13 Thanksgiving Shortcuts to Get Dinner on the Table Fast

Get dinner on the table quicker this Thanksgiving so you can spend less time in the kitchen and more time enjoying your guests.

Published October 23, 2023
Smiling woman cutting eggplant vegetable in kitchen

When you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner, you need all the help you can get when it comes to getting everything on the table in time. What you need are Thanksgiving shortcuts that actually work while helping you relax and enjoy the holiday. These hosting and meal prep tips will make all your guests grateful for an invitation.

Prep the Week Before Thanksgiving

Saving yourself time on Thanksgiving Day starts with planning for the days leading up to the big event. As you’re looking ahead to everyone’s favorite Thursday, add these shortcuts to your to-do list to save time (and effort) in the long run. 

woman coming home from grocery shopping and taking out fresh fruits and vegetables

Decide What You'll Make From Scratch

Your grandmother’s green bean casserole recipe and your mom’s unmatched stuffing are a must. If there are Thanksgiving dishes that just can’t be duplicated with order-in or a boxed version, decide ahead of time what you’re making from scratch, so you can ensure you have everything you need and enough time to get it made.

Place Orders for Takeout Items

While you’re planning your Thanksgiving (or Friendsgiving) menu, decide on what sides you can order from a local eatery. Take some pressure off yourself and order a few sides ahead of time so you can spend less time stressing in the kitchen and more time enjoying yourself.

Ask Guests to Provide Sides or Desserts

You don’t have to make all the food just because you’re the Thanksgiving host this year. In fact, your guests would probably love to show off their own culinary skills (or the treats from their local bakery). Ask them to bring a favorite dish to share and to take some of the pressure off of you.

Schedule Tasks for Every Day Leading Up to Thanksgiving

You've heard of a brain dump. This is the Thanksgiving version. Write down everything you need to do on each day leading up to Turkey Day. Schedule time for every grocery shopping trip, meal prep process, and decorating task. 

Pick Up Disposable Casserole Pans

While you're shopping for the cranberries and pie crusts, take a trip down the baking aisle and grab a few aluminum casserole pans. It’s not just the meal prep that demands your time, it’s the cleanup as well. Get ahead of the game and skip scrubbing baked-on green beans from your favorite dish. Disposable casserole dishes are major time savers and make it easy to send guests home with leftovers.

Plan for Success the Day Before Thanksgiving

The day before the day is all about prepping. This is your ideal time to do as much as you can to buffer the workload on Thanksgiving Day.

Woman preparing Thanksgiving dinner in the kitchen

Measure Out Ingredients for the Next Day

Spices for the pumpkin pie, everything you need for the mashed potatoes, and that long list of ingredients for the new recipe you're trying can really add up. Save yourself all those trips to the pantry (and searching for your long-lost measuring spoons) by pre-measuring all your ingredients.

Make as Much Ahead as Possible

Sometimes the trick to saving time is spending some time getting ahead of schedule. If there is a side, dessert, or drink that can be made ahead of time, you can tackle it the day before. It might feel like more time spent in the beginning, but by the time you’re in the midst of Thanksgiving day chaos, you’ll be grateful you planned ahead. 

Set the Table the Night Before

If there’s something you can take off your plate the night before the meal, you’ll relieve yourself of potential stress. If you don’t have to worry about curious pets or children, you can set your table the night before so you can focus on food prep Thanksgiving day.

Quick Tip

Throw an additional table cloth over your set table to prevent any dust or debris from gathering on plates.

Make Sure Your Dishwasher Is Empty

There’s nothing worse than going to load your dishwasher and realizing it was never unloaded from the last cycle. Take a few minutes the day before the meal prep madness to empty your dishwasher and get it ready for its most important job of the year.

Arrange Dishes & Serving Utensils on the Counter

Save yourself the crashing pans and frustration of searching for a casserole dish in the middle of meal prep. Set out all your dishes and their accompanying serving utensils to make sure every side is accounted for. 

Helpful Hack

Use Post-It notes to label your dishes so every recipe ends up in its proper place, especially when you have a few helping hands in the kitchen. 

Thanksgiving Day Shortcuts for the Perfect Meal

It's crunch time. The big day is here and you need every spare second you can get. Try these shortcuts on Thanksgiving Day to get dinner on the table fast and start raking in those grateful compliments.

Prep Some Dishes in Your Slow Cooker

A crowded oven and the stress of getting every dish prepared in such a way that everything is still warm is Thanksgiving day stress that you don’t need. You can use your slow cooker to prepare side dishes, make desserts, and just keep pre-made dishes warm. 

Quick Tip

You can also use your slow cooker to make hot cider or hot chocolate so your guests can enjoy a cozy beverage while you're prepping those final details.

Use Sliced Deli Turkey

There’s no rule book saying you have to make a whole turkey in your oven. Since it’s the Thanksgiving menu item that takes the longest to cook, you might want to consider swapping it for a quicker option. Pre-sliced deli turkey provides the traditional Thanksgiving main dish everyone looks forward to without all the effort. Besides, everyone is coming for the sides anyway, right?

Skip Things Only One or Two People Enjoy

It's okay if you don't want to make the candied yams just because your third cousin loves them. If only one or two people will be eating a certain dish, consider skipping it altogether to save yourself some time.

Need to Know

If there is a side someone insists on having, you can always encourage them to bring their version of the beloved dish.

Tips for Quick Cleanup on Thanksgiving

Once you've successfully gotten dinner on the table, don't spend the remainder of your time in the kitchen cleaning. Try these hacks for quick cleanup so you can enjoy the rest of the evening with your guests.

  • Disposable plates, utensils, and cups make cleanup fast.
  • Ask guests to bring take-away containers so you can divide the leftovers and save space in your refrigerator.
  • Run a sink of hot, soapy water before you sit down for the meal so you can start soaking pans and plates right away.
  • Accept (or ask for) help and let guests assist with wiping down tables, gathering plates, or collecting garbage.
  • Tidy up as much as you can between bake times and prepping dishes. 
  • Clear plates before you serve dessert so those dishes can start soaking or take a turn in the dishwasher.

You'll Be Grateful You Planned Ahead

When it finally comes time to execute this stellar Thanksgiving plan of yours, you'll be so glad you planned ahead for a seamless day of hosting. With determination and a few helpful hacks, you'll be sitting down to the best meal of the year in no time.

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13 Thanksgiving Shortcuts to Get Dinner on the Table Fast