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12 Tips for Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner – From an Experienced Hostess!

These tips for hosting Thanksgiving will help you have a stress-free day, whether you’re hosting 5 or 35 people! Use this Thanksgiving plan to get organized and prepared to host Thanksgiving dinner, and ease some of the anxiety of hosting the biggest meal of the year!

Thanksgiving is a time for celebration, quality time with the family, and gratitude for what you have. Not to mention, lots and lots of good food, and an excuse to gorge on ALL the carbs.

But if you’re hosting Thanksgiving, then the big day is ALSO about hours of prep work, braving the grocery stores, decorating the table, waking up at 5 am to start cooking, and doing it all while making it look EASY.

Yes, the reality of hosting Thanksgiving can be quite stressful… from witnessing the aftermath of great uncle Bob having enjoyed one too many wine coolers to slaving all day on your prized turkey and ensemble of side dishes only to have your kids eat from the bread bowl!

While some things are simply out of your control, you can prepare and organize yourself so that the day goes as smoothly as possible. And you can follow these tips for hosting Thanksgiving to help ease the anxiety!

Take it from me… my husband and I have hosted Thanksgiving for a LARGE family for the past 4 years. Last year we hosted 35 people! In our fairly small 2,100 square foot home! So believe me when I say, you want to be thoroughly organized and PROACTIVE.

paper on a clipboard that says 12 tips for hosting thanksgiving

Here are my other tips for hosting Thanksgiving dinner…

Let that sweat on your brow be from the heat of your oven rather than raised blood pressure with these easy tips for hosting Thanksgiving dinner:

12 Tips for Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner

1. Always accept a helping hand.

Having friends and family volunteer to contribute to the meal by bringing various dishes will definitely help to ease stress. You can either let them bring their favorite dishes or give them some options to choose from. This will ensure that there isn’t a duplication of any one particular dish or food.

It’s also important for you to decide beforehand what dishes you want to bake or cook versus those that you are happy and comfortable to delegate. The rest can be outsourced to your family and friends and those who aren’t up to cooking can always contribute in other ways by bringing drinks, ice, or store-bought snacks.  

You should also think about suggesting dishes that won’t require the use of your oven, since it will probably already be occupied with your own dishes, and dishes that need very little prep upon arrival. The last thing you need are hoards of people in your kitchen, making a mess and asking you where you keep your appliances and utensils.

My husband’s family is SUPER great about contributing in a BIG way each year, and it makes our jobs as hosts much less stressful! Typically, my husband makes the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, this low-carb squash casserole (which is my FAVORITE!), and one easy appetizer. And his family brings loads of side dishes, a few dessert options, appetizers like stuffed celery and charcuterie boards, and drinks.

low carb squash casserole in a serving spoon

Just because you’re offering up your house, doesn’t mean that you have to do 100% of the work (and take on 100% of the cost!). There’s no shame in asking for help!

2. Prepare certain foods in advance.

It’s always a good idea to prepare as much of the food in advance as you can, which will free up your time on Thanksgiving Day and allow you to actually enjoy the company of your family and friends.

There will likely be dishes that can be prepared entirely ahead of time (like cranberry sauce, cold appetizers, and some desserts) but for those that can’t, try to see whether certain elements of the dish can be made in advance. For instance, you may not want to make your entire apple pie ahead of time, but maybe you can make the dough and the apple filling the day before Thanksgiving. Or, go ahead and toast the nuts or breadcrumbs for your green bean casserole and store them in a ziploc bag until the big day.

Most drinks are also able to be made ahead of time. You can make iced tea and certain punch recipes the day before Thanksgiving, as long as you have room to store them in your fridge overnight.

Which brings me to my next tip for hosting Thanksgiving…

3. Start making room in your fridge BEFORE Thanksgiving.

Most people only have one refrigerator, and when you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner, that one fridge can fill up FAST.

The week leading up to Thanksgiving, you should make an effort to use up any leftovers and empty any condiment bottles that are almost gone. And don’t be afraid to transfer leftovers to freezer zipper bags and store them in your freezer. We’ve frozen spaghetti noodles and sauce, chili, pulled pork, lasagna, cooked chicken, and a multitude of other leftovers in labeled Ziploc bags in our freezer with great success!

A few weeks before Thanksgiving, you may also want to do a freezer organization and inventory, especially if you’re going to be freezing leftovers to make room in your fridge. Plus, cleaning out your freezer and taking note of what you already have on hand can save you money on Thanksgiving dinner groceries! Go HERE for Freezer Organization Tips and grab a FREE Freezer Inventory Printable!

4. Buy various parts of Thanksgiving dinner pre-made.

If you don’t have much faith in your own cooking ability or just don’t enjoy it, don’t create added stress by forcing yourself to make meals from scratch. Instead, consider purchasing food that’s already pre-made from your grocery store.

dining table decorated for Thanksgiving dinner

My family always buys the Sister Schubert dinner rolls, which come frozen in an aluminum pan, so you only have to pop them in the oven. So much easier than baking bread from scratch!

