Do you always find yourself dashing around to prepare a spectacular Thanksgiving feast? Save your breath (and your sanity) by planning ahead. Follow this checklist, filled with tips to help you host a smooth and stress-free get-together.

A Week or More Before

  • If you're planning an extended family dinner, coordinate with family members so guests aren't in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between meals.

  • Consider hosting a potluck. As the host, you'll take care of the turkey. Two weeks before the meal, ask guests to bring specific dishes, like sweet potatoes, extra stuffing and gravy, cranberry sauce, vegetables, dessert, wine and so on. Request that people bring serving dishes for their contribution and be responsible for its presentation. Note: The best potluck foods are those that can be served at room temperature.

  • Create a list of everything you'll need to purchase and gather. Include ingredients for all of your dishes, plus candles, table linens, flowers, etc.

  • Take inventory of your dinnerware. If you don't have enough matching china and cutlery, use complementary colors or patterns, or go eclectic by mixing and matching.

  • A few days before Thanksgiving, save food containers and paper bags for packing up leftovers and handing them out to guests on their way out. Bags and newspapers also come in handy for making paper turkeys.

  • Collect chairs, benches and large pillows to ensure ample seating for everyone in the dining- and living-room areas. Folding chairs are fine if you outfit them with a seat cushion or slipcover. Small tables are good for guests to place glasses and dishes on. Cover folding tables with a tablecloth.

The Day Before

  • Bake desserts and side dishes that can be refrigerated and confirm deliveries from food services and caterers.

  • Create a timetable for the cooking that has to be done on Thanksgiving Day so everything will be ready at mealtime.

  • Decide on a table centerpiece. Flowers or collections of candles work well. Line votive candles down the center so the entire table is aglow. Since it's fall, you could also try an arrangement of seasonal fruits and vegetables, such as our Gorgeous Gourds centerpiece. Place pumpkins, gourds and wheat around the house for decorative touches.

  • Prepare yourself, too. Today's a good day to decide what to wear and to mentally take yourself through Thanksgiving Day. Don't worry about potential mishaps. Remember that the important thing is that family and friends are together.

The Day Of

  • Don't forget breakfast. Your family will be happier sitting down to an afternoon feast if their stomachs aren't completely empty.

  • Make the stuffing in the morning and stuff the turkey right before it's ready to go in the oven.

  • Enlist helpers to set the table before guests arrive. Those who are not setting the table can arrange the vegetable plate or other pre-dinner platters. Encourage reluctant children (and adults) to pitch in by announcing that the worst sourpuss will have to scrub the turkey pan at the end of the night.

  • Once guests start to arrive, give each child an assignment, such as greeting the guests at the door, taking people's coats, making a new member of the family feel at home, or getting the younger kids prepared for dinner.

  • The table's set, the guests have arrived, and it's still a while before dinnertime? Suggest that everyone write thank-you notes to family members and friends who couldn't be with you on this night, telling them why you're grateful that they're a part of your life and that you're thinking of them. Have extra stationery, pens and stamps so guests can join in.

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