Thanksgiving is likely the biggest holiday meal you will prepare all year. I believe the real work is in the planning rather than the event itself. This is a meal reflecting your personal style and creativity, so take the time to make it special. Attention to the smallest of details are what it takes to really elevate this celebration into one you will remember for years to come. Here are some suggestions.
Hopefully by now if you were planning on getting a fresh, high-quality turkey, you have placed your order and are already choosing simple, special dishes your family and friends will love. Maybe you are even trying some new recipes for fun. However, do not take on too much; ask those you have invited to bring something. People love to help and feel needed. Wine, pie and appetizers are great ways to help take the pressure off of you and allow everyone to participate in the feast. Make sure if you are trying a new recipe you do make it earlier in the month to test its worthiness as well as the timing for cooking, that way there will no surprises or failures to frazzle you on the big day.
I always feel it’s important to ask my guests what dishes make Thanksgiving special for them. If there is something they can’t live without or enjoy the way a certain dish is prepared, I invite them to bring it to the party. They always love to show off their favorite, treasured recipes .
About now you should take stock of your tableware, this includes linens (tablecloths, napkins and placemats), flatware, platters, bowls and glasses. If you do not have adequate pieces, borrow, buy or rent what you are missing. If you are serving your meal buffet style, make sure you set up your dishes beforehand to make sure everything fits properly. If you have any heirloom or antique servingware, this is the time to incorporate them into the meal. Don’t forget to create a seating plan and make sure you have enough chairs to seat everyone comfortably. Don’t make the kid’s table an afterthought, they are a huge part of what we are thankful for. Cover their table in butcher paper and have crayons available they can use to draw. Have them make their own placemats beforehand, assign an adult or willing teenager to help with this activity while dinner is being prepared. Make sure you have children’s movies or games available to entertain them after they eat (they will finish first), so the adults can continue their meal. As a parent, there is nothing better than a hostess who has obviously prepared for your children, it makes everything so much more wonderful.
This is also the time to think about any centerpieces or other table decorations you might want to use. Autumnal touches are nice additions to the holiday table. The simplest of arrangements will convey a welcoming and light-hearted mood to all of your guests; think olive branches, rosemary or evergreen boughs placed strategically around cream-colored pillar candles. Make a similar arrangement for the buffet, mantles, sideboard and occasional tables for continuity. Sometimes just an arrangement of persimmons in a beautiful bowl is a nice touch.
Place cards with your guests names and a few words of why you are thankful for them is a nice touch, one that everyone loves and looks forward to year after year.
As your guests arrive, greet them at the door with glasses of sparkling wine or apple cider, a sure sign of a celebration taking place. It is nice to have light snacks available, things like nuts, olives, an antipasto platter and dips to munch on. Nothing too heavy is necessary.
As far as kitchen preparations go, many things can be done ahead to avoid the last minute rush. Cranberry sauces, chutneys and relishes can be prepared up to two weeks ahead and stored tightly covered in the refrigerator. Gravy can also be made ahead to avoid last minute panic after the turkey is out of the oven. Make sure to let your turkey rest for about 25 minutes once you remove it from the oven; cover it with aluminum foil to keep it warm. While the turkey is resting, place side dishes you have brought to room temperature into the oven to heat up. If your turkey appears dry after you have carved it, drizzle it with warmed turkey stock just before serving, no one will ever know you overcooked the bird.
Pass bread or rolls in a rustic, cloth-lined basket. Make sure you have butter available at both ends of the table.
If you are serving many pies or different types of dessert, have a separate dessert buffet table with plates and flatware ready to go. Have guests serve themselves when they are ready or place a family member or friend in charge of cutting pies or scooping ice cream while you make the coffee and open dessert wine.
Obviously there are so many ideas to try and ease the stress of the Thanksgiving meal. I do believe regardless of how casual or elegant your celebration, there are extra-special touches you can put in place to make this holiday an outstanding celebration for you and your guests.
Does anyone else have any other great ideas?
