Mike and I have hosted Thanksgiving for the Trevino side of the fam four out of the five years we’ve been married. We’ve hosted in a large home and in a small one. We’ve prepared dinner for as many as 20 guests, and have housed as many as 16 for the entire weekend. It’s a varied tradition that we LOVE – and while it does take work, with a little planning it’s not as hard as you might think.
Before hosting our first Thanksgiving (which was also our largest with the most over-night guests) I had no prior experience cooking big meals. Laughably I had very little experience cooking at all, but everything (except the pumpkin pie – cringe) turned out great. Everyone enjoyed themselves so much we did it three more times over . . . and we plan to stay in the family rotation for years to come.
Hosting Thanksgiving has created some of the sweetest memories for our family. I’m such a big fan, over the next couple of days I want to share some of my Thanksgiving secrets with you. Today we’ll start with some big picture planning ideas.
Here are seven things you should do if you’re going to host Thanksgiving:
1 – Create a meal plan.
Know what dishes you plan to make and what ingredients (and tools) you need to make them with a few weeks in advance. Mike spent much of our first Thanksgiving trying to find somewhere to buy a turkey baster . . . not ideal and entirely avoidable with proper planning.
2 – Shop early and shop often.
Grocery items like turkeys, canned pumpkin, stuffing and sweet potatoes are likely on everyone’s list. Don’t wait until the last minute to make your purchases. Our grocery store actually ran out of sweet potatoes one year. We had to ask family who were traveling downstate to stop an hour out to pick some up for us. If you keep an eye on local sale papers you can score some good deals on non-perishable or frozen items. One year we were able to get an 18 lb turkey for less than a $1 per pound a few weeks out from Thanksgiving.
3 – Schedule meal prep and cooking times.
After you’ve decided on your meal plan create a schedule that reflects prep time and cooking time. You will be entirely grateful for any prep you can do the day before. Take into consideration the size of your oven and what you need to put in when. Discovering on Thanksgiving that your turkey won’t fit in the oven is a real bummer (thankfully I just missed experiencing this one!). Take advantage of crock pots and roaster ovens that free up the oven for what absolutely needs to be there.
4 – Plan for more than the meal.
Your actual Thanksgiving dinner will take a lot of time to prepare but little time to eat. Give your guests something to do while you and your helpers are working your magic in the kitchen. Provide the kids with coloring sheets, Thanksgiving-themed games or crafts, or age-appropriate videos. Create space in your home away from the table where people can gather to talk, watch football or play board games.
5 – Communicate with your guests.
Planning ahead of time where everyone will sit (or sleep) alleviates the chaos that ensues when too many children are too far away from adult supervision, or when there isn’t a healthy separation between family members who need it (not that we have had any issue with this!). Let your dinner guests know when you will be serving and if you will be setting out appetizers before or leftovers after. Tell overnight guests what you are able to afford them in the way of additional meals and sleeping accommodations and what they will need to bring/take care of on their own.
6 – When friends or family offer their help, take it.
It is entirely unnecessary to do EVERYTHING for Thanksgiving in order to be a good host. When you have a plan you know how others can effectively help you – so let them. Ask your sister-in-law to bring potatoes. Have Mom make dessert. Give Dad a job in the kitchen . . . but be confident enough to say “no” when someone offers help that you don’t want or need.
7 – Take care of yourself.
As exciting as hosting Thanksgiving can be, there will be moments of stress and exhaustion. It’s a big job. It’s helpful to take off the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the day after everyone leaves for your own sanity and well-being. Establish a “safe place” where you can retreat to if you need to take a break or just have a few minutes to yourself in the middle of all your family togetherness. If you’ve done a good job at the prep-work, no one will even know you’ve taken a minute to step away :).
Have you ever hosted Thanksgiving? What have you learned?