Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. I love hosting it anytime I can and even if I’m not hosting, I love to cook couple of dishes to take over wherever we are going. However, hosting Thanksgiving is not an easy gig! There’s so much to worry about and you have to be a magician to have a decorated house, cooked meals on the table and look semi-decent yourself for your guests.
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I’m a planner by nature and I am an engineer by trade, so obviously I LOVE to have processes, backup plans, and lists for this event! In this post I’ll share some of the tips that work for me but also some tips from other bloggers and friends of mine. Hope the tips below will help you plan an easy & enjoyable Thanksgiving:)
1. Decide On a Guest List for Thanksgiving
Decide on a guest list and let people know ahead of time so they can plan for travel arrangements if they’re out of town guests. Always ask for RSVP back no matter which way you choose to send the invitation (formal, verbal, text or Facebook). It will help you to know ahead of time how many people you are cooking for.
2. Plan for a Budget
You’ll want to have a Thanksgiving budget. Nowadays, the stores are full of everything from cookware to beautiful decorations for the house. I, for example, can’t have enough dish towels, dish clothes and candles for the season. It’s honestly an obsession! The stores must know this because they fill up the aisle by the checkout lane with all these things that I can’t resist. If you have a budget you can keep track of what you need to buy and avoid unnecessary buys.
- Decorate The House
Decide based on your style and budget how you want to decorate your house and do that ahead of time. Go all the way out or keep it simple by adding just few pieces like a seasonal wreath, pillows and pumpkins. You can do this right after Halloween and take your time to do it!
- Decorate the Table
Once you know how many people you’re hosting you can decide on how you’ll arrange your table. Plan for a centerpiece, tablecloth, napkins, plates, utensils and any other decorations like candles or napkin rings according to budget and your style. Check against what you already have because chances are a lot of the things you already own can be put to good use. Don’t leave this step for the last few days because it will stress you out! You can decorate the actual table the day before or the morning of Thanksgiving.
- Disposable Plates/Utensils
My friend Tristen (GA) suggests to use disposable plates if you are a busy mom and know your day will be hectic on Thanksgiving. Nowadays, disposables have come a long way and certain brands/stores sell really good quality ones. You can always do fancy another year! I love using some nice plates and sets for this holiday but there’s nothing wrong with using disposables especially when a lot of guests have young kids or you are expecting a big number of guests and don’t have a set big enough to serve all. It so happens, that this year I’ll take Tristen’s advice. We’re hosting and we’ll have family from Texas visiting. We’ll have an outdoors early dinner because it is supposed to be gorgeous outside (Florida weather in November is usually just perfect). So I see it fitting to use disposable plates.
- Enjoy Decorating and Give Yourself Time
My friend Nicole (FL) says: Enjoy taking the time to decorate and plan the evening out!! If you love decorating, then you don’t want to struggle last minute with it. You won’t enjoy it and it’ll stress you out if you are also worrying about food and cooking. Make time to enjoy what you actually enjoy!
4. Plan The Menu (and who’s cooking)
- Decide On An Itemized Menu
Sit down and plan what dishes you’d like to serve on Thanksgiving night. Take into consideration your guests allergies and diets (read more about Eating Lifestyles). This means that you might have to serve Turkey and some other protein side, or a stuffing with no sausage etc etc. Basically make sure you have enough food for everyone.
- Decide Who’s Cooking What
My friend Heather (Canada) suggests doing a potluck. You’ll have enough on your plate with kids, family staying over and cleaning. So potluck might be a great solution! Each of your guests can bring something, but plan for it so you know who’s bringing what. Don’t leave it up to chance because you’ll end up with 10 green bean casseroles and no variety:).
You can also cook all the side dishes yourself and order the turkey from a restaurant already pre-cooked. In this case, be aware that a lot of pre-cooked turkeys still need few hours in the oven. You’ll be left with a lot of hungry people waiting for the turkey
You can cook everything yourself.
You can ask for some guests to bring desserts and drinks.
- Decide What Recipes You Need
Some people have family recipes that they use year after year and some others experiment with recipes. It doesn’t matter if you have a handwritten cookbook or you are a Pinterest pro-browser, look up your recipes and lock them down!
5. Enlist Help
No matter how much you plan for Thanksgiving day, something might go wrong. Your kids might not cooperate or you realize you’re running out of butter etc. Whatever it is, you’ll need an extra set of hands. Your spouse or one of your guests are the best people to ask for help. One of them can keep the kids busy and the other can help you in the kitchen, maybe chopping things or doing that last minute drive for butter or eggs.
