Fall is known for being full of crunchy leaves, cooler temps, and thankfulness. If it’s your first time (or turn) to host Thanksgiving dinner, you might not be feeling all the warm and fuzzy feelings. Never fear! Use this guide for hosting Thanksgiving without the stress and headaches. And make sure that you read all the way to the end to get your very own planner to help things run even more smoothly!
Pick a Date
Are you going to be hosting guests on Thanksgiving day? Maybe you’re hosting a Friendsgiving instead and picking another day of the month. The date doesn’t matter as much as the people you’re gathering with. You can reach out to potential guests to try to coordinate a date or pick one that works best with your family’s schedule.
Consider the time as well when you’re picking your date. If you’re doing a full on meal, you can have your gathering at (or close to) a meal time. When you’re doing something lighter, consider having it between meals. You can also consider things like when your football team is playing to watch your game before or after your meal.
Keep in Touch
There are lots of ways to stay in touch and keep everyone on the same page. How are you going to let your guests know about the gathering?
- Private or secret Facebook group
- Group text
- Invitations (by mail or electronically)
- Facebook event
Use the Guest List in the printable below to help you keep track of who you’ve invited and their responses. Don’t feel bad about checking in with people to see who’s coming as the get together gets closer. Things change and you don’t want to get stuck with a ton of leftovers (or buying a bunch of food you didn’t really need) or missing something you were expecting someone who isn’t able to come to make.
Accommodating Allergies and Special Diets
Ask your guests if there are any allergies or special diets you’ll need to consider during your meal. Remember that it’s impossible to make everyone completely happy so don’t make yourself crazy trying to meet everyone’s needs. They’ll appreciate that you did your best. You can communicate with them to let them know the menu and let them know they can bring things to supplement your menu they’re able to eat if they’d like.
You can always use menu cards to let people know what the dishes are and what’s in them to save guests from asking about them. Another way to let folks know what’s allergy friendly is differently colored serving utensils. You can use a piece of painters tape or colored duct tape on your serving utensils so guests know they’re peanut or gluten free. If you’ve got someone with a specific allergy, consider putting the “safe” things together so there isn’t cross contamination. You can also let other guests know about the allergy so they’re careful not to swap utensils between dishes.
One thing I do when cooking for someone with a special diet is to keep all the packaging of what I’m making. As a mom of a child with severe allergies and someone who loves to cook and entertain, I know it’s hard to remember what’s in everything. Pick a spot in your kitchen (a gallon size zip top baggie perhaps) to gather any things you make for someone with a special diet. That way if there’s a question, you’ll be able to grab the packages quickly to answer any questions.
Need a great homemade mac and cheese recipe? Give this one a try!
Pick Your Menu
Most everyone expects to find things like turkey, stuffing (or dressing), mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and other delicious dishes on the table for Thanksgiving. Go through your family recipes for traditional dishes. You can also find lots of options on Pinterest too (I’ve got a whole board dedicated to all Thanksgiving food).
Just be clear with your guests and let them know if you’re planning a traditional menu or doing something a little bit different. You don’t want someone showing up expecting a traditional Thanksgiving dinner when you’ve planned a fun twist on a traditional meal.
When you’re thinking about your menu, also consider how you’re going to be serving everything. Will you have appetizers out when your guests arrive then the meal then desserts? Will guests just add their dishes as they arrive and have everything out all that once? Will you be doing a sit down meal instead of buffet style? Knowing when you’ll want everything to be done will help you put your menu and plan together.
If you’re going to have lots of kids who might not be into a traditional menu, consider offering some kid friendly food. Some chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, applesauce, and Jell-o are simple and easy things to add in with the rest of the food. I don’t generally make a “kids table” for food in case there are any older kids or adults who’d prefer those things to the other options.
When you’re setting up a menu and asking people to bring things, be sure to let people know if you’re planning to do leftover or not. One of the best things about hosting Thanksgiving dinner is all the leftovers for the next couple of days (and all the things you can make out of those leftovers). Not hosting Thanksgiving doesn’t give you the chance to have all those yummy leftovers later. Ask guests to bring a dish to take some leftovers home with them so you’re not stuck with a ton of food you won’t be able to eat. If you’re not really a leftover group, have a plan for the leftover food so it doesn’t go to waste.
These quick and easy oatmeal cookies would be a perfect addition to your menu!
Divide and Conquer
Hosting Thanksgiving doesn’t mean that you need to provide everything. There’s nothing wrong with asking your guests to bring a dish to enjoy. Be specific with your requests and either assign people a specific dish (stuffing, cranberries, ect) or just something from a category like desserts or side dishes. Even if some of your guests aren’t great in the kitchen, there are things you can ask them to bring that don’t require culinary skills:
- drinks – be specific with what kind of drinks you’d like them to bring (wine, lemonade, bottled waters, coffee, ect)
- paper (or plastic) products – if you’re using disposable plates, cups, or silverware, this is something anyone can pick up from the store. They can also pick up plastic storage containers for the leftovers (great if you’re sending things home with your guests because they don’t need to worry about getting them back to you)
- dessert – bakeries make delicious pies and other desserts that would work perfectly with your meal
- bread or rolls – again, bakeries and stores make pretty good rolls and bread that will work with the rest of your meal
- dips or apps – there are some pretty good dips you can run to the store and grab on the way to lunch or dinner along with other finger foods (a cheese or veggie tray for example)
- salads – bagged salads are a great option for someone to grab and add to the meal
When you’re asking people to help, give them an idea of how many guests you’re expecting. If you’ll have more than one guest bringing the same thing, consider making a quick “introduction” so they can plan what they’d like to buy or bring. This will help take something off your plate.
