Let's face it; hosting Thanksgiving dinner can be intimidating. But the good news is that it does not have to be. Whether you are feeding 6 people or 20, follow these 8 tips to make this year's Thanksgiving stress-free, enjoyable, and, most importantly, fun!
Hopefully, your Thanksgiving Dinner this year will look more like the traditional ones you have had in the past with family and friends around your table.
The following tips will help make it stress-free regardless of how many people you feed. Over the years, I have planned Thanksgiving dinner for as few as 4 people and as many as 25 and used the following tips to ensure that I enjoyed the day as much as everyone who was eating the feast with me.
If you use these 8 tips, you too will be guaranteed the perfect Thanksgiving Feast!
1. Plan your Menu 2-3 Weeks Before Thanksgiving
The key to a stress-free Thanksgiving dinner is to have a plan. Start by creating a menu. Most importantly, plan the menu several weeks before the big day. This will allow enough time to finalize it, which minimizes stress.
When creating your menu, consider the following tips.
- Include a variety of colorful dishes. Typical dishes that are often served include:
- Starchy side vegetables such as mashed or au gratin potatoes and sweet potatoes
- 1-2 vegetables
- Salad- Apple Cranberry Salad is a refreshing salad made with flavors that are in season.
- Cranberry Sauce or relish
- Incorporate simple side dishes that can be made ahead and reheated. Garlic Green Beans, Brussels Sprouts, and Roasted Acorn Squash are easy to prepare ahead of time and warmed on the stovetop or in the microwave.
- Include family favorites! My family loves to have our traditional dishes, but I like to try a few new ones. Mix it up to make it interesting!
- Evaluate the amount of oven space that is available. Include menu items that use various cooking methods, such as a stovetop, microwave, oven, or slow cooker. Also, include some that require no cooking.
- To increase space in the oven, purchase this three-tiered rack. It allows you to cook side dishes with the turkey. I discovered the rack last year, and it is a game-changer! Be sure to use square and rectangular pans to fit more pans in the oven.
- Consider purchasing a few store-bought foods. Rolls and desserts are a great option to buy from your favorite local bakery. Many grocery stores also have delicious baked goods.
- Ask guests to help! Share the menu with your guests and request that they bring their favorite side dish from the menu. The added benefit is that it will minimize the number of people in the kitchen on Thanksgiving.
2. How Much Food to Prepare
Knowing how much food to prepare can be challenging, especially if you normally do not cook for many people. Running out of food is embarrassing. However, you also don't want to overcook and deal with storing a large number of leftovers.
Below is a basic guide that will help you plan the amount of food to prepare for your Thanksgiving dinner.
|Menu Item||Amount of Food to Prepare|
|Turkey||1 to 1 ½ pounds per person|
|Gravy||½ cup per person|
|Mashed potatoes||½ pound per person|
|Green Beans||⅓ pound per person|
|Brussels Sprouts||¼ pound per person|
|Casserole||9-inch x 13-inch feeds 10-12 people|
|Rolls||1-2 per person|
|Pie||8-inch or 9-inch round feeds 8-10 people|
3. Create a Grocery List and Shop It
- If you are purchasing a fresh turkey, order it 2-3 weeks before Thanksgiving.
- Beat the rush and shop for non-perishables 2 weeks before Thanksgiving.
- The week before Thanksgiving, shop for perishable items.
4. Prepare Food Ahead of Time
Many dishes served on Thanksgiving lend themselves to being prepared ahead of time, which will alleviate stress on the day of Thanksgiving. The following are a few ideas. Give them a try!
- Vegetables and cranberry sauce can be made several days before Thanksgiving.
- Desserts, casseroles, and rolls can be made the day before.
- Prep the turkey the day before so that all you have to do is cook it on Thanksgiving.
- Make the stuffing the day before, refrigerate it, and bake it alongside the turkey.
5. Plan a Cooking Timeline
A written cooking timeline is a lifesaver that will reduce stress levels. With so many side dishes to juggle, it isn't easy to track when they need to be cooked unless they are written down.
Make a list of all the dishes you plan to serve and what day you will prepare them. Create the timeline by working backward from the time you want to serve.
The timeline will ensure that all the food is done and ready to serve.
Determine each menu item's serving dishes and utensils and add them to your timeline.
Pro tip: Put a sticky note in the serving dish with the menu item written on it.
Create a spreadsheet that includes the following:
- Menu item-list all the foods you will be serving.
- Day to prepare the dish-the day you plan to prepare and/or cook the dish.
- Equipment-the equipment you will use to make the menu item.
- Cooking time-the length of time required to cook the dish
- Start time-when to start cooking or rewarming the menu item.
- End Time-when the dish will be finished cooking or rewarming.
- Serving dish-the dish you will serve the menu item in.
- Complete-check the box when the menu item is set on the table or serving buffet.
6. Set the Table
If possible, set the table a few days before Thanksgiving.
Remember to add a centerpiece. It does not have to be elaborate or fancy—a few pumpkins with tea candles scattered around them would be simple yet add a festive touch to the table.
On Thanksgiving day, have a job list where everyone signs up for a task. Don't forget to have tasks for children. They love to help and be included in preparing and eating the meal!
8. Have a Plan for Leftovers
Ask guests to bring containers with them to take leftovers home or purchase take-out food containers.
How long do leftovers last?
|Food||Number of days |
food lasts in the refrigerator
|Roast Turkey||3-4 days|
|Turkey and gravy||1-2 days|
|Mashed potatoes||3-5 days|
|Cooked vegetables||3-5 days|
|Cranberry sauce or relish||5-7 days|
|Pumpkin pie||2-3 days|
|Fruit Pie||3-5 days|
In short, by following these tips, your Thanksgiving dinner will be stress-free.
Now, all that is left to do is play your favorite tunes on your smart speaker, light a scented candle, pour yourself your favorite beverage, and enjoy the day with family and friends.
I hope you found these tips helpful. Let me know in the comments below!
There are links to Amazon for equipment that I use to make this recipe for your convenience. If you purchase the equipment, I'll receive a small commission. For more information, please read my policy.