How to Survive Hosting Thanksgiving

Updated on September 20, 2019
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I'm Communications professional from Minnesota who has a knack for writing, speaking, and sharing valuable information!

Turkey platter
Turkey platter | Source

You’ve decided to host Thanksgiving! Congratulations! While inviting your close friends and family to your home may be exciting, and something to look forward to, daunting feelings of worry can quickly come seeping into your excitement! How will you know how much food to prepare? What should I include on the menu? How do I accommodate everyone’s taste? Will I have enough room for everyone? Will people have a good time? Never fear! Shut down those feelings of doubts and questions of what if!

My husband and I have been married for almost five years, and we hosted our first Thanksgiving three years ago and volunteered to do it again this year. Below I share what we learned so you can have a stress-free Turkey day if you decide to host the big meal this year. Read my tips below to learn how to survive hosting Thanksgiving and even how you can enjoy yourself!

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Invite Early

Decide how many people your table/house can accommodate and invite everyone early. Facebook or group text messaging are great ways to spread the word and get responses back quickly. The earlier you invite everyone, the earlier you will get your headcount finalized, and the earlier you can plan your menu and shop for ingredients.

Consider Buffet / Potluck Style

Buffet Style Food
Buffet Style Food | Source

Depending on how many people you plan on hosting, turning the meal into a buffet or potluck may be the way to go. Most guests will ask if they can bring anything, so take them up on the offer! The more people coming, the better idea it is to go pot luck. A good rule of thumb is less than a dozen heads (or however many you feel comfortable cooking for), keep it family-style / pass-around style.

This year, my dad volunteered to deep fry the turkey in our driveway so that frees up the oven for me to make a bunch of side dishes, so I won’t be needing guests to bring much with them. If people ask however, assigning out small items such as the following to make suggestions if they insist on contributing to the meal:

Jell-O or sweet Salad
Beer or Wine
Relish Tray
Buns or Bread
Pasta or Savory Salad

Plan Your Menu in Early November

If you decide to cook most of the meal yourself instead of going pot luck style, start planning your menu in early November. Pinterest is an amazing source of inspiration for side dishes and new recipes if you want to break slightly outside of the box of traditional Thanksgiving sides.

Planning your menu early in November will allow you to have time to shop for the bulk of ingredients a couple of weeks ahead of time, and plan for portions depending on your final headcount as you get closer to the big day.

Make a list of all of your dishes, and next to each one, write down how much prep time and cook time they will take.

Consider making two lists:

  1. List all of the dishes you can make the day before.
  2. List all of the dishes you cannot make until the day of.

Making these lists will help tremendously when you can make as much as possible ahead of time.

Here are my two lists of items on my menu this year:

Day Before:
Day Of:
Twice Baked Potatoes
Brie crostini appetizers
Prosciutto wrapped asparagus
Relish Tray & Cranberries
Creamed Corn
Bake pies

This way, you will know what to prep and keep in the fridge the day before so the day of the meal, you will only have to pull them out ad deliver them to the table or heat them through before serving. This will buy you time to cook the food in the “day of” column and afford you some time to set tables, shower, and get dressed before your guests arrive!

Accommodating Food Preferences

Thanksgiving meal on a plate
Thanksgiving meal on a plate | Source

First of all, find out if you have any food allergies present with the guests you’ve invited. Make sure to eliminate any dishes that might contain those allergies or ingredients that may provoke any kind of food-sensitive reaction.

Once allergies are eliminated, take into consideration your guests’ food preferences. As a host, you shouldn’t have to cook separate meals for every one of your friends who is eating paleo, vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, etc. but you should have a couple of options available for those people you know may be attending your dinner.

If you have people with various food preferences, keep things easy on yourself. Don’t feel like you have to cook them their own dishes. Instead, find ways to make the same basic recipes with different ingredients. For example, skip the dairy in the mashed potatoes for people sensitive to lactose or keep the stuffing meat-free instead of adding the giblets so everyone can enjoy it.

Shop Weeks Ahead

Women grocery shopping
Women grocery shopping | Source

While some food you must wait until a couple of days ahead of time to purchase, the bulk of your Thanksgiving meal ingredients can be purchased ahead of time.

  • To your list above, write down all of the ingredients required under each one.