One Year Ago Today: Two-Ingredient Pumpkin Cake with Apple Cider Glaze
Bellini Valli says
Thanks for all the tips Cathy. Thanksgiving here in Canada is in October so I’d have to say the biggest meal of the year is Christmas here but all of your tips still hold true for that!!!
I love the idea of writing not only the person’s name on a place card but a few reasons why you’re thankful for them. That’s a nice touch.
gfe--gluten free easily says
Wow, what a great post, Cathy! I’m hosting this year so I really appreciate the reminders and some new ideas as well. It will be here before we know it so planning is essential. I believe it’s my favorite holiday because it’s all about gratitude for the people we love. 🙂
Jennifer Fun House says
Thanks so much for all the tips! I LOVE Thanksgiving so much and look forward to it every year.
I’m sure youre will be fantastic!!
Thank you. This is an awesome post.
Could you post some of your favorite wines that pair with bird and desserts? Please?
Yes, my idea would be for you to invite us over for dinner! 😉
Lena in VT says
This is an amazing post, it reminded me of all the things I really need to do, especially attention to detail.
Barbie with a T says
I love the advice you have given me. Especially making he gravy and cranberry sauce ahead of time. I will do that this year, as I am cooking for 9-10 people and I know I will be stressed for time. However, the turkey and stuffing is the easiest part of the dinner, I do believe. Once it is in the oven, not much attention is needed for that, except to baste a few times. I have asked the others to bring side dishes, so really my burden is very light. I will prepare appetizers too, but they will also be prepared ahead of time. I love to watch the Thanksgiving Day Parades in the morning, so I don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen all that time. Thanks again for the tips. Every litte bit helps!
Great tips Cathy – I am looking forward to a stress free Thanksgiving this year…we are heading to a friends house.
Thanks for all the greenery suggestions, I am going to really create a warm and welcoming environment this year at my house!
This is a great article for anyone hosting Thanksgiving! My mother and mother in law are still hosting, but I’m looking forward to having Thanksgiving at my house sometime soon so I can put my own touches on the day. Great suggestions!
Mental P Mama says
My favorite meal!
Liz C. says
I never thought about making the gravy ahead of time, but that’s a solid good idea! We’re invited to our best friends’ house this year, but I’m doing the turkey on my grill & they are doing the beef tenderloin.
I usually set the the table & get the decorations done a couple of days early, hoping the cat doesn’t jump up & knock everything over…
Lisa Sipple says
I love the advice. I need to get all my platters out and my chutneys and relishes made early! I love the idea of bringing the champagne to the door, very festive!
Rachel the SdOC says
I hosted Thanksgiving two years in a row with the intention of hosting it forver. I had 17 people on the guest list last year and it was just getting to be too much. I said I would host Thanksgiving again when Kevin and I have an actual house that can squeeze the people in more comfortably.
My family likes to wait forever to get to the table, but once they do, it’s dine and dash, so it’s a lot of clean-up and wear and tear on my apartment and it all falls on me. Decorating is never an option in my place. We have no space to decorate! 😀
I will be going to my mother’s boyfriend’s house this year and I’m taking the turkey. I’m also taking the time I’m not using to plan and cook a whole dinner to make lots of homemade bread. I haven’t baked bread in years and this is the perfect time to do so!
I can’t imagine just how tasty and beautiful T-day at your place would be. The wine list alone would probably bowl me over (and you can take a lot of credit for helping me choose the wine for last year’s T-day dinner).
It sounds like you are way ahead of the game. You have some great tips here, Cathy.
Involve teenagers in peeling potatoes. Our crowd includes AA members, and so we serve varieties of soda in lieu of wine; that doesn’t mean lovely wine glasses can’t be used. And take every offer of dish cleanup afterward! I also always rinse my pots and put them into the dishwasher, so I eat to the happy sound of one or more dishwashers working, so i don’t have to!
Because we don’t have family here and everyone else does…we often have a Practice Thanksgiving on the Sunday before, and invite all our friends. On Thanksgiving proper we each choose a favorite food, could be anything, and that’s our dinner (with a movie!).
