Thanksgiving is one of the biggest – and yummiest – family holidays of the year. There’s nothing like bringing all your friends and family members together for night of great conversation and a mouthwatering feast.
However, if you’ve been assigned the job of host at this year’s get-together, you might be panicking at the thought. You want everything to be perfect from the roasted turkey and mashed potatoes to the centerpiece and place settings. Hosting this momentous meal is no simple feat but there’s no need to worry! We’ve put together the ultimate guide to hosting this year’s Thanksgiving dinner.
How to Host Thanksgiving Dinner
Tips for Pre-Dinner Prep
The most stressful part of hosting any holiday party is the last-minute rush of cooking, cleaning, setting the table and tearing your hair out. By making a strategy and preparing for the meal ahead of time, you can prevent a day-of frenzy – making the meal that much better for you and your guests. With these five tips, you can stay calm and stay organized.
Create a schedule
And by “a schedule,” we really mean multiple schedules: cooking, cleaning, and shopping schedules to start.
To create your cooking schedule and avoid last-minute overload, count backwards from the time dinner is served to figure your prep and oven times. Keep this list on your fridge or somewhere you can easily reference it. For really key moments, like putting the turkey in the oven, set alarms on your phone.
When creating cleaning or shopping schedules, set deadlines and stick to them. You don’t want to worry about cleaning the toilet an hour before guests arrive, so make sure to schedule those chores for early in the week. There are, of course, certain cleaning tasks that will need to be done on Thanksgiving Day, like tidying your prep space and doing the dishes. Enlist family or friends who can arrive early on the day of and help with clean-up – it’s a lot easier to stay on top of cleaning when you have a little help!
2. Make a menu
From the time you wake up until dinner starts, your oven and stovetop will be in a constant state of use. Plus, if you’re having turkey as your main entrée, it will likely dominate the oven for most of the day prior to the meal. Keep this in mind when creating your menu (which should be made well in advance so you can make the above schedules). Look for dishes that can be made ahead and reheated in the oven just before serving or ones that are prepared entirely on the stovetop. Some side dishes can even be served cold or at room temperature.
If you want to host a formal, more elegant gathering, you can even print your menu and include it in your guests’ invitations or on their table settings.
3. Ask your guests for help
There’s no shame in asking your guests to help out by contributing to the meal. If you’re requesting RSVPs, leave a spot where guests can sign up to bring something. If you loved a specific dish your friend or family member has made in the past, call and ask them to bring it along. Most people love helping out and sharing their favorite recipes.
However, when asking your guests to contribute, try and be specific about your request. If people only bring whatever they want, you could end up with a limited variety. If you ask a few guests to bring dessert and a few others to bring side dishes, you’ll be better able to strategize what everyone is bringing.
If you know certain guests tend to shy away from the kitchen, ask them to bring drinks, whipped cream or something that can be store-bought. Also, make sure that any main, must-have dishes are assigned someone who doesn’t arrive late!
4. Set the table in advance
Setting the table can be done the day (or several days) before Thanksgiving Day. Not only does it leave you with one less thing to do, it can also show where there are gaps in the tableware. If you’re short on spoons, knives, plates or cups, setting the table in advance gives you plenty of time to find replacements. It’s better to know sooner than later!
Decorate other areas of your living, dining or entertaining spaces to further impress your Thanksgiving dinner guests. We have decorative trays, candles, décor and more available in our showroom. You can also make your own decorations, like a thankful tree, fall mason jars and natural home fragrance, with our easy fall DIY projects.
5. Have extra seating
You should always have extra seating available, especially if you’re hosting a large gathering in a smaller space. No one wants to eat his or her Thanksgiving meal on the floor while everyone else is at the table, so stocking up on stackable bar stools may be the perfect solution.
This would also be the ideal time to go furniture shopping if you’ve been waiting to upgrade your dining room table. With so many holidays and family get-togethers on the horizon, look for tables that offer generous seating and additional leaves, like our Ashley Tamilo 6-piece dining set.
Setting the Table
It’s not just the food that needs to be prepped when you are hosting Thanksgiving dinner. You also want to present the food just right by setting the table correctly. Your guests should have everything they need within reach. However, the proper table setting depends on the formality of the meal. To determine the correct table setting for your meal, check out our holiday party guide.
You should also decorate your space with little touches of fall! Hang a pinecone wreath on the door, place decorative squash outside your front door and, perhaps most importantly, create a beautiful tablescape for your dinner table. All you need are a few small pumpkins, candles and pinecones to create a festive centerpiece that makes the whole room shine. Make it as simple or as elegant as you want. You don’t have to go all out with your table setting, but festive touches here and there won’t hurt.
Don’t forget to have DIY Thanksgiving place card holders ready – they are a quick and easy way to further enhance your table’s aesthetic and guests’ experiences.
Set the tone from the moment your guests enter the door to the time they leave by playing sweet tunes in the background as everyone dines together. From vintage hits and classics to warm acoustics and instrumentals, celebrate the spirit of the season by adding mood-setting music to your dinner’s atmosphere that will fill any awkward silences and make everyone feel more festive.
Thanksgiving Day Recipes
You can’t have Thanksgiving dinner without food! Well, maybe you can but your guests probably wouldn’t be too happy about it. If you are in charge of the gathering but wondering what to serve, look no further. Here are some of our favorite recipes:
Start your Thanksgiving Day right with a delicious breakfast! Eating breakfast before you begin preparing for dinner helps fill you with enough energy to get through all the cooking and cleaning you have on your to-do list.
