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By on Nov 26, 2014
How To Host Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving means family. Thanksgiving means turkey. Thanksgiving means football. Thanksgiving brings us all together for a joyous afternoon away from work, the world and all our stresses. However, if you’re hosting this annual affair, then you know the stress that comes with preparing, hosting and cleaning a Thanksgiving meal.

To help relieve some of that stress, I have come up with a Thanksgiving hosting guide, making sure you are organized and ready for whatever comes your way. Whether you’ve hosted 10 Thanksgivings or are going at it for the first time, this guide will ensure that you have a fun, calm, relaxing and joyous Thanksgiving.


The Expert

Sadly, I have not had the privilege of hosting my own Thanksgiving. As you can imagine, there are certain boundaries of living in a one-bedroom apartment. Therefore, I sought out the expert.

My Aunt Joanne has been hosting Thanksgiving for over 20 years. If there is anyone that knows how to stay organized and calm under Thanksgiving pressure, it’s her.

Preparing the Food

It can be argued that the number one goal of Thanksgiving is to eat. We may not admit it, but it’s true. As such, Thanksgiving preparation always begins and ends with the food. So how do you know how much food to buy, when to buy it, what you can trust with others and so on and so on? Follow the steps below, and all will be answered.

1. Find Out Who is Coming

Before you buy anything, you have to know who is coming. Send an email or pick up the phone. Schedules change all the time, but a host’s worst fear is running out of food before everyone has a chance to eat. Therefore, always make sure you have a rough headcount before you buy anything.

Thanksgiving Setting

2. Ask for Help

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Family members are obligated to bring at least one dish to Thanksgiving. That’s not written in stone, but it might as well be. If you’re going through the hassle (and $$$) of hosting a Thanksgiving, they should be more than willing to bring at least one dish.

If dessert is not your specialty, ask family and friends to bring cookies, cake and fruit. If you don’t like appetizers, tell them to bring those. Make your life easier and always ask for help. After all, they are family.

3. Go Through Your Recipes

Everyone has old family recipes. If you don’t, go out and purchase one of the thousands of Thanksgiving cookbooks. Or, just use Pinterest.

Given the abundance of options out there, one must be organized, something my Aunt Joanne has certainly perfected over the years.

“Find recipes to cover all categories,” Joanne said. “Appetizers [warm or cold], chips, dips, veggies, salad and sides. Make sure you have at least one stuffing, one veggie, one sweet potato, one cranberry sauce and one bread. We usually have at least two of each. Also try to have a large selection of desserts, anywhere from four to six.”

Thanksgiving Decor

4. Go for the Turkey

The turkey is of course the star of the show. If you’re going to host Thanksgiving, you might as well cook the star of the afternoon.

Depending on the number of guests, you may want to buy two turkeys. Some may not like a side dish or two, but almost everyone will have a bite of turkey. You need to make sure you have enough.

Tip from the Expert: I highly recommend a practice run if this is your first rodeo. All Thanksgivings need turkey and you don’t want to overcook your only bird.

Along with the turkey, try preparing your own gravy as well. Gravy is one of those things you can really make your own. Be creative. Since it’s easy, try making more than one gravy.

5. Time to Shop

Next on our slate is shopping. Sadly, this is where the credit card comes out, but if you want to host Thanksgiving, it’s going to cost you. 

Before you head to your nearest grocery store, you have to get organized. After you weed down the recipes you want to try, start your list. Once completed, determine what you can buy a month ahead, a week ahead or two days ahead. Remember, you need a place to house all these ingredients. Make sure there is room in the pantry and fridge if you buy food earlier in the month.

Tip from the Expert: Buy heavy paper goods and good plastic utensils. It saves so much time on washing dishes.

Thanksgiving Napkin

6. Time to Cook

The fun begins. Make a menu. Then, determine what you can make before the big day. Certain pies, sides and appetizers do not need to be 100% fresh on Thanksgiving. Have a plan of attack. Mark down what day you can start each item on your menu. This is one of the easiest, yet overlooked aspects of hosting Thanksgiving.

Tip from the Expert: Make sure you have a few items to cook on Thanksgiving Day with your family.

“I always leave a few to make on Thanksgiving Day with grandma and the kids,” Joanne said. “And, try to have a bunch of jobs for the kids.”

7. Final Food Preparations

Now that we have all the food ready to go, we need to decide on dinnerware. Take out your serving dishes ahead of time. Label each one for the dish you want to use. Then, make sure you know where all the food is going. Set the plates down a few days before and make sure everything fits.

Food Decor

Thanksgiving Layout

Behind food, the next big obstacle in Thanksgiving hosting is the layout. You need to make sure you encourage family members to have an open dialogue and spend time together. You need to make sure you’re not creating any high-traffic areas (other than around the food maybe). You need to make sure your Thanksgiving layout makes all lives easier. Let’s see how it’s done.

1. What Works for Your Home

Certain homes allow for large, circular tables while others demand one or two longer tables. Of course, if space permits, try to fit a circular table. Once again, this will encourage more dialogue compared to one long dining table.

2. Bring Out the Tables & Chairs

More often that not, Thanksgiving hosting requires a few smaller tables to fit your home. If this is the case, make sure you place each table near each other to further encourage dialogue across table. Just because table one is talking about the football game, it doesn’t mean table two can’t join.

Then, bring out all the chairs. Try to leave as much room as possible between the tables and surrounding areas. You don’t want all squeezing in between tables and chairs to only spill their plate before sitting down.

Thanksgiving Table

3. Food Presentation

Buffet is pretty much the Thanksgiving standard. If you plan on serving all your guests, you better get used to that kitchen, as you’ll never have time to sit, relax and enjoy the company.

Make sure your family knows to help themselves. Have drinks and desserts in separate rooms to decrease traffic in the kitchen. Also, have appetizers put in the living room, dining room or hallway, away from the kitchen. This will encourage family to stay away from the kitchen and out of your hair (if needed).

4. Post-Dinner

After you’re done with the dishes, head to the couch with everyone else. Encourage family to stick around. Catch up. Watch football. If it’s warm enough, head outside and play a game of football. Enjoy each other’s company.


Thanksgiving is meant to bring families closer together. Don’t let hosting ruin this joyous affair. For some, this is the only day of the year where the whole family is together. Make sure you relish it for all its worth.

Need more Thanksgiving prep? See 5 Ideas to Prepare Your Home for Thanksgiving.

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