Karen Deborah says
I have a great idea can we come to your house?
Marcy Able says
sounds like you set one beautiful table there Cathy. HOwever , here, its just the five of us – maybe 7 with some friends, and we have a nice , fun, filling meal, but no place card settings, lol.
I love the place card idea! We have about 12 people for Thanksgiving and usually twice that for Christmas.
Great tips! Thanks. I’m hosting 12 for Thanksgiving this year. I’m making my mother’s sweet potato apple casserole and serving it in hollowed out orange halves. They can be hollowed out and frozen, then thawed and filled in time for dinner. (I tested one to be sure it wouldn’t turn to mush.) Should be a beautiful and fun way to serve the casserole. Happy Thanksgiving!
garden dogs says
I have found that it helpful to not only have a dessert table all prepped, but also an appetizer/beverage area. This aids in keeping people out of the kitchen. It is also helpful when your kitchen counter space is limited, but you have enough space to set up before and after dinner areas.
Cathy at Wives with Knives says
After years of preparing Thanksgiving dinner I’m not cooking this year. It will seem strange but nice that every pot and pan in my kitchen isn’t stacked up waiting to be washed. But then, no leftovers.
Natasha - 5 Star Foodie says
This will be only my second time hosting Thanksgiving and I’m a little nervous as in addition to our local extended family we are having guests from New England who are eating outside of their home for the first time in 30 years!
I wish I were planning a Thanksgiving feast this year! I’m excited to be visiting family instead, but I do love to plan and test and prep for the big day at my house.
Thanks for the wonderful ideas! I usually have Thanksgiving at my house but this year we will be at my husband’s parents home. I’m in charge of pies and a side dish.
Great advice, Cathy.
I make my gravy ahead- but only partially. I make a veloute sauce with homemade chicken broth a couple days ahead and then stick it in the fridge. When the turkey is done, I just deglaze with brandy, add the veloute and it’s done.
Blond Duck says
It’s only a small family gathering at our place for us…these are great tips though!
Wow….I dream of this kind of Thanksgiving. Not happening in my house…I will continue to dream though because it sounds fabulous! LOL!
What a great post! I love your site. I am still trying if I am going to roast or smoke the turkey. My favorite part is pulling out the china. Good tip about the silver, I have actually never used mine. I am going to polish it. Thanks for the reminder.
Some great ideas! I heard another idea recently about someone who makes her mashed potatoes earlier in the day and keeps them warm in the crock pot. If you make gravy ahead too everything should be done around the same time without the stress of anything cooling off too much.
Our Thanksgiving is a very small affair, but my dream is to have a very large group of friends and family share the day with us.
Great suggestions. In our family, we have lots of vegetarians, so s number of years ago we abandoned the turkey as the centerpiece of the meal and began to focus each year on a different cuisine. We’ve had Italian and even Chinese, but the favorite, I think, was tapas Thanksgiving. No one central dish, but 30 different tapas on offer! We’ve challenged ourselves to think of Thanksgiving not as the turkey meal, but as a time we all get together and enjoy ourselves. The food has become less important over time than the effort it takes to bring everyone together.
Great tips, Cathy!
I’m being invited this year instead of doing the inviting. But I will keep your tips handy.
Great post! This gave me a lot of good ideas. I think I’m going to do a buffet this year since our table gets just too overloaded. I’d rather have a big centerpiece and some breathing room.
One good purchase I made years ago was a set of 12 matching mini salt and pepper shakers. I distribute them around the table so everyone has them within reach. Saved me a lot of grumbling from the father-in-law and they’re just cute.
I’m off to learn about make-ahead gravy. That would certainly save my sanity!
Zupan's Markets says
Fantastic ideas for making the Thanksgiving holiday one to enjoy rather than be stressed out over. Your attention to detail and thoughtful touches will certainly be appreciated by all!
Mrs. L says
“Does anyone else have any other great ideas?” Other than getting invited to your house for dinner?????