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Hosting Thanksgiving? Here's How to Plan Ahead With a 3-Week Countdown

If you're thinking of hosting a sizable group of family and friends for Thanksgiving, it's not too early to start planning it now. Between the cleaning and the shopping, the prepping and the cooking, there's a lot to organize between now and then, but you can do it! And you can do it gracefully. (We're almost inclined to say effortlessly, but planning a meaningful meal for your loved ones should involve some effort.)

Here's a three-week countdown to keep you on track — and on top of your game on game day.

3 Weeks Out:
Start gathering recipes and putting together ideas for the menu. Whether you clip recipes out of magazines the old-fashioned way, or use Pinterest to collect all your favorites, this is a good time to start figuring out what you want to serve your guests. Should there be a theme? Do you want to stick with family classics or cook up a whole new menu? If you plan on roasting a heritage turkey, this would be a good time to reserve one from a local farm. Put a call out for any food restrictions or allergies among your guests, and adjust your menu accordingly.

2 Weeks Out:
Make a shopping list and buy items that will keep for a couple of weeks. If you tend to procrastinate on your grocery shopping — and especially if you tend to forget the small things at the store — this will help you avoid the dreaded same-day grocery runs, grocery lines, and empty shelves. It will also be less overwhelming to spread your shopping out over a couple of weeks rather than buying it all in one run. If your ingredients entail trips to multiple stores, break them up throughout the week: booze one day, exotic spices the next.

Do a practice run with unfamiliar dishes (or tools, appliances, etc.) first. Maybe you want to try baking bread in a cast-iron skillet, or you just got a new grill that you want to roast the turkey in. If you're not familiar with either, test them out before the big day! That way you won't stress if a new recipe or method doesn't work out, and you still have plenty of time to think of alternatives.

One Week Out:
Dust off the linens and the serving platters. Take inventory of your dishware, flatware, and glassware. If you're missing any pieces that you'll need for the recipes you want to make, add them to your shopping (or borrowing) list. (See, aren't you glad you already started shopping for food the week before?)

Start organizing your entertaining rooms — and strive to keep them organized — so that come Thanksgiving week, half your cleaning chores are already checked off. Or, hire a one-time housekeeping service to come in and really give your house a proper buff and shine.

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Three Days Out:
If friends and family are asking how they can help, don't be afraid to delegate! Put the appropriate guests in charge of bringing extra place settings or chairs, making side dishes or desserts (especially if they have food allergies you can't fully accommodate), stocking the bar with wine and cider, or coming early on Thanksgiving day to help you rearrange furniture.

Make a game plan in the kitchen. If you have several things that need to be baked, roasted, or reheated within the last hour before dinner is served, start drawing up a timeline and figuring out how to keep everything warm. Eat all the leftovers still lingering in your fridge so you can make room for the onslaught of new food.

Two Days Out:
Start preparing the dishes that can be made ahead of time and then refrigerated or frozen. Many recipes keep well and can simply be reheated before the guests arrive. Consider making sides like mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, soups, or gratins so you can spend less time cooking on Thanksgiving and more time socializing.

One Day Out:
Prep the rest of your ingredients! Brine the turkey, chop the onions, peel the potatoes, trim the beans, and do whatever else is needed to help you be more efficient in the kitchen the next day. Double-check your shopping list to ensure you haven't forgotten anything. Arrange a mise en place on your counters (a French term for "putting in place," mise en place is the culinary art of prepping and laying out all the ingredients and tools needed before one starts cooking). Do a last-minute dusting and set out candles or other decorations around the house. Get a good night's sleep so you'll wake up relaxed and energized.

Thanksgiving Day:
Don't forget to set aside enough time for you to shower and dress. This is often left out in Thanksgiving day schedules, but it's one of the more important ones: a shower gives you time to breathe, unwind, and recharge if you've been on your feet all day. Congrats, you made it!

For more tips, check out our 3-Point Checklist for Your Thanksgiving Cook-a-Thon!

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