How to Make an Easy Thanksgiving Dinner for Beginners

by Beth - Budget Bytes
Step by Step

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Thanksgiving dinner is a daunting task, even for experienced cooks. It’s a bit of a logic puzzle figuring out how to prepare ten different dishes with one stove and still have everything hot and delicious when it’s time to eat. Luckily, I enjoy puzzles. So I’ve put together this guide on How to Make an Easy Thanksgiving Dinner for Beginners to help guide any newbies out there, and ease you into the rite of passage that is cooking a Thanksgiving dinner.

How to Plan and Cook Thanksgiving Dinner – A Beginner’s Guide

Side view of a simple Thanksgiving dinner table with turkey, green beans, and mashed potatoes

About This Thanksgiving Dinner Guide

This Thanksgiving Dinner for Beginners plan includes a menu of 11 recipes, including: one appetizer, a cocktail, one main dish, seven side dishes, and one dessert. All the recipes are super simple to accommodate new cooks. You don’t want your first attempt at Thanksgiving dinner to be for a crowd of 20, so this menu serves approximately six people, with some leftovers. Start small, my friends. 

The guide also includes a complete prep schedule to help you get everything completed in time for dinner, no matter what time you like to eat your Thanksgiving meal. This Thanksgiving dinner for beginners can be prepared by one person (I’ve done it!), but if you have helpers, that’s even better.

My newsletter subscribers will also receive a pdf of the menu, prep schedule, and a full grocery list! So if you’re not already a subscriber, subscribe here (it’s free!):

THANKSGIVING DINNER GUIDE

Enter your email address below for the FREE Thanksgiving Guide Download. The Guide includes a PDF of the menu, prep schedule, and a full grocery list.

If you want to plan out your own Thanksgiving dinner, or are attending a larger gathering and only need to bring one item, make sure to check out our Holiday Recipes category, Thanksgiving Dinner for Two, and our Friendsgiving Recipe Roundup for more delicious Thanksgiving recipes.

The Shortcuts

I’m all about taking a few shortcuts with Thanksgiving dinner, especially if you’re a beginner. I have included a few simple shortcuts in this plan, to help keep you from pulling out your hair:

  • Store bought pie crust – Pie crust is, on its surface, very easy, but it can take some finesse. Finesse can be learned another time, when you don’t have ten other recipes to cook. ;)
  • Boxed stuffing mix – The stuffing recipe below uses boxed stuffing mix as a base, but is spruced up with a bunch of fresh ingredients. Wrestling with cubing and drying a huge loaf of bread on Thanksgiving is just more work than necessary. Save the from-scratch stuffing for when you’re only in charge of one dish.
  • Roasted turkey pieces – This plan does not include roasting a whole turkey. *pearl clutch* Roasting a whole turkey is a LOT of work. Roasting turkey pieces takes half the time, is way less work, and still insanely delicious. Let’s start there and work up to the whole turkey another year.

Close up view of a full Thanksgiving dinner plate with other dishes on the table in the background

Thanksgiving Dinner Menu

Here are the recipes included in this Thanksgiving Dinner for Beginners plan:

Appetizers/Drinks

Side Dishes

Main Dish

  • Cider Roasted Turkey (double recipe, using a full 4 lb. bone-in, skin-on turkey breast and two drumsticks, roast about 2 hrs. total)

Dessert

So, how do you cook all that with just one oven? Let’s take a look…

Overhead view of a table full of Thanksgiving side dishes

Thanksgiving Dinner Timeline

The Day Before:

COOK:

  1. Maple Brown Butter Pumpkin Pie – cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate.
  2. Cranberry Cream Cheese Dip (make cranberry sauce, assemble the dip and platter the next day) – you have the option to just make a double batch of the plain cranberry sauce and use that for both the appetizer and a side with dinner (the sauce in the appetizer recipe has jalapeño). 
  3. Simple Homemade Cranberry Sauce – cool, then refrigerate.
  4. Garlic Herb Mashed Potatoes – cool, then refrigerate. 

PREP:

  1. Dice sweet potatoes for Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes
  2. Clean and remove stems on green beans for Lemon Butter Green Beans
  3. Chop apple, onion, and Celery for Apple Walnut Stuffing
Basing Cider Roasted Turkey Breast with Apples and Onions

Thanksgiving Day:

4 HOURS BEFORE:

  1. Take 1 stick of butter out of refrigerator to warm to room temperature for Cider Roasted Turkey. 
  2. Make Cornbread Muffins. Allow to cool to room temperature.
  3. Assemble and serve Cranberry Cream Cheese Dip.
  4. Serve Cider Mimosas now, or wait for dinner (save one cup for roasting the turkey).

3 HOURS BEFORE:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF for turkey.
  2. Assemble Cider Roasted Turkey and begin roasting (will take approx. 2 hrs).

2 HOURS BEFORE:

  1. Begin reheating Garlic Herb Mashed Potatoes in a pot on the stove top over low heat (with lid, stir often, and add extra milk to keep it moist, if needed).
  2. Cook Apple Walnut Stuffing. Keep it warm in a pot on the stove top with lid.
  3. Cook Mushroom Herb Gravy. Pour into a gravy boat, cover with foil. 
  4. Assemble Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Pecans to get ready for roasting.

