To Host Thanksgiving is a big deal, but it doesn’t have to be a stressful headache.
We all want our holiday dinners to be a triumph with delicious food and a festive atmosphere. We want our family traditions to be honored and the opportunity to make new memories. We want our friends and family to look forward to coming over and to gather with joy.
As the hostess, accomplishing this dream holiday dinner may seem daunting maybe even impossible. There is so much to prepare and do. But with a heap of planning, a dose of grace, and a sprinkling of good humor you can host Thanksgiving with warmth and panache!
Checklist to Host Thanksgiving
Use this checklist to host a memorable and charming Thanksgiving stress free. It’s filled with tips and tricks to help you prepare.
Finalize and Confirm Guest List
- Invite guests several weeks in advance.
- Check in with them the week or the Monday before to confirm arrangements.
- Let guests help you by asking them to bring something or to fulfill a certain task on Thanksgiving Day like mixing cocktails.
- Create a Thanksgiving binder. Gather up all your recipes for the Thanksgiving meal, make copies, and then place those in plastic sleeves. From your recipes create 2 shopping lists: perishable and non-perishable items. Create a timeline and cooking plan for the meal. Store your recipes, grocery lists, timeline, and cooking plan in your binder then use this binder every year, and simply add new recipes to it and update lists as needed.
- Keep hors d’oeuvres simple.
- Serve a signature cocktail. This year I’m in love with this maple bourbon cocktail with candied bacon!
- Grocery Shop in two strategic trips – one for turkey and non-perishable goods and one for perishable foods.
- Make sure you have all the cooking utensils you need.
- Clean and organize refrigerator.
- Do as much food prep and cooking in advance of Thanksgiving Day as possible.
- Deep clean main entertaining areas: guest bathroom, living areas, dining rooms, and kitchen in the weeks before.
- Do a quick tidy up on the day before.
- Decorate the house with fresh flowers and autumnal decor. Be sure to use a festive wreath at the front door to welcome guests.
Design & Execute Tablescape
- Decide early how your meal will be served. Whether you do buffet, family style, or plated will dictate your place settings and other table needs.
- Plan your tablescape accordingly and in advance. Give yourself enough time to polish the silver and wash any special glassware. Decide which dishes and bowls you will use to serve with and gather those in one place. Shop for flowers 2-3 days before and make centerpiece.
- Need some inspiration? Check out my rustic Thanksgiving table here.
Prep & Cook Turkey
- Don’t forget to thaw your turkey! The general rule of thumb is 1 day for every 4 Ibs.
- For a beautiful looking bird that is consistently moist and tender try brining your turkey. This can seem like a messy even scary task, but the trick is to buy a plastic tub specifically for this purpose. My mother uses a 5 gallon bucket. Mix the brine in the bucket and then lower the turkey in. Cover it and store in a cool place. Get the brine recipe she uses here.
- Have your thermometer, roasting pan, and carving knife ready.
Consider Guest Entertainments
- Select a Thanksgiving playlist, make sure a TV for football or parade watching is available, and even choose some parlor games to play after dinner.
- Keep kids occupied by fixing a box of toys for them to play with in the space everyone will gather, organizing a gratitude craft (it’s Thanksgiving afterall), and giving them a job to do. Kids want to feel part of the preparations, so ask them to answer the door and take guest’s coats or help with cooking as appropriate.
- To avoid stressing out when you host Thanksgiving, be sure to get plenty of rest in the days before and do something relaxing like getting a manicure or massage.
- Keep Thanksgiving eve and morning simple by planning easy meals with minimal cleanup.
- Set your alarm for an early morning.
- Layout cooking outfit and dinner outfit the night before.
Think Through Cleanup
- Have a plan for leftovers: buy inexpensive Tupperware to fill with leftovers and send home with guests or have ingredients available to transform leftovers into meals for the rest of the week.
- Accept help clearing the table and dealing with leftovers, but if you are sensitive about your china and crystal plan to wash these items yourself.
The most important thing to remember as you slave over that turkey, re-arrange your centerpiece for the 6th time, and run the kids out of the formal living room is your true goal as hostess. It’s not to amaze guests with your culinary prowess or delight them with your beautifully laid table. Those are just means to an end. Your true goal is to create a charming atmosphere where guests feel welcome and comfortable.
Just think about your mother’s or grandmother’s holiday diners. Sure their tasty cornbread stuffing or perfectly executed pecan pie may come to mind, but probably what you long for most is the warmth and grace of those events. As you prepare to host Thanksgiving this year let those feelings guide you and handle everything else with a laugh and a glass of wine!
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