If you’ve got people who don’t/won’t cook, consider just asking them to pitch in towards the meal monetarily. Make sure you give them a fair amount considering the circumstances (asking your single friend and a family of two adults and two kids might put in different amounts for example). There’s also nothing wrong with just going this route and asking everyone to kick in some money to make this happen if you have the bandwidth to take care of everything yourself.
Divide and conquer can also apply to your own family. Divvy up that to do list and let your family help you. You don’t have to be personally responsible for getting everything done yourself. Letting others help is ok.
Decorate and Tablescapes
Part of hosting people includes decor. Since you’re hosting Thanksgiving, people might expect some turkeys or pumpkins around. Make sure you add any decor items you’ll need to the printable shopping list available below so you don’t have to run back to the store any more than necessary. If you need some ideas, you can check out my Pinterest board with crafts and printables to give you some ideas.
Think about the tables for food and drinks, kids table, your seating areas, and the tables when you’re decorating. Grab some small pumpkins and flowers from the grocery store for some simple table decor. Brown kraft paper on the buffet table gives you a plain backdrop to write the different dishes right on the paper where the dishes are. It’s also great for the kid’s table so they can color and draw and make their own handprint turkeys. If you’re feeling really brave, you can add some fun crafts to keep the kids busy too.
Don’t forget to put together a good playlist too! Make one for your cooking/cleaning/prepping and one for the actual get together itself. Dancing around the kitchen makes the cooking and cleaning a little bit easier.
Get a Plan
Once you know when you’re hosting your get together, who’s coming, the menu, and how you’ll be decorating it’s time to start getting a plan together. Last minute rushing isn’t any fun so the sooner you can start prepping the better. Use the action plan and cooking list to help keep everything organized. Don’t forget to include things like:
- Cleaning yourself (do you need time to shower? Just change clothes?)
- Getting ready the day of the get together (need to change? Do your hair and makeup?)
- Time to rest and relax (build in some time to scroll Facebook or just sit down for a minute)
- Shopping (both shopping, making your list, ordering groceries, etc)
- Prepping (plan to do as much in advance as possible)
- Cooking (in advance and day of cooking)
- Clean up (yes plan for this too!)
When you’re putting your timeline together (I like to work a week out from whatever I’m planning and spread things out over several days so you’re not trying to get it all done in one day), I like to work backwards. Start with your drop dead time everything absolutely has to be done. For example, if I told people to arrive at 2:30, my “end” time would be 2:00 so I make sure everything is done before the guests arrive. Now work through your to do list and put together your timeline. If your turkey takes five hours to cook, needs to rest for 30 minutes, and you need 30 minutes to carve it, you’d want it in the over by 8:00 at the latest.
As you can tell in that example, I always over estimate when I’m coming up with my timeline. I’d rather things be done a little early than to be stressed and rushing around trying to get everything done at the last minute. You can always stick something back in the oven (turned off) to keep warm while you’re waiting to eat.
Make sure to think about your resources too when you’re planning your timeline. If you’ve got a lot of things that need to cook, consider putting your turkey in a bit earlier to free up oven space and keep it warm while you’re baking the other things. Don’t forget to put your slow cooker, air fryer, Instant Pot, toaster oven, or microwave to work too. Or if you’re friendly with your neighbors or have someone coming who lives nearby, see if you can use their oven (or even fridge space) if you need it.
Now the perfect time to take a few shortcuts where you can. Homemade means made at home. It doesn’t mean you need to make everything from scratch. Don’t be a slave to your kitchen and wind up missing out on the fun and time with your loved ones.
- Order groceries online and have them delivered to your house or pick them up so you don’t have to fight crowds in the store
- Have someone come over and clean your house before (and after!) your events
- Purchase pre-chopped vegetables or already made charcuterie trays
- Order pieces of your meal from local restaurants or grocery stores so you don’t have to make everything yourself
- Say yes to help when someone offers to help
- Use what you’ve got – put those slow cookers and toaster ovens and air fryers to used
Probably the most important thing to remember is to stay organized. Use these printable sheets to help you. And here’s the secret: stick to the plan!!! One of my biggest downfalls is wandering the aisles of the stores adding more food to my cart (which means more prep and cooking that I didn’t plan for) or scrolling through Pinterest and wanting to do all the cute things I see. Sticking to the plan you have will help keep the panic at bay and keep you from overdoing it. Ordering your groceries to pick up or have delivered will help with this for sure.