Apple Cider Pancakes by Ally’s Sweet & Savory Eats
Pancake lovers will rejoice when they wake up to the sweet scent and flavorful autumn taste of these fluffy apple cider pancakes. Plus, this recipe uses ingredients you probably already have in your pantry so you can focus your shopping list on everything you need for dinner.
Chocolate Chip Banana Bread French Toast by Busy Mommy
Chocolate chips, banana bread and French toast are three of the greatest breakfast foods of all time and with this recipe you can have them all! This is an especially quick and easy breakfast recipe because you can make regular banana bread earlier in the week and use your leftovers for this mouthwatering meal.
Apple Turnovers by Cooking Up Cottage
Put away the toaster strudels and start your Thanksgiving right with these sweet and fresh apple turnovers. This quick and easy recipe uses food you probably already have and the final result is delectable!
Appetizers & Side Dishes
Everyone knows that the entrée is the star of the show, but tasty sides are what really make the meal! From the classic staples to some new and exciting takes on old favorites, your guests will reach for seconds and thirds when you make these delectable side dishes.
Green Bean Casserole by Cooking Up Cottage
A classic staple to any holiday’s table, this must-have green bean casserole is sure to be a hit with all your guests. It’s simple, flavorful and it only requires four basic ingredients. Does it get better than that?
Creamy Potato and Broccoli Bake by Ally’s Sweet & Savory Eats
Creamy, hearty, cheesy and hot, this dish is perfect for your Thanksgiving meal. Its easily adaptable, so everyone at your dinner is sure to be pleased. Have a vegetarian guest? Leave the bacon out of the dish and put some on the side so meat-lovers can sprinkle it in themselves. Don’t love broccoli? Swap it out for cauliflower or don’t put anything in. Prefer a different type of cheese? Use whatever you love.
Cobb Salad with Cornbread Croutons and Avocado Dressing by Busy Mommy
Healthy and easy to prepare, this cobb salad is a great opening act to the main entrée. Made with zucchini, bacon, eggs and cornbread croutons, your guests will love this colorful and tasty salad. Plus, it comes with homemade avocado dressing.
Host a standout Thanksgiving dinner with a twist when you try these delicious entrées! While turkey is the traditional center of the Thanksgiving table, these alternative main courses are just as filling and oh-so-tasty!
Sweet and Spicy Meatloaf by Busy Mommy
Want the taste of a traditional Thanksgiving meal without the hassle? Look no further than this mouthwatering meatloaf! Substitute ground turkey instead of beef and you’ll have a delicious turkey dinner with a delectable twist.
Chicken and Spinach Stuffed Shells by Ally’s Sweet and Savory Eats
Spruce up the traditional Thanksgiving menu by having an Italian-inspired entrée. This chicken and spinach stuffed shells recipe is not only delicious, it will also leave you feeling just as full as a turkey dinner would (and it doesn’t take all day to cook)!
Chicken Pot Pie by Cooking Up Cottage
A creamy filling and buttery crust make this a must-have entrée for your Thanksgiving meal – or any other meal! Perfect for small, informal dinners, this pot pie will impress any guest and make them wish for more. Still want a turkey on the table? This chicken pot pie would also make a great side dish!
We also have a whole list of Thanksgiving recipes from food blogger Iowa Girl Eats that would be phenomenal additions at dinner!
When all the plates are clear and you feel like you’re about to burst, it’s time for a sweet and satisfying dessert! Okay, maybe you and your guests will need an hour or two of games and conversation first but pull out these desserts at the end of the night, and your guests will thank you.
Pumpkin Cheesecake Mocha Muffins by Ally’s Sweet & Savory Eats
Treat your guests to festive pumpkin cheesecake, rich chocolate and a background hint of coffee flavor when you serve these muffins for Thanksgiving dessert. If you and your guests love pumpkin spice and everything nice, this recipe is for you.
Apple Pie Bars by Cooking Up Cottage
If you have a large crowd for dinner, making enough pie for everyone would be a pretty daunting task. With these apple pie bars, however, everyone can enjoy a finger-licking dessert. The flakey crust and sweet filling is sure to be a hit!
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Tiramisu by Busy Mommy
If the title of this elegant dessert doesn’t make your mouth water, nothing will. It combines espresso, cookies, cinnamon and chocolate pudding, creating a scrumptious dessert that your guests will love. Made the night before your dinner, this dessert option is simple to make and irresistible to taste.
Don’t forget the drinks! We put together a list of our 6 favorite Thanksgiving cocktails that your guests will love. For the little ones and those who don’t want to drink, stock up on non-alcoholic choices as well (apple cider anyone?).
Relax and Have Fun!
Finally, the most important piece advice: relax and have fun! Remember that your guests are there to gather with you and one another, so there’s no need to worry about entertaining. As long as you ask for help, laugh often and find moments of gratitude in the chaos, then you’ve done it right. Even if the turkey is burnt and the kitchen is a mess, enjoy the time you have with your friends and family. That’s what the holiday is all about!
If you’re not hosting dinner but planning to attend one, check out our ultimate guest guide for tips on being a gracious guest.
Do you have tips for hosting (or attending) a Thanksgiving dinner? Share in a comment below!
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