6. Shopping List
That’s where having all the recipes from above will come in handy. Make a list of ingredients and quantities for each recipe. Add what’s in common so you can plan accordingly and not run short. For example you’ll need butter for sweet potato casserole, stuffing, turkey and maybe dessert. Add those up so you can buy enough!! Even then I add a stick or two because I always run out.
Decide where you’ll shop and when. The days before Thanksgiving, the stores tend to get a bit crazy so anything that you can store safely and doesn’t spoil buy it maybe the week before.
- Cook Ahead of Time
My friends Breanna (OR), Becky (PA) and Jeannie (NC) from Failure to Thrive No More blog try to cook several side dishes the night before. Refrigerate and bake the last half an hour as needed with toppings. My friend Heather (Canada) pre-assembles the apple crisp but only puts it in the oven after she takes the turkey out. It’ll finish baking while everyone is eating and the house will smell heavenly.
- Use a Toaster Oven
My friend Jane suggests using a toaster oven the day you’re cooking. You can be baking the turkey in the oven and a side dish in the toaster oven. Or you can keep a side dish warm there until it’s time to serve. I agree with Jane and use the toaster oven quite often. See in my Sweet Potato Casserole recipe! Recently I was included in a blogger’s roundup for favorite appliances and the toaster oven was one of my top 3. See my answers here:
- Use the Crock-Pot & Instant Pot
Certain side dishes can be done in the Crock-Pot or Instant Pot. My friend Lisa (CA) prepares the mashed potatoes on the side and them keeps them in the crock-pot so it can stay warm and ready to serve when everyone is ready to sit down. My friend Angie (WI) says that she cooks her stuffing in the crock-pot. She says to butter the crock-pot before turning it on, that makes for stuffing edges to turn crispy and it will taste amazing!!
My friend Lisa (CA) says that mimosas are a perfect drink to share with a guest while you are cooking. It’ll help you enjoy the whole process and the company. My friend Becky (PA) says she likes a glass of wine while she’s cooking. So do I:). Also, Becky says that having a cheese tray on hand it’s great for snacking when cooking.
- Enjoy It!
Thanksgiving stresses a lot of hosts out. Try to remember what its purpose is on the first place, spending time with family and friends and being thankful for all our blessings. Don’t let things that don’t go according to plan ruin your day. You might not have the perfect menu, or someone brought an extra guest you hadn’t planned on. Plan B is to roll with whatever happens. Have enough wine on hand and everything will be fine!!
8. Additional Tips
- Consider a Grazing Board
Depending on the size of your house and how you plan to have guests hang out while you finish the last minute preparations, but if you want everyone to hang out in one area prepare one big grazing board instead of many separate appetizers. Everyone will hang out around the food & drinks:).
- Add Cream Cheese to Mashed Potatoes
My friend Angie (WI) adds cream cheese to her mashed potatoes. This helps them reheat beautifully and will remain creamy.
- Use Foil Trays When Possible
This will help shorten cleaning time when the dinner is over. I love cooking and the dinner part but the cleaning afterwards can be a hassle. My friend Angie (WI) uses these and makes some of the side dishes the day before because the day of Thanksgiving the flavor of the dish is much better plus it saves on cleaning time.
- Fried Turkey
If you’re going to fry the turkey make sure to use safe equipment. Also, you want the turkey to be completely dry for frying, otherwise the hot oil will splatter all over the place.
- Turkey in Brine
My friend Jeannie (NC) from Failure to Thrive No More blog did a turkey in brine one year and she left the soaked turkey in the refrigerator for about 12 hours before baking. The flavor was just amazing.
- Homemade Cranberry Sauce
My friend Lisa (CA) swears by homemade cranberry sauce! She says that you can add a bit of orange juice instead of water for a slightly different flavor. Bonus – leftover cranberry sauce makes for an awesome jam for PBJ!!! If you are looking for a homemade cranberry sauce, please check out my recipe here: Homemade Cranberry Sauce!
- Pie Crust
Make pie crust few days ahead, it keeps well in the freezer until Thanksgiving – Becky (PA).
As I’m writing this post, I keep getting more tips from friends and other bloggers!! I’ll update accordingly with more tips and pictures.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!! Thank you for reading my post and hope you have a great time with family and friends. If you would like to send me any of your tips, please comment below or send me a message via the Contact me page.