We also typically serve at least one or two store-bought desserts, like the giant apple pies from Costco or a pre-made gourmet carrot cake from a specialty grocery store nearby.

Cranberry sauce is another side dish that you can easily buy instead of making from scratch. Just open a few cans of jellied or whole berry cranberry sauce (or mix them!), dump them in a bowl, and sprinkle some orange zest on top. That’s one side dish DONE!

And if you really want to take the easy way out (no judgement!), you can even order a pre-cooked turkey and side dishes. However, if you do choose to do this, I’d recommend putting in your orders a week or two in advance to claim your spot. I don’t know if you’ve ever driven by a Honey Baked Ham restaurant a day or two before Thanksgiving, but they are BUSY!

And don’t feel bad about “cheating” a little on Thanksgiving dinner! There’s no rule for hosting Thanksgiving that says you have to slave away for 32 hours preparing every little thing from scratch. Save yourself some stress and let your grocer do some of the work for you!

5. Set the table and decorate ahead of time.

Decorating for Thanksgiving can be a CHORE! From gathering up all of your decorations from storage to actually hanging signs and assembling centerpieces, it can be time consuming. So start EARLY!

You can decorate for Thanksgiving a month ahead of time, as long as the decorations and centerpiece don’t interfere with your everyday life. And that’s one less thing that you have to worry about as the big day draws near.

Or, involve your kids in the process of decorating in the week leading up to Thanksgiving by getting them to make some cute Thanksgiving crafts that you can proudly display. This will keep them busy and allow you to get on with what you need to do, which is always a bonus.

DIY fall leaf wall decor hanging above a buffet table

Or, make some easy DIY Fall Decor yourself as a way to unwind. You can make this easy DIY Fall Leaf Wall Hanging to serve as a beautiful backdrop to your drink station, or DIY a festive Fall Centerpiece with wreath picks and mini pumpkins.

You could also purchase a few festive decorations from your local store to add to your table or home decor like fall-inspired napkins or mini gourds for your fall centerpiece. Make sure you go in with a budget though, because otherwise you may be celebrating Thanksgiving for the rest of the year (in the form of months and months of credit card bills!).

6. When hosting Thanksgiving, don’t forget about first impressions!

What do your Thanksgiving guests see FIRST when they arrive? Your front door!

It’s so easy to focus only on the inside of your home, decorating and cleaning every nook and cranny, but don’t forget about the front porch and front yard also!

A few weeks before the big day, so as not to make the week of Thanksgiving too stressful, start cleaning up your front flower beds and decorating your front porch. Try a welcoming DIY Front Porch Fall Sign, or purchase a fall wreath to greet your guests. Then be sure to give your front door area a quick sweep the morning of Thanksgiving to clear away any leaves or debris. You want to be proud of the outside of your home as well as the inside.

7. Stock up on essentials!

Trust me, you don’t want to have a house full of Thanksgiving dinner guests and realize that you’re down to your last roll of toilet paper!

Be sure that you have plenty of household and serving essentials on hand including:

  • toilet paper
  • paper towels
  • clean kitchen towels and dish rags
  • dish soap
  • disposable cups (or plenty of glasses if you aren’t using disposables)
  • silverware or plastic cutlery
  • dinner and dessert plates – I’m a BIG fan of the Chinet disposable plates because then you can spend time socializing instead of cleaning!
  • serving spoons – If you’re going to be serving 6 different side dishes, be sure to have at least 8 serving spoons, just in case one falls on the floor, etc.
  • pot holders and trivets – Make sure you’ll have something to set each of your hot casserole dishes on top of to protect your counters or table.
  • ziploc bags or containers for leftovers

You can start getting all of these items together at least 1-2 weeks ahead of time to alleviate any extra stress and trips to the store during Thanksgiving week.

8. Have your drinks ready to be served.

It’s amazing how people suddenly forget about the food being a little delayed when they have a beverage in their hands! Chill some beers, wine or your favorite pitcher of preferred drink in the fridge, ready to be served to your guests when they walk through the door.

It will buy you some time if need be, and offering your guests a drink when they arrive will get them in the mood for socializing amongst themselves while you finish up last minute hosting tasks.

Another one of my best tips for hosting Thanksgiving is to have a designated drink station, AWAY from the kitchen. Your kitchen will already be crowded and chaotic, so consider setting up a decorated table in your living room for a beverage station.

Be sure to include anything and everything that your guests may need to make themselves a drink, including sweetener packets, straws, cups, punch ladle, etc. I also like to have a cooler full of ice at my drink station to limit the number of people that have to come in my kitchen.

place setting at a Thanksgiving table

9. Have a plan for leftovers.

If your Thanksgiving dinner is anything like mine, there will be a TON of leftovers! And unless you want to be eating green bean casserole for the next two weeks, then you should have a plan for what to do with all of the extra food.

Most people LOVE Thanksgiving leftovers, so share with your guests!

