Hosting your first Thanksgiving Dinner can seem like a momentous task but it doesn’t have to be! Today I am sharing all my tips and tricks to make Thanksgiving a fun day full of wonderful memories.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. It’s all about food, fun, family, and friends. I love that there are no rules, you can get together with family, friends, neighbors, anyone! You don’t have to have turkey, you can eat whatever you want! The only requirement is to enjoy yourself!
When Dave and I first got married my parents lived in California. They usually came to visit sometime during the holidays, many times at Thanksgiving. When they were here I started hosting Thanksgiving with my Mom’s help.
After a while she helped less and less the more confident I became. Now her main job is to peel potatoes (I hate that task!). Dave and I pretty much have the day down to a science after almost 25 years of marriage and I will share all my tips with you today.
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1. Prepare and Plan Ahead to Host Thanksgiving Dinner
The first thing you need to do is prepare, and prepare early! I usually start buying things in September. Usually, I pick up one or two items a week, like boxes of stuffing or cans of cranberry sauce. That stuff keeps for a long time.
Here is a list of things you can buy early:
- Canned Cranberry Sauce
- Pickles, Olives, and Nuts
- Disposable Roasting Pan
- Oven bags for Turkey (or Ham)
- Cans of Green Beans or other Veggies you like
- Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix
- paper plates and napkins for dessert
- anything else that keeps for longer than a couple of months
One to Two Weeks Before You Host Thanksgiving Dinner
A week or two before the big day purchase a turkey. Keep it in the freezer until about 3/4 days before Thanksgiving, depending on the size of the turkey. The larger the bird the longer it will take to defrost.
The general rule of thumb I go by when purchasing a turkey is for every person count 1.5 lbs of turkey.
Double-check and make sure you have all the supplies for all the recipes you have planned.
Make sure you have all the supplies for any crafts and decorations you plan to do.
What to do the Day Before
- Prepare any pies or desserts
- Bake any casseroles that you might not have room in the oven for the day of Thanksgiving. For example, my Mom always pre-makes the corn casserole.
- Set the table
2. Decorate the Home for Thanksgiving
I usually decorate for Fall starting in September. In November I make a few changes to my decor to be geared strictly for Thanksgiving.
3. Set The Table
My favorite thing to decorate for Thanksgiving is the dining table. Creating tablescapes makes me really happy. I have done a few different ones throughout the years that I will link to. You can check them out for some inspiration for your own table.
More Thanksgiving Posts:
- 28 Table Setting Ideas for Thanksgiving
- 22 Adorable Thanksgiving Crafts To Do With Your Kids
- A Copper and Gold Table Setting, With Tips on How to Prepare a Feast!
- DIY Pumpkin Flower Arrangement
4. Invite Guests Early
Once you get the bird in the oven usually you have a couple of hours before anything else needs to be done. I love to have my family come during this time. It’s a great way to enjoy each other’s company before the meal.
One thing we always have on the tv the morning of Thanksgiving is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Sometimes we record it and play it when our guests arrive so there is something fun to watch. Or you can put a movie on or football.
5. How to Keep Kids Happy on Thanksgiving Day
While you are busy cooking or cleaning up the kids usually are looking for something to do. If you have a lot of family in for the big day then you might want to have something planned for them to do. I love games but another option is to have some crafts ready for them to do. Kids love crafts!
I have a post dedicated specifically to Thanksgiving Day Kids Crafts. You can check it out by clicking here or on the image below.
6. Cooking a Turkey
This is usually the most stressful part. People freak out when it comes to cooking the turkey. I know I did before I did it the first time. But it’s really as easy or hard as you make it.
My grandmother used to make a turkey and a ham to make sure there was enough food for everyone. My best friend growing up is Italian and they always had lasagna on Thanksgiving. That’s the beauty of turkey day, you don’t have to have turkey!
A friend of mine has this elaborate recipe from Martha Stewart that she loves! You can do whatever you want!
The most important thing when baking a turkey is to make sure you cook your turkey to the right temperature. I recently purchased this thermometer and I use it for everything, from smoking meat to cooking a turkey.
7. Delegate the jobs
This last hour before dinner is ready is usually the busiest, don’t hesitate to ask for help! Give everyone jobs to do such as: putting dishes on the table, opening wine, or making whatever you are planning on drinking, carving the turkey. There are plenty of jobs and as the host, it is your job to delegate!
Once the bird is out of the oven we warm any dishes that were prepared ahead of time and also cook some beans. We also make the rolls at this point. I usually do Pillsbury Crescent Rolls but when my Mother in Law is here she makes the best yeast rolls! I literally could just eat them, all day and all night they are soo good!
While these dishes are finishing up carve the bird, put it on a platter and put everything on the table, or set everything up for a buffet line.
As you can see there is plenty to do and you don’t have to do it all. Delegate those jobs!
Once you have eaten your fill it’s clean-up time. I usually make more food than is necessary so I don’t have to cook much that weekend. It’s also great to send some food home with your guests. Try sending it in some fun containers like these:
9. After Thanksgiving Dinner, Relax
It’s football watching time, so go sit down with your guests and relax! Whether you watch football or maybe a good movie this is the time to enjoy a job well done and a full belly.
The last thing you want to do after dinner and cleaning up is to clean up again! I encourage you to purchase some cute Thanksgiving plates and napkins so after dessert you can just throw them away. I like these:
10. Thanksgiving Day Traditions
Many families have traditions that they adhere to on Thanksgiving Day.
My family usually participates in the Flying Feather in Dublin, Ohio. It’s a four-mile race that my husband and youngest daughter run, and my oldest daughter and I usually walk.
We usually see a bunch of our friends there and at the finish line, we get a bottle of wine (if you are over 21, under 21 gets sparkling juice). What’s also cool is you burn some calories, banking them for more food later in the day! LOL
Another great tradition is to go around the table and talk about what you are thankful for. Someone I used to work with said his family would write it down on a piece of paper and someone would read them all aloud before or after the meal. I really like this tradition.
For more ideas on Thanksgiving Day traditions, you can check out this article from Country Living Magazine.
How to Host Your First Thanksgiving Dinner Like a Boss
Let’s sum it all up!
- Prepare early by purchasing food, paper plates and napkins, and any craft supplies you will need.
- Decorate your home for the season.
- Set your table for a beautiful meal.
- Invite your guests to arrive early.
- Have crafts ready for the kids to keep them busy.
- Cook the turkey!
- Delegate the jobs to family and friends as you get the meal ready to go on the table.
- Separate the leftovers for everyone.
- Relax and enjoy a job well done.
- Enjoy some Thanksgiving Day traditions.
Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner Your First Time
Sometimes it can be overwhelming the first couple of times you host Thanksgiving.
The number one thing I can recommend is to make a lot of food, that way there are leftovers and if something doesn’t work out it’s not a big deal.
The number two thing I can recommend is to let everyone help. It takes the pressure off you.
Most of all is to have fun! There are no expectations, no rules. My grandmother used to cook a ham along with the turkey. Italians many times cook lasagna. You can do whatever you want! Just have fun!