning to delegate, people need time to prepare, too.

Here are some tasks you can delegate:

  • Cooking: Ask your guests to bring a dish to share or assign specific dishes for them to prepare.
  • Cleaning: Hire a cleaning service to help you prepare your home for your guests or see if someone on your guest list would like to be in charge of Thanksgiving dishes, etc.
  • Decorating: Ask a family member or friend to help you decorate your home.
  • Shopping: Assign someone to help you with your shopping or order groceries online.

Prep Your Refrigerator

Now we’re getting into the really practical stuff. Prepping your fridge should be high on your list because once it comes down to the wire, having no room in the fridge with things crammed everywhere is a sure way to build stress.

Take just 20 minutes to go through your fridge. Throw away all those leftovers that never got eaten, and any other unwanted and out-of-date items you have lurking in your refrigerator. You’re going to need tons of space for that Thanksgiving feast you’re planning. So, clear out the fridge before heading to the store and you’ll have plenty of room for what you’ll need.


If you are hosting more than just yourself this Thanksgiving holiday, then you really want to consider decluttering the main spaces where everyone will be. This will keep those spaces looking clean and will prevent things from getting broken if you have little ones running around. All of which will aid you in feeling stress-free and relaxed.

Start Shopping Early

It’s always best to start shopping as early as possible before a big event. This is especially true for Thanksgiving preparation, as the grocery stores can get super busy. The earlier you start, the better chance you’ve got of getting what you need. Allow yourself plenty of time, as this trip could be a long one. Be sure to write out a list so you don’t forget anything!

Better yet, let someone else do the shopping for you. No, I’m not talking about delegating here, I know that not everyone likes to leave the shopping to others. I’m talking about ordering online and picking your order up at your local store. I do this every week and it started years ago during the holidays. This will save you an incredible amount of time and stress!

Run Inventory

Did you have enough pie dishes last year? Did you need a turkey baster? Meat thermometer? There are things we only use at certain times of the year and we often don’t think of replacing or adding to those items until we need them. By then, the grocery store might be closed and we’re stuck with whatever we have available. So taking time to go over the menu and the things we’ll need to make each dish might help prevent some panic come Thanksgiving day.

Get Cooking

Being stuck in a hot, humid kitchen while everyone’s celebrating is no fun. So, it’s a great idea to prepare much of the food ahead of time. The turkey is the hardest thing to cook and takes the longest. So, reading up on the best way to cook a turkey and doing this as soon as possible is really wise.

You can cook your turkey ahead of time, debone it then freeze the meat in its juices or broth. Reheating it will leave it super moist and flavorful.

Let me give you one other tip, while we’re on the subject of turkeys. If you have problems with your turkey going dry or you forgot to thaw your turkey in time, don’t worry about a thing. Did you know you can cook a frozen turkey?

You can, and let me tell you, they’re some of the best turkeys I’ve ever had. Juiciest, too. So if you hate thawing turkeys like I do, cook them frozen instead. This article is great for cooking times.

Freeze Food in Advance

Growing up in Nebraska, we had access to so many wonderful orchards and pumpkin patches. Many autumns, my mom would partner with a friend (and all of us kids helped) to make up dozens of pies to freeze for the holidays. It was such a timesaver come Thanksgiving when all we had to do was pull it out of the freezer and cook it. (If you don’t want to freeze the entire pie in advance, just freeze the pie dough and add the ingredients when you’re ready to cook it.)

Some other great things to freeze ahead of time are appetizers, broth/gravy, sauces, dinner rolls, and casseroles. These will free you up in the kitchen if all the prep work/cooking gets done early.

Food Prep

A few days before Thanksgiving, you could start prepping some of your dishes early. If there are a lot of veggies to cut, cut them all at once then put them in labeled ziploc bags and freeze them or store them in the fridge until they’re needed.

If you can, portion out frozen dinner rolls on a cooking sheet then place them back in the freezer until they’re ready to go in the oven. Cook and shred meat, then portion for each recipe. These are just a couple of ideas for prepping food before the holiday meal.

Organize Your Table

I love a beautifully decorated table. But I’m horrible at creating one. My daughters love to decorate so I usually leave that to them. If you don’t have anyone to do this for you and you don’t like doing it yourself, you can always purchase ready-made kits.

Have Activities on Hand

There’s nothing worse than slaving over a hot stove and having a rotation of children asking about dinner. Head them off with some fun activities for them to do while they wait. You can automatically download this Thanksgiving Activity Page for free!

Thanksgiving activity page for kids

Maintaining a Positive Mindset

Once you’ve done all the prep work for a stress-free Thanksgiving, it’s time to work on your mindset. Here are some tips to help you stay positive during the holiday season.

Practice Gratitude

I mean, this should really go without saying, it is what Thanksgiving is all about, right? But I know we’re all human and things get in the way of this important practice. But it doesn’t have to. In fact, it can and should be something we do every day.

You can start by taking a few minutes each day to reflect on the things you are thankful for. This can be as simple as writing down three things you are grateful for each day. By focusing on the positive aspects of your life, you can reduce stress and improve your overall well-being.

Embrace Imperfections

Thanksgiving is a time to come together with family and friends, but it’s also a time when things can go wrong. Maybe the turkey is overcooked or the cranberry sauce is too tart. Instead of getting upset, try to embrace these imperfections.

Remember that Thanksgiving is about spending time with loved ones, not about having a perfect meal. It’s a time to come together and reflect on the real meaning of Thanksgiving.

Post-Thanksgiving Recovery

Once you make it through the stress of hosting Thanksgiving, it’s time to focus on recovering. Here are some tips to help you unwind and relax after the big feast.

Rest and Relaxation

First and foremost, give yourself permission to take it easy. You’ve been working hard preparing for the holiday, and you deserve some downtime. Take a nap, read a book, or watch a movie. Whatever you do, make sure it’s something that helps you unwind and recharge.

Reflecting on the Experience

Take some time to reflect on your Thanksgiving experience. What went well? What could have been better? Did you enjoy spending time with your family and friends? Were there any conflicts or disagreements that you need to address?

Reflecting on the holiday can help you identify areas for improvement and make plans for next year. It can also help you appreciate the good moments and memories from the day.

Remember, recovering from the stress of Thanksgiving is just as important as preparing for it. Take care of yourself and enjoy some well-deserved rest and relaxation.

I hope this post gave you some useful tips for making your holiday special and stress-free and that you get to leave here with a game plan. But above all, I hope for you a wonderful, and stress-free, Thanksgiving!

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