1 HOUR BEFORE:

  1. Remove turkey from oven (check internal temperature first), cover with foil, and let rest.
  2. Turn oven temperature up to 400ºF. Cook Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Pecans.
  3. Cook Lemon Butter Green Beans.

AT DINNER

  1. Assemble and serve Cider Mimosas.
  2. Enjoy the good food, good company, and good memories!

Don’t forget to subscribe to get the free pdf download of the Thanksgiving for Beginners Meal Plan, including prep schedule AND grocery list!

THANKSGIVING DINNER GUIDE

Enter your email address below for the FREE Thanksgiving Guide Download. The Guide includes a PDF of the menu, prep schedule, and a full grocery list.

Close up overhead shot of Apple Walnut Stuffing in the casserole dish with a wooden spoon in the corner

How to Make Cider Mimosas

Since you’ll have leftover apple cider from the Cider Roasted Turkey Breast, might as well make it into a quick cocktail!

  1. Fill champaign flutes half way with apple cider
  2. Top off with sparkling wine (I suggest a Brut or other dry sparkling wine)
  3. Add a small sprig of rosemary for garnish, then serve!

Overhead view of a Maple Brown Butter Pumpkin Pie with a slice cut out, on a plate on the side with whipped cream.

Got questions? Ask away in the comments below. We’ll do our best to help you troubleshoot!

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  1. I love you so much! You have saved me again! Although I do have a fool proof turkey recipe your side dishes are going to help me immensely! Thank you!

  2. I wanted to say thank you for this post! Last year we did Thanksgiving with friends but this year we decided to have it just be the two of us. This post and the recipes were so helpful! The food came out hot and right on time. And, the best part, I didn’t feel stressed at all! We left off the cocktail, cranberry cream cheese appetizer and cornbread muffins. I did end up using the recipe for your crockpot mashed potatoes in one crockpot and then in the other one I put your hot buttered apples recipe. Those were excellent and took one more thing off my plate that I had to watch! Again, thank you so much for this!

    1. I’m so glad this helped you have an easy, stress-free, and enjoyable holiday!! That’s the best thing I could hear. :)

  3. Hi there!

    Hosting this year, but in someone else’s kitchen!! I plan to follow your guide, but could you make a list of cooking equipment required? I know the person I am going to doesn’t have a ton of equipment on hand. I’m planning to make the following:

    Cider Roasted Turkey
    Garlic Herb Mashed Potatoes
    Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Pecans
    Cornbread Muffin
    Maple Brown Butter Pumpkin pie
    Lemon Butter Green Beans
    Apple Walnut Stuffing
    Mushroom Herb Gravy

  4. I will be using this menu and tips again this year. I followed your menu closely last year (except I made scalloped potatoes instead of mashed), added a salad, and two vegan items for a family member, and cooked a whole turkey instead of just the breast and thanksgiving was a hit! The The turkey was delicious and even the people who don’t like turkey loved it! The turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, and pie were the definite winners that evening but everything was delicious! I managed to cook for about 15 people and everything was finished right on time! Thank you for this and can’t wait to do it again this year on a smaller scale! 

  5. Thank you thank you thank you! went from 2-person “let’s just have our favorites” to 6-person “let’s all have dinner together!” overnight. Your menu, schedule (LOVE IT! – that’s the hardest part for me) and grocery list will make this possible. I will toast you on Thanksgiving Day :) .

  6. (don’t kill me) but we don’t care for turkey in my household so we end up doing a sous vide prime rib roast and sear it on the grill when it’s done. I love that it frees up the oven for more yummy sides!

    But for a new cook, this guide looks amazing and so helpful. Great job Beth!

  7. I don’t see the subscription link in the article! :( I’d love to subscribe, if you don’t mind adding it in.

    1. Hi Cat! It’s right in the middle of the post after the About this Thanksgiving Guide Paragraph. If you still can’t see it, shoot me an email at support@budgetbytes.com and we’ll get you started!

  8. One time we made an entire Thanksgiving dinner with one mixing bowl and a very small kitchen in Boston – we created a flowchart to figure out when we could/should do what! It is definitely a puzzle :)

  9. This is a WONDERFUL feature. My mom started a family thing we continue using up to this day–one new dish every year. Usually this is minor–a new veggie added to the traditional mix, a new twist on a dessert, etc. Often these show up again and enter the family traditions. This menu already has a number of riffs on the traditional. We dropped roasting a whole turkey some years ago and use our smoker for a turkey breast. The downside of that is no pan drippings for gravy, but that’s minor. More recently we upgraded the mashed potatoes and candied sweet potatoes for diced oven roasted sweet potatoes in combo with chopped onions, red bell pepper, garlic, and rosemary. I still play with some of the other pieces, ie a delicious cranberry apple chutney that appeared last year will get an encore this time. Cornbread and pecan dressing still rules at our house, but I’m going to try your cranberry dip.as this year’s variation, and love the lighter green bean side!