My husband’s family members typically bring their own Tupperware containers to make themselves plates of leftovers, but last year I also provided a bunch of nice plastic containers, and they were a big hit!

I purchased a pack of 20 meal prep divided containers on Amazon, so I was able to send my Thanksgiving guests home with neatly packaged Thanksgiving meals ready to be microwaved. It’s so convenient to box up your leftovers meal-prep style, rather than having to get 14 Tupperware containers out of the fridge to make yourself a plate of leftovers later in the week.

And it’s those little extra, thoughtful touches that make you a GREAT hostess!

10. Use a Thanksgiving Countdown Checklist to keep track of your to-do list.

A Thanksgiving Day Countdown Checklist is a GREAT way to get organized for hosting Thanksgiving! There are SO many jobs to do as the Thanksgiving dinner host, that it helps to start EARLY… even as early as one month ahead of time.

Having a countdown checklist can help you determine which hosting duties can be done well in advance so that you’re not trying to cram everything in to the 4 or 5 days before the big day.

Plus, being able to visualize everything that needs to be done and WHEN it needs to be done, and also checking things off your list as you go, will help you to not forget any important aspects of hosting Thanksgiving dinner.

printable Thanksgiving countdown checklist on a table with fall decorations

You can grab a FREE Printable Thanksgiving Countdown Checklist HERE, pre-filled with 35+ Thanksgiving hosting jobs that can be done ahead of time!

11. Don’t try new cooking techniques or recipes on Thanksgiving day.

If you’ve NEVER cooked a whole turkey before, you probably shouldn’t have your first attempt be on Thanksgiving day when you’ve got a house full of hungry guests.

And now is not the time to try a sous-vide duck breast if you don’t even know what “sous-vide” means, or what temperature to cook a duck breast to. Stick with cooking techniques and recipes that are already familiar to you.

I would even suggest that you do a practice run on cooking a whole turkey weeks before Thanksgiving, if you don’t feel comfortable doing so. You can typically buy a turkey for around $20, which is a small price to pay to be able to serve up a perfect bird on Thanksgiving day.

A few years ago, my husband wanted to try out a new turkey brine recipe, so we bought a whole turkey about a month before Thanksgiving to test it. He also tried cutting the bird completely in half before brining and cooking it to allow for more surface area for the brine to penetrate. It turned out FANTASTIC, and we went into Thanksgiving with a solid plan of how we were going to cook the centerpiece of the meal.

12. Don’t forget about allergies.

If you’re hosting a lot of non-family members or people that you know have food allergies, then consider using dish labels that will help identify side dishes and desserts that contain common allergens. Food labels are also a good idea if you’re hosting a buffet or potluck style Thanksgiving dinner, where people will serve themselves.

That way, your guests won’t feel awkward asking “What’s in this?” or even “What IS this?”.

printable food labels in front of side dishes

These printable food labels for potluck Thanksgiving dinners are available in the Thanksgiving Planner down below!

Get organized for hosting Thanksgiving with a Thanksgiving Planner!

When it comes to tips for hosting Thanksgiving, PLANNING AHEAD is super important.

And it helps to have a Thanksgiving Planner to remind you of things that need to be done. With so many things to do in preparation of hosting Thanksgiving, it’s easy to forget stuff.

collage showing different pages of printable Thanksgiving planner

Apart from food and decoration preparations, think of other aspects of planning for Thanksgiving day that can be done in the week or days leading up, and WRITE IT DOWN!

This could include washing serving dishes, cutlery, and special drinking glasses that have been gathering dust on your kitchen shelves. Maybe you have some outdoor chairs that need to be wiped down? Stock count your silverware, napkins and anything else that may be used by your guests.

There are a lot of tasks to complete for hosting Thanksgiving, so the key is to be organized!

Use your normal planner to organize and prioritize tasks, or check out my printable Thanksgiving Planner here!

front cover and two pages of printable Thanksgiving planner

Check out my Thanksgiving Planner HERE!

When hosting Thanksgiving, make sure to have fun!

Although not listed as one of my tips for hosting Thanksgiving day, it goes without saying that all your effort and preparations will be a waste if you haven’t enjoyed the day and relaxed a bit.

It’s seldom that everything goes 100% according to plan but that’s okay because it’s not about having a perfectly organized event, but rather a time to spend with each other in laughter and storytelling while enjoying some good food and drink.

Plus, as the Thanksgiving dinner hostess, YOU set the mood for the day. If you’re stressed to the max, your guests will notice, so try to remain calm and have FUN!

What are your tips for hosting Thanksgiving?

Do you have loads of experience hosting Thanksgiving? Or are you going to be hosting your first Thanksgiving this year? How do you prepare for the big day?

I LOVE collecting unique tips and tricks from you guys! Leave me a comment down below and let me know your best tips for preparing to host Thanksgiving dinner!

Because if I have more than 35 people to host this year, I’m going to need all of the hosting tips that I can get! Whew!

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