Tips for Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is right around the corner – yikes! – literally only 19 days away. While we are still in the midst of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, small gatherings are once again happening this year for friends and family to celebrate and be thankful together.

What if it is your first time hosting Thanksgiving dinner for your family?

This mere thought can send anyone into a full-panic-attack mode in a second. Don’t fret! The easiest thing to remember when it comes to planning a meal for family and friends is to have a game plan in place. So that means putting on your thinking cap and making some lists.

How Many People Are You Inviting/Expecting?

In order for your holiday meal to be a success, you need to plan on how many people will be attending – including the children. You don’t want to find yourself in a position where you don’t have enough food for everyone, so getting a headcount is important. Once you know how many guests you will have, you can start planning a menu.

Menu Planning Time

This is the most fun part – for me. I love mixing things up and adding something new to the table each year along with the traditional staples which include turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, etc. Although I must admit – I get a little tired of making the same old same old sides every year – which is why I pop over to Pinterest to find some inspiration. You can check out my Thanksgiving food board if you need some inspiration as well.

Once you have a menu planned – write it out! Having a written menu (with ingredients) will ensure you don’t have to make last-minute trips to the grocery store while preparing the meal. Don’t forget to add appetizers and drinks to your menu as well! You know Uncle Johnny is going to want his bourbon and coke the minute he walks in the door, and the kids are going to want some appetizers to snack on while they wait. You want to make sure you have everything you need on hand when you begin to cook and bake!

Make It Ahead of Time!

Lord knows if you have a small kitchen or limited counter space, there is no way you are going to be able to cook a full menu all in one day. You want to be able to enjoy your friends and family and not be in the kitchen downing a bottle of wine because you’re stressed the eff out. My motto? Cook EVERYTHING in advance that you can – and that includes meal prep – such as cutting, chopping, dicing, etc. Most prep work can be done 24-48 hours ahead of time and items stored in Tupperware or Ziploc bags until they are needed.

Let’s Talk Turkey

Want to know a secret? I hate cooking the turkey! I am much better at working with the side dishes and trimmings. The turkey is the star of the show though but don’t allow it to overwhelm you or intimidate you. A few things to keep in mind:

  • What size turkey do you need to feed your guests? The rule of thumb is to have 1 pound per person
  • How long do you need to cook the turkey? The rule of thumb is 13 minutes per pound at 350 degrees fahrenheit for an UNSTUFFED turkey – there is a great chart that you will find useful on allrecipes with a chart as well to show you cooking times.
  • How long do you need to thaw a frozen turkey? I always turn to the experts at Butterball for this. There are two methods – cold water thawing or refrigerator thawing. Now, if you’ve been doing meal prep in advance – you may not have room in the fridge for a gigantic turkey. Butterball recommends buying a fresh whole turkey if you are running low on time – but with the global shortages in place this year, that may or may not be an option where you live. Refrigerator thawing usually takes 24 hours for every 4 pounds of turkey – so if you get a 16 pound turkey – that bird is going to be renting space in your fridge 4 days. The cold water method is roughly 30 minutes per pound of turkey, but you need to change the water every 30 minutes to make sure the water is cold and covers the turkey completely. You can get all the details at Butterball.
  • Best stress-free prep of the turkey? My mother always prepared our Thanksgiving turkey at the break of dawn; seriously by 6:00 a.m. our turkey was basted, seasoned, and in the pan ready to cook. This way when it is time to cook the turkey, all you need to do is pop it in the oven.

Take Care of the Little People

One of my fondest memories of Thanksgiving was of my cousins, my brother, and I all seated around the cardboard table off from the main dining table. We had our own little centerpiece on the table and little cups and plates that were just our size. My nana always made sure that our table was just a smaller version of the grown-up table. While the meal was being prepared, we played outside in the snow or in the living room where there were coloring books and crayons, sticker kits where we could make our own turkeys, etc.

Set the Table in Advance

I absolutely loved being able to set the Thanksgiving table at my nana’s house every year. She had a completely different set of dishes and silverware that we only used for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

A beautiful centerpiece with bayberry candles on either side in gold candlesticks, white china dishes with gold trim, and gold flatware, and the shining star of the table was the huge turkey right in the middle (along with the food naturally)!

Get Everything Organized

In order to manage a feast, you need to organize everything you will need for the big meal. Ensure you have enough pans, supplies, baking sheets, leftover containers, serving spoons, china, silverware, etc.

Getting organized also means figuring out how you are going to serve the meal. In our house, I set everything up buffet style and everyone can fix their own plate. There just isn’t enough room on our table for all that food and the decorations too!

Time to Prepare Your Home

Now that you have the kitchen, food, and serving needs taken care of it is time to prep your house for an onslaught of guests. You want your home to be inviting and ready for guests so make sure you have enough seating for everyone – in the living room or family room as well as the dining room. Make sure you have essentials on hand (hand soap, toilet tissue, towels, linens for the beds if you have family coming in early for a few days, etc.).

On the day of and before you get elbow-deep in the kitchen, make sure your drink station is set up and appetizers are in place for when your guests arrive.

Light the fall-scented candles, turn on the essential oils diffuser, put on a fun playlist to play throughout the house, and get everyone in a festive mood. There’s just something about having music playing when people arrive that puts everyone in a party mood.

Some Products to Help You Succeed

  1. Williamsburg Bayberry Candle Tapers with Bayberry Candle Legend
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Last But Not Least …

For the love of all things holy, let your family help you! If Aunt Betty wants to bring her holiday ambrosia dessert, let her! Your Uncle Tom always brings a bottle of something for everyone to drink, let him! Aunt Flo loves cooking and wants to be in the kitchen helping? Put her to work! It’s not uncommon for the men to be glued to the football game on television while the women busy themselves with making sure the kids are entertained and the menu is on track.

Remember this above all else, these are people who love you … so even if you do mess something up – it’s going to be okay. Just relax and enjoy this time together and everything else will work itself out!

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5 Comments

  1. These are all great suggestions. I try to have a plan and do as much prep ahead of time. I hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Great tips, ask people to bring food so you aren’t doing everything. My SIL hosts Thanksgiving and we always bring the pies.

    • I agree Alyce! I’ve had my menu planned out and ingredients purchased … Wednesday we are doing the mac and cheese (it always tastes better after sitting for a day) and hubby has taken care of the pies already (now I just need to keep him out of them until Thursday) and the rest of the sides I can prepare and then reheat once the turkey and ham are almost finished! Nice and stress free – that’s the only way to go!

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