Where’s the baster? Who burnt the rolls? Why is the dog on the table?
These aren’t questions you want to hear at home but especially not when hosting dinner with plentiful guests on Thanksgiving. I have been blessed to live in a 700-square-foot apartment, which means I have never had to try to host a stress-free Thanksgiving. But I have anxiety-inducing memories of my mother and our holidays. It was as though Thanksgiving was the one day all the family members would look under the beds and see my dirty clothes or look inside my dollhouse at the despicable dust. So, let’s keep those memories fond and joyous by following these simple tips:
Quick Tips for Hosting a Stress-Free Thanksgiving
Planning the Dinner
- After finalizing your guest list, figure out how much food you need. Try this handy food calculator.
- Have other family members and friends bring dishes.
- Prep what you can in advance (e.g., pies and casseroles).
- Make sure you have enough seating at the dinner table(s) for all invited.
- Put all the glasses, ice, and beverages in the living room. Save an easy task, like serving drinks, for guests who simply must help.
- Prepare for those who want to put finishing touches on the dishes they’ve brought by clearing a small area of a counter or setting up a small table just outside the kitchen.
Getting the Host and Home Ready
- Plan your day the night before. It will be your “secret weapon.”
- Have a morning routine. Getting into a routine is a must for success. By getting this in place, you have one less thing to think about, which allows you to start your day with momentum.
- After the meal, leave the dishes soaking in sudsy water. Spend time with your guests.
- If things get a little stressful, enjoy the outdoors for a little bit, especially if it is a pretty day. Sunshine days are fewer as the year goes on, and that extra Vitamin D will go a long way.
Preparation Tips for the Planner
While these are great quick tips for hosting a stress-free Thanksgiving, some of us like to plan ahead of time and have a detailed schedule. So, we have put together a schedule for every week leading up to the big day.
3-4 Weeks Before
Finalize Guest List
There’s no need for formal invitations; a phone call or email to friends and family is sufficient. This is the time to ask about dietary preferences and if your great-aunt makes an awesome stuffing that she’d like to bring. This will help you plan your menu.
Plan Your Menu
Pick your favorite turkey recipe today and then plan additional dishes around the bird. If you’re more of a fan of side dishes, start with your favorite recipes and build from there. Think about family favorites and Thanksgiving classics to start, and then, add in a few new dishes. Be sure to also think about drink options and simple bites to serve as guests arrive.
2-3 Weeks Before
Get Your Gear
With plenty of time to hit the stores, now is the time to shop for tools you’ll need for the big day. Think about what you needed last year that you didn’t have or upgrade some of your current tools to help ease the cooking process.
Create a Shopping List
With a few weeks to go, take the time to start organizing your shopping list. If guests are bringing dishes, make sure they’re in the loop about how many people are attending. If you’re cooking solo, pick easier, big-batch recipes to make the day less stressful.
Order a Turkey
With your menu set and guest list finalized, order your turkey. Assume two pounds per adult and one pound per child (to guarantee leftovers). If you’re buying a frozen turkey, you have time—just don’t wait until the last minute.
1-2 Weeks Before
Clean Out Your Freezer
Cooking and freezing as much as possible now will save you time on turkey day. Clean out your freezer to make room for everything you’ll be putting in.
Make and freeze pie dough or an entire apple pie. Transfer it to the refrigerator the night before baking to thaw. And the next day, you’ll have a fresh, juicy apple pie on your table in about an hour.
Decide on Décor
Once you’ve decided whether you’re serving buffet-style or a sit-down dinner, you can start to plan your décor. Think about whether you’ll want to order flowers ahead of time.
Pick a roll recipe that will freeze well—one that has a moist base of butter, buttermilk, pureed pumpkin, or squash. On Thanksgiving Day, take them out of the freezer in the morning and allow them to defrost at room temperature.
4-5 Days Before
Shop for Non-Perishables
Divide your shopping list into perishables and non-perishables and get the latter out of the way now. Wait until the day before Thanksgiving to buy fresh vegetables, seafood, and bread.
Being organized is the key to hosting a stress-free Thanksgiving. Review your recipes and create a day-by-day cooking schedule for the week leading up to Thanksgiving as well as a day-of plan. Make place cards for your guests if you’ll be hosting a sit-down meal and figure out a seating plan.
Plan Ahead for Leftovers
Make it easy on yourself (and guests) by having containers and bags ready to go.
Pick Up Your Turkey
If you’ve ordered a turkey, now is the time to pick it up, so it will defrost in time.
3 Days Before
Defrost Your Turkey
Thawing a frozen turkey takes time and patience. The best way is to thaw the bird in the coldest area of the fridge with a pan underneath to catch any drips (not on the counter).
Buy Perishable Ingredients
Now is the time to hit the grocery once again to buy the perishable ingredients such as fresh produce, cheese, and dairy products.
2 Days Before
Start with Cranberry Sauce and Pies
Cranberry sauce can stay fresh in the fridge up to two weeks because of its high acidity, so make it now and refrigerate it in a jar or bowl covered in plastic wrap. If you didn’t freeze your pie crusts ahead of time, make them today and wrap the dough to store in the fridge. If you’ve prepped items and kept them in the freezer, take them out to defrost. This includes any pie crusts or stock you made in advance.
1 Day Before
Prepare Ingredients and Sides
Make sides that will reheat well, such as casseroles and creamed onions. Prep garnishes, toppings, salad greens, and stuffing ingredients. Cook soups and let them cool before storing in the refrigerator if you didn’t freeze any options in advance. If your stuffing recipe calls for stale bread, cut the bread now and set the cubes on a baking sheet to dry out.
For more tips on how to host a stress-free Thanksgiving, check out The Ultimate Guide to Your First Stress-Free Thanksgiving.
Stay tuned to our blog for more ways you can make this Thanksgiving your best one yet!