Hosting Thanksgiving is a milestone in and of itself. You get the opportunity to prepare a great feast for your loved ones. You have the chance to celebrate the things and people you’re grateful for. But hosting Thanksgiving dinner also comes with a lot of pressure! You’ll want everything to go as smoothly as planned — no hiccups, no mistakes.
To help you out, we’re covering eight tips for how to host Thanksgiving like a pro.
Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner: 8 Expert Tips
1. Plan Things Ahead
To take (some of) the stress out of hosting Thanksgiving, you’ll need to start with a game plan. And a very detailed one, if possible.
Some of the important things you’ll have to consider are:
- How many people will attend? And what time do you want them to arrive?
- Are there any dietary restrictions you’ll have to note?
- Where will the Thanksgiving dinner be served?
- Do you have go-to recipes that can be included in the meal?
- What tentative menu can you whip up?
- Where and when will you go grocery shopping?
- What prep can be done on what days?
- Will there be a theme?
Figuring out these things and identifying what can be addressed ahead of time will actually save you a lot of time. Plus, it’ll help you avoid any trouble the day of.
2. Be Okay with Asking for and Receiving Help
The great thing about hosting Thanksgiving dinner is that you don’t have to do it alone.
Yes, having “too many cooks in the kitchen” sounds like a disaster. But if someone offers any kind of help, it’s best to say yes. Likewise, if you’re running late on some prep, don’t hesitate to call on a family or friend who can do the task for you.
Want the furniture moved to make more space? Ask for help. Someone swinging by the shop for some beer and wine? Let them. Grandma or Auntie wants to bring their special sauce? Yes, please.
Having people who can help you with the preparations will make the event more fun and less stressful.
3. Make a Detailed Grocery List, Menu, and Schedule
It’s best to finalize your menu at least a week before Thanksgiving day. This will give you enough time to gather the exact recipes and list everything you can possibly make ahead of time. This also gives you sufficient time to run back to the store in case there’s something that you forgot.
It’s also beneficial to map out in advance your prep timeline so you’ll be sure to have sufficient time to get everything done. For instance, you might want to do your groceries three days before Thanksgiving. Likewise, salad dressing or cranberry sauce can be done two days prior. Try to leave Wednesday open for things you may have forgotten, and start prepping that evening.
4. Keep the Food and Drinks Simple
While you might want to impress when hosting Thanksgiving, it’s not a requirement to have over-the-top dishes.
Low-fuss casserole-style dishes are great options when hosting Thanksgiving dinner. Go for dishes you’re already great at preparing to make things easier for you. Also, don’t go experimental on Thanksgiving by preparing dishes you’ve never made before. You don’t want the stress and struggle that comes with it on the big day.
Desserts can be simple, too. For instance, make your pies a few days before Thanksgiving day. To serve them warm, just put them in the oven minutes before serving.
Similarly, don’t forget about the drinks options that night. Stock up non-alcoholic choices for the kids or those who don’t want to drink. Offer a good selection of hearty red or crisp white wines that guests can pass around or serve themselves. And don’t worry about having to prepare individual cocktails.
5. Don’t Overthink the Turkey
We’ve all seen it: The turkey brings out the most stress when hosting Thanksgiving. But in reality, making a turkey doesn’t have to be that difficult. Plus, many guests look forward to the sides and not the turkey itself.
Try to pick a simple recipe — one with salt, pepper, and butter, with some citrus and herbs. Make sure the bird defrosts at least four days prior. Read up on cooking instructions to help with your preparations.
Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Thanksgiving is about coming together as a family.
6. Start Your Non-Food Prep Early
When hosting Thanksgiving, you also need to think beyond the food and drinks. That’s why it’s beneficial to do your non-food prep early.
Try to set the dinner table a day (or even several days) before hosting Thanksgiving dinner. This gives you a chance to identify if you need more plates, utensils, glassware, and table napkins. Doing this ahead gives you one less thing to worry about on the day itself.
Also, while you might be aiming for something Pinterest-worthy, know that going for simple aesthetics is okay. Prepare a nice tablecloth, pretty napkins, and flower arrangements for centerpieces. You can also use place cards to guide guests to their seats on the day of.
7. Prepare Your Appliances, Tools, and Serving Dishes
To host a Thanksgiving dinner successfully, you’ll need to have certain tools ready.
For instance, a meat thermometer is essential to ensure that your turkey is perfectly cooked and safe to eat. Depending on how you cook it, you might also need a large roasting pan, turkey baster, and an oven bag.
Take inventory of what appliances you need. Are they on hand or in storage? Do they still need to be washed? Where will you store them until the big day? Be sure you have everything you need by triple-checking all your recipes beforehand.
Similarly, one of the best time-savers is to match up each recipe to a serving dish, and label it nicely with a sticky note. This will make it easier for you to delegate tasks on the day itself, especially when someone asks what they can do.
8. Take Time to Enjoy Yourself (and the Feast You’ve Prepared)
While this one is very easy to forget, it’s also one of the most important things when hosting Thanksgiving — taking the time to relax and enjoy yourself, the company, and the dinner you’ve made.
Remember, people are there to gather, catch up, and have a laugh. They don’t expect to be entertained and served. Rather, they’re there to celebrate the moments that they’re grateful for.
Hosting Thanksgiving can sound daunting — but it doesn’t have to be. These eight actionable tips will help you get on the right track toward hosting a Thanksgiving dinner like a pro.
We hope you have a happy Thanksgiving!