  • When you bring your ingredients home, if possible keep them in a separate area of your pantry or a separate shelf in your fridge. That way, when it comes time to prep all of the dishes, you won’t be scrambling around your pantry or fridge trying to find everything.

The Holiday Spirit Is in the Details

Nothing says the holidays like tiny touches around your home to ring in the holiday season. Don’t overlook the elegance of a simple centerpiece, a few candles around your home, and a nice smelling potpourri or air freshener in the bathroom.

If you’re short on time and cash, making a simple wreath or lighting a fall scented candle can immediately ring in the season of fall and thanks.

If you have kids attending, consider picking up a deck of cards, a small turkey craft project, a couple of color books, or even a board game to keep them busy before and after the meal when the adults sit down to watch football.

Don't Panic

Keep a glass of wine handy
Keep a glass of wine handy | Source

If this is your first time (or the first time in a long time) hosting, don’t panic! Follow a few simple rules to make sure tiny flubs go unnoticed.

  • Make a variety of dishes, that way if one doesn’t turn out the greatest, there are plenty of other options to keep everyone satisfied!

  • Keep a pot of chicken broth simmering on the stovetop. If your turkey turns out dry, dunk the slices in the broth before putting them out on the serving platter, and no one will ever know the difference.

  • Serve appetizers. That way, if the food is running behind schedule, no one will be starving without anything to tide them over. It will take the pressure off of you to hurry as well.

  • Ask for help. Most guests want to lend a hand whether it’s with prepping or clearing the table, or cleaning up. Take them up on their offers! Ask for a hand or two in the kitchen. But remember, too many cooks in the kitchen can be a catastrophe, so keep the majority of the traffic busy with appetizers and drinks in the other room.

  • Line your pans with foil. Lining your dishes and pans with foil and a little cooking spray will save you tons of time during clean-up.

  • Don’t be afraid to use paper products. Especially if you have a crowd coming over, go with paper plates and cups and use nice flatware and wine glasses. That way, people still feel like they have substantial silverware and drinkware, but it will make clean-up so much faster.

  • Have plenty of adult beverages on hand. Don’t hesitate to take a few sips of wine while you’re cooking to calm your nerves and keep everyone in good spirits!

  • Finally, give yourself a break! Wake up early and prep as much as you can before everyone arrives. This will allow you to get ready and sit down for a few minutes to take a deep breath or two before company rings your doorbell.

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

Holding hands and giving thanks
Holding hands and giving thanks | Source

After all the prep work is finished and everyone’s bellies are filled with turkey, remember what this day is all about: Giving thanks! So don’t forget to pour yourself a glass of wine, indulge in a piece of pumpkin pie, and savory the flavors of the season. After all, you put a lot of work into creating a beautiful meal! Don’t forget to enjoy it yourself!

Have you hosted Thanksgiving before? Are you a first-time host this year? Share your fears, plans, excitement, advice, and even your flubs in the comments, below!

© 2015 WheelerWife


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    • cat on a soapbox profile image

      Catherine Tally 

      3 years ago from Los Angeles

      So glad to see this hub just when I am thinking ahead to hosting Thanksgiving dinner! My favorite helpful tip: the chicken broth tip to moisten the turkey slices before arranging on the platter. Thanks:)

    • profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      3 years ago

      Wheeler Wife,

      Surprise! You are among my cherished followers and I am so, so sorry for not thanking you properly for that kind gesture.

      And I am equally sorry for not getting around to reading your wonderful hubs such as this one which honestly made me so hungry.

      Last November I had a time with congestive heart failure and now I am on a strict diet for the rest of my life.

      In Feb., my daughter, 39, with three kids, left us for Heaven and she was only 39 and this has and will be on my mind forever.

      Forgive me for taking so long to thank you for being one of my valued followers.

      And for being so slow in reading works like this one that was so good I hated to see it end.

      Take care, my Good Friend and keep up the fine work.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      4 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Congrats on HOTD for a timely hub! It's well thought-out and laid out in great detail on how to host a Thanksgiving dinner. That turkey didn't look raw to me in those photos. Never mind what Thanksgiving Guest said. BTW, my SIL's aunt is doing it buffet style, just like my SIL did 2 years ago.


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