I was honored when Teresa Farney from the Colorado Spring Gazette asked me to send her some tips for hosting Thanksgiving. In response to her request, I went a little wild and sent her A LOT of tips. Since she had so many other great pieces of advice from others, she couldn't share all of them.
However, I know how daunting it can be to hold a big dinner for the first time so I have included below the rest of my tips for being a great Thanksgiving host.
As I mentioned in the article, I love planning events and parties, but could not deal with the stress of 15+ people in my home the first time I hosted Thanksgiving. My guests had to take over my kitchen while I sat in a corner nursing a glass of whiskey. Here are some of the lessons I learned that day which may help you in your own Thanksgiving prep.
1. A tradition with my family has been to ask everyone to bring a dish. I love this because you can try so many styles of cooking in one meal. Set up a Google Document as a sign up sheet and email/text it to everyone invited. You can even lay out a template, such as we need a potato dish, a green vegetable dish, a salad, appetizers, dessert, drinks, etc. Then people can put their name by the dish(es) that they want to bring. Also add in a space on the Google Doc for anyone to indicate allergies/food sensitivities. As the host, you can specify first what you are making. Send this document out at least 2 weeks in advance to your guests, and give them a deadline of the Monday that week so you can add any last minute dishes to your grocery list if needed.
2. Part of my overwhelm years ago came from the constant need from others to put their dish in the oven. My recommendation is to either ask people to bring a crockpot for their dish if it needs to be warmed, or decide to make the warm dishes yourself. Remember that if you're cooking a Turkey in the oven, it takes up most of the space. Be sure to indicate that guests need to bring a crockpot in your email and on your Google Doc.
3. Have a crockpot table set out ahead of time for your guests, including the power strip for electrical cords and little spoon rests/plates for the stirring utensils. And be sure to make space in your refrigerator or have coolers available for the cold dishes.
4. Something else to remember is that you don't have to cook everything from scratch! It isn't cheating if you get a dessert pre-made, pre-made rolls, or those bagged salads from the store. You can even order a fully cooked turkey if the idea of making one from scratch is daunting. One year I made dinner for two people on Thanksgiving, which included a couple turkey breasts instead of a full turkey. That was much easier to make and took a lot less time for a small group of guests.
5. Make as many things ahead of time that you can! That would include cranberry sauce and salads (reserve the dressing until about to eat), charcuterie boards or dips. You can even prep the stuffing and other items the day before, so you can throw them in the oven when it's time for them to actually cook. I recommend making a schedule and working backwards from what will take the least amount of time to what will take the most (turkey is the longest). You can put your guests to work the day of with chopping and help prepping, but beware that too many cooks in the kitchen can get stressful!
6. Even though you are the host, you can set a limit on how many dishes you make. My recommendation is to only do 3 and ask your guests to fill in the gaps. Typically the host provides the meat and at least one warmed dish.
7. Make sure you have enough silverware, napkins, cups, plates, and bowls. You can always check out the Arc Thriftstore for great deals on all those items, or get disposable if necessary. Your friends and family may be willing to lend you some as well. You can even ask them to borrow a tablecloth or folding tables/chairs if needed.
8. Last but most importantly, make a list of tools, to dos, groceries, items to buy, etc., at least two weeks in advance. Check items off as you go. You'll feel less stressed knowing exactly what needs to be done.
Some easy but delicious dishes to make:
Homemade cranberry sauce is surprisingly easy and can really be versatile. The orange in this recipe gives it an extra kick: https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/tyler-florence/cranberry-orange-sauce-recipe3-1946636
This salad tastes really bright and brings the balance of acidity needed while eating a meal with lots of savory dishes:. https://cookieandkate.com/autumn-kale-salad-with-fennel-honeycrisp-and-goat-cheese/ It's sometimes hard to find fennel locally, so you can always make this recipe instead: https://cookieandkate.com/roasted-butternut-squash-apple-salad-recipe/
Alton Brown is known for his tried and tested recipes, and this one is a classic turkey recipe: https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/good-eats-roast-turkey-recipe-1950271
Garlic reskinned mashed potatoes are my favorite. This recipe is easy and has lots of flavor: https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/garlic-mashed-red-potatoes/
This stuffing recipe is a showstopper: https://www.today.com/recipes/wild-mushroom-cornbread-dressing-t104094 It does take a little bit of time to prepare, so be sure to prep as much as you can the day before.