Does hosting Thanksgiving (or any other big holiday) make you feel overwhelmed? These nine essential tips for hosting Thanksgiving will help you host in style, while also reducing your stress!
The first time I hosted Thanksgiving all by myself, without help from my mom, was the second year I was married. And to say it didn’t go smoothly would be an understatement.
The turkey was dry, the potatoes lumpy, and nothing was ready at the same time. It didn’t help that I had an oven from the 1930’s that was oh-so-charming, but just a wee bit on the small side. 😉
We got through it (thank goodness for wine!) but I’ve learned a lot in the years since. And since I have friends that struggle to get it all done, and other friends who are wildly intimidated to host, I thought I’d share some of the tips and tricks that have helped me!
Whether this is your first time hosting or you’ve been doing it for years, these easy, actionable tips will make your day go smoother and have you celebrating in style- promise!
Use real dishes and cloth napkins
I know, I know, some people swear by using paper plates and napkins. I have friends who use paper, and they say the clean up is easier. But you know what? I’ve actually found the opposite.
To begin with, the biggest clean up is the pots and pans and you’re doing those anyway. So unless you’re having 30 people, or you’re using dishes that can’t be put in the dishwasher (don’t do that!), I say go with the real dishes. They feel more substantial, and they impart a feeling of specialness that paper never could. And what’s better than chatting and bonding while doing dishes?!
And while you’re at it, and if you own them, use the good dishes. That wedding china you never take out? Use it. Grandmother’s dish set that collects dust in the cabinet or sits in the attic? Use it. We’re only here once, and if we don’t use our good china (or at least, china) at Thanksgiving, when will we?
Set a pretty table
Rustic Gold Thanksgiving Table
Oh, I know you’re shocked by this one, haha! But this goes along with number one. Go ahead and set that table for the same reason you’re using real china. It’s Thanksgiving! And this applies to other big holidays, too.
And it doesn’t need to be fancy. I know that I love setting tables, and I’m equally aware that not everyone does. But it doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Simple is best anyway!
Use your pretty dishes and cloth napkins with a few pumpkins and/or some fresh flowers and call it a day! That’s enough to make the day feel special, and your loved ones will appreciate that extra effort.
Plan your menu, and make lists as well as a timeline for the big day
This may seem obvious, but this is something it took me years to learn! I literally used to wake up on Thanksgiving Day with no real plan and as a result, the day seemed overwhelming and chaotic.
Now I make a menu plan about two weeks in advance. Then I create the grocery list from that (don’t forget to order that turkey!) And then about a week before, I make a timeline of everything that needs to be done in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, working backwards up until the big day. And now I’m way more organized and less frazzled!
Take inventory of your serveware, glassware and utensils
This is a tip I wish I would have known about that first year! Once our disorganized dinner was actually ready, I realized I didn’t have nearly enough serveware. I ended up serving most of the sides in aluminum pie tins and Tupperware, haha!
Now once I have my menu planned, I do a count and make sure I have enough serving dishes, as well as take an inventory of serving spoons, flatware and glassware. Sometimes things have been lost or broken over the last year so it’s a great idea to just double check to make sure you’re not short.
Label your serveware
This is one of my favorite Thanksgiving tips ever! I take out my serveware a few days before Thanksgiving and label all of them with the names of the dishes that they’ll hold. That way, when the day is rushed and you’re trying to get the food on the table while it’s still hot, everything is labeled making it much quicker and easier!
Use place cards
I love to use place cards! Not only do they make the table feel more special, but it saves everyone from wondering where they should sit and asking you just as you’re trying to get everything on the table!
Again, this doesn’t need to be complicated. I’ve made cards using stamps, but I’ve also collected leaves from outside and written names on them with a Sharpie! If you have kids, this is a great thing to delegate to them. 😉
Set the table a day or two before
Rustic Harvest Autumn Tablescape
I usually set the table on Tuesday, or Wednesday at the latest. It’s one of those things that helps me feel so much more ahead of the game. Just looking at my already set and ready-to-go table makes me feel more calm!
Cook and bake ahead
Try to do as much cooking, prepping and baking ahead of time as you can. In the timeline I schedule all of this, usually starting on Sunday or Monday. By doing a little bit each day it really helps cut down on the amount of work that needs to be done (and of course, if you can get some help with those duties, even better!) 😉
At the very least, I make the cranberries on Monday, several of the side dishes a day or two ahead (or prep what I can), and all the baking the day before. Even pre-chopping all your onions, garlic, and vegetables and putting them in baggies or containers in the refrigerator ready to go helps so much!
Use the microwave as a staging area
When you need some space and some of your dishes are ready, use your microwave as a holding place. It’s insulated, and things will keep warm inside for up to half an hour (just remember to cover them) and don’t turn it on!
And don’t forget to say yes to offers of help, rather than turning them down! Have people help and/or bring dishes so you’re not doing everything. I have a tendency to say no to those offers, but I’ve learned to fight that and allow others to help.
Another thing is don’t feel like you need to serve every single Thanksgiving dish there is! Take an inventory when you plan the menu, and be realistic about what you can take on. If it’s too much to make mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and stuffing, take one off. Or, have someone else bring it! And do you really need three desserts, when one or two will do?
I hope you found these tips for hosting Thanksgiving helpful! By implementing these tips, taking inventory and being realistic with your expectations, as well as a little extra prep, you can host a holiday with style – without all the stress!
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And now I hope you’ll visit my friends who are also sharing holiday hosting tips today!
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Do you have any tips for Thanksgiving entertaining during the COVID pandemic?
My family has decided to forgo the traditional sit down meal with extended family in favor of a hike in a local preserve, followed by a picnic of turkey, stuffing and cranberry sandwiches and squash soup. It’s sad to give up the feast, but at least we can get together and share a meal.
Oh my gosh Ann, I think that sounds PERFECT for those who don’t/can’t be inside with extended family! We will be just the 5 of us this year, but I think what you have planned sounds wonderful. I would also say that I read try to do it outside when possible, and if not, simply wear masks inside except when eating (just as you would in a restaurant or on a plane). Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!
Ann Engelhart says
Your plans sound so cozy and lovely. BTW I’m definitely planning to make those amazing peppermint brownies for my cookie exchange. Thank you for all of your wonderful ideas!
Oh I’m so glad to hear that Ann!
Don’t forget that you used the microwave as a staging area. How many times I have opened it the day after to reheat leftovers and found a dish of something! HA HA
Haha oh that is funny! I’ve never done that.. yet! Thanks for the tip 😉
Linda Johnston says
PLanning for speacial holiday gatherings or any for any time is so mportatn. Less stress, more enjoyment for every one! Good tips!
I couldn’t agree more! Thanks Linda!
I love the idea of using the microwave as a temporary warming drawer. Great tips, thank you.
Thank you Teresa! Happy Thanksgiving!