Are you getting ready to host Thanksgiving for the first time? You’re probably feeling pretty excited about it. After all, Thanksgiving is one of the most delicious holidays of the year, and getting together with family and friends (especially after a year of pandemic isolation) is something to look forward to.
However, while preparing a meal is usually not a big deal, Thanksgiving dinner just seems a lot more challenging. If you’re worried about pulling it off, don’t be. In this post, we’ve got you covered through the whole event. You don’t need to follow all the tips in this article to have a great Turkey day, but if you implement just a few of them, we guarantee it will be that much better.
For Thanksgiving, You’re Going To Need a Plan
This is probably the most important tip on our list and the one you won’t want to skip. When you’re getting ready to host any event (whether it’s a Thanksgiving feast, birthday bash, baby shower, etc.), you’ll want to arm yourself with a plan. Planning is crucial for staying organized, and it will make everything run smoother, ensuring that you’ll get to enjoy everything as much as your guests when the big day comes.
We recommend you grab a notebook and a pen before you move to the rest of the tips. That way, you can plan as you go along.
Figure Out How Many People Are Coming
It’s hard to budget for food if you don’t know who’s coming to dinner. So your first step should be determining how many guests you will be cooking for. In some cases, this will be pretty clear cut, but for larger gatherings, you may not know yet.
One solution is to send out invitations and ask people to RSVP. This tip is especially great for larger gatherings, but you also need to plan it weeks ahead. If you’re running short on time, send out email invitations—they are faster and cheaper.
Determine Your Budget
While most everyone would love to plan a Martha Stewart-style Thanksgiving, it’s usually not in the budget for most families. The extra expense of the meal and decorations is typically not planned for, especially when Christmas is so close at hand.
If you’re looking for a way to squeeze a little extra cash out for the celebrations, consider a side gig like taking online paid surveys, or selling some unwanted items on eBay.
It’s much easier to have a relaxing and enjoyable hallway when you can purchase the things you need without stress.
Plan Your Menu
Once you know how many guests you will be hosting, you can start planning the menu. Of course, the first item on your shopping list will probably be a turkey, but how big of a bird do you need? Most experts recommend 1.25 pounds per person, which equates to the following:
4 Guests: 5 pounds
6 Guests: 8 pounds
8 Guests: 10 pounds
10 Guests: 13 pounds
12 Guests: 15 pounds
15 Guests: 20 pounds
20 Guests: 25 pounds
25 Guests: 32 pounds
Note: If you purchase a frozen turkey, you’ll want to thaw it safely in your refrigerator, so it’s ready to cook on Thanksgiving day. The rule of thumb is that you will need to put your turkey in the fridge for approximately 24 hours for every four pounds. This means that a 20-pound bird will take five days, so be sure you give yourself plenty of time.
Next, you need to figure out what sides you want to make. This is going to depend on your family traditions, food budget, and cooking abilities. You might already have an idea of what you want to serve, but here are a few of the more traditional sides. Keep in mind—you do not need to make every single item on this list. Simply choose a few that are easy for you:
Squash, Turnip, or Other Root Vegetables
Green Bean Casserole
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Most people would agree that Thanksgiving is not complete without dessert. For many, it’s the highlight of the meal. The most popular Thanksgiving dessert is pie—apple, pumpkin, blueberry, custard, pecan—whatever suits you.
If you are not confident in your baking abilities, your local supermarkets and bakeries will typically have pies to go, or you can order them ahead of time and pick them up the day before Thanksgiving. And don’t forget the whipped cream!
Of course, pie is not the only dessert you can serve at Thanksgiving. Cookies, cakes, cobblers, and other desserts are great too.
Potluck or Not?
Thanksgiving can be a real challenge to prepare alone. Some people love to prepare the food and are most happy when they are in the kitchen alone, creating delicious meals to serve to their loved ones. If this is you, skip right over this section.
For others, cooking is a dreaded chore, and the kitchen is a place to get out of as soon as possible.
Depending on your preferences and the number of guests who are coming, a potluck might be just the solution to your woes. Of course, everyone should be on board, but if you do a potluck, it will save you money and time.
For many families (especially large ones), a potluck is standard at Thanksgiving. If you choose to go this route, you could plan on doing the turkey, gravy, and beverages and assign side dishes and desserts to your guests. Or you might do everything except for drinks and desserts, asking guests to BYOB and bring a dessert to share.
There is no right or wrong way to do a potluck, so you can choose to do it any way you would like. However, be sure that everyone who is bringing something is going to be reliable.
It would be a bummer if the person assigned to stuffing forgot all about it, or nobody brought desert because they assumed others would. So be sure to get a firm commitment from your guests or have a backup plan.
A Few Days Before Thanksgiving
The big day is right around the corner, and you don’t want to be stressed. Now is the time to start getting things in order. The more you can do ahead of time, the more you will enjoy the holiday. Here are a few things you can get out of the way now:
Assemble Plates, Cups, and Utensils
Something that is often overlooked is the dinnerware. If you only have four plates and you’ve got 15 guests showing up, you’ll need more than that. You can find paper plates, plastic silverware, and more at rock-bottom prices at this time of the year. Some even have cute holiday designs.
Of course, you can always break out the fine china, too. Make sure it’s washed and ready to use. You can even lay the table ahead of time. If you’re worried about things getting messed up, lay a clean sheet over everything and uncover it on Thanksgiving morning.
Peel and Chop the Vegetables
You can peel, chop, and wash squash, potato, turnip, sweet potato, and other root vegetables, so they are all ready when it’s time to turn on the stove. The same goes for salad ingredients or any other fresh veggie you will be using, such as onion or celery in your stuffing.
Store everything in resealable plastic bags in the fridge to save on space. You can even write the directions on the outside of the bag. That way, you won’t be scrambling for the info on your phone or in a cookbook when it’s time to start cooking.
If you plan on making desserts, you can (and should) get this out of the way at least a day before Thanksgiving. For example, while pies are not difficult to make, they do take quite a while to cook, and you’re probably going to need your oven for other things on the day of the feast.
Breath, Relax, and Enjoy
Yes, the chaos of getting ready for the first Thanksgiving at your place can be pretty overwhelming. But the real point is gratitude and celebration. Mistakes will happen, and perfection is an illusion. So what if everything isn’t “just so”? This is real life.
As you are going about your preparations, don’t forget to take deep breaths and focus on each task you are doing. Consider the love and good vibes you are putting into creating this meal for the people you care about, and savor the smells, sounds, and sights around you.
Implementing some of the above tips while being mindful of why you’re doing them will ensure you are more than ready to host your first Thanksgiving celebration.