Follow these 10 stress-free tips for hosting Thanksgiving dinner so you can enjoy spending time with family and those who matter most!
I am always fascinated when people say Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday.
While I enjoy Thanksgiving, something about it just feels so stressful. You work the first day or two in the week, cook a ton of heavy food, spend a few hours with family and then have one weekend to clean up and plunge right into the Christmas holiday season.
Don’t get me wrong, I love any chance to get together with my family and friends.
But for years, Thanksgiving was more stressful than enjoyable.
Then, after hosting Thanksgiving dinner a few times, it started to get easier…and even enjoyable! It all started by implementing a few key tips and tricks to help us manage our time and ease the stress.
10 Stress-Free Tips for Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner
First, Make Basic Decisions One Month in Advance.
Having a good plan in place reduces stress during the entire process. At least 3 to 4 weeks before the big day, figure out your answers to the following questions:
- Who is invited?
- Is it pot-luck or are we making everything?
- What will we serve?
- Will you be going all-out to decorate, or will you keep it simple?
Tip: If you decide to go all-out with formal decorations, centerpieces, and a staged buffet, don’t forget to budget your party-planning time!
Second, Plan a Menu That Doesn’t Require More than One Oven
You don’t have to have two ovens to successfully host Thanksgiving dinner. Make sure you include a few recipes that can be made in advance, in the crockpot, or even made with out the oven at all! Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Cook your Turkey on the grill instead of the oven (get the best recipe here),
- Make ahead recipes, like a Pine cone cheese ball, caramelized onion galette, or Lemon Ginger Cranberry Relish
- Use your crock pot! We love Crock Pot Pumpkin Pudding
- Talk about creative! How about using a waffle iron to cook your squash.
Time Management Tip
If you need to keep food warm, but don’t have oven space, place a towel and a bowl of hot water in the bottom of a cooler. Then, put your pans in the cooler until it’s time to serve. The food will still be warm for up to 2 hours!
Third, Make a Plan to Manage Dishes
Make sure to start with a clean dishwasher on Thanksgiving morning. And stay on top of dishes as much as possible throughout the day. Here are a few ideas:
- Use disposable dishes for breakfast and lunch,
- Designate a family member who is responsible for keeping the dishes clean throughout the day (hello oldest child),
- Run the dishwasher throughout the day with dishes used from prep.
Fourth, Delegate (or Outsource) Appetizers and Side Dishes
We have a tendency to want to make absolutely everything for Thanksgiving dinner. But the truth is that guests love to feel as though they’ve contributed somehow.
Don’t be shy about asking your family members to bring a side dish or appetizer.
Be sure to request contributed items to things that are easy to transport and set up once they arrive. Items like side salads, dinner rolls, wine , cold appetizers, and cranberry sauce are perfect.
Fifth, Get Your House Cleaned Early
If you can afford it, hire a cleaning service to come in a couple days in advance of Thanksgiving. It’s a great motivator to get your house decluttered early.
For those of us who can’t hire a cleaning service, here are a few ways to get the house ready early:
- Don’t worry about getting the whole house spic-and-span. I was once told that the only room that absolutely needs to be perfect before a party is the bathroom. It’s the only place people aren’t too distracted to notice if your baseboards aren’t dusted. I like to deep-clean the bathrooms and just make sure the other main areas are decluttered and dusted.
- Starting a week or so in advance, take 10 minutes each night to declutter one room in the house. It’s amazing how much you can get done in 10 minutes!
- Bribe your kids to help. Our 8 and 5-year-olds get time on their iPods and Kindle if they do chores around the house. We just assign a time-value to each chore, and the kids are magically motivated to get things done!
Sixth, Get things Set up in Advance
There once was a time I was able to set the dining table a day in advance. And that’s awesome if you can manage it. Now that we have three rambunctious kids, that’s far less practical than it used to be.
That said, you can start a few days early to do the following:
- Pull out the dishes you want to use and check for cracks or chips,
- Clean your dishes and silver so they are ready to put out,
- Wash and iron any tablecloths or fabric napkins,
- Make a shopping list of the decorative items you need, and buy them at least a week in advance,
- If using printables, make sure they are printed and cut a week in advance.
Seventh, Do All Your Prep Work the Day Before
If I learned anything from catering, it’s that every recipe has opportunity for advance prep.
I adapt catering-style prep for Thanksgiving Day by washing and chopping all of the vegetables and then grouping them together by recipe.
For example, if I’m making Brussels sprouts, I’ll chop the sprouts and put them in a gallon size bag with a paper towel to absorb moisture. Inside that bag will also be a smaller bag with shallots and garlic and another bag with chopped bacon.
Tip: Make sure you have plenty of storage bags in different sizes. and those Systema To Go Dressing Cups are fantastic for small quantities of liquids.
Doing this ensures that I know everything is measured and ready for cooking on Thanksgiving day!
Eighth, Set Up Prep Stations
If your family is inclined to help with the cooking, this is an amazing way to make sure that things run smoothly. I first saw the concept over at Pepper Design Blog, and highly recommend you hop on over to get the details.
Ninth, Get the Kids Involved
One of my favorite childhood Thanksgiving memories is when my aunt let me make applesauce for Thanksgiving dinner. I was so proud of that simple side dish!
Learn from that and get the kids to help. Most kids over the age of 4 can be useful in one way or another, including:
- Rinsing dishes and putting them in the dishwasher
- Setting plates and utensils on the table
- Helping with simple prep items, like stirring sauces or stuffing mix
Finally, Eat Early
We’ve had years where we felt we had everything in hand early in the day. Food was prepped and cooking, and the house was clean. But by the time dinner was over, the kitchen was a complete disaster again.
And dinner ended so late that the only ones left to get it all cleaned up were me and my Husband.
You can have an amazing Thanksgiving, but staying up late to get everything cleaned is a quick way to ruin it all.
Plan your meal as early as 3 or 4 in the afternoon to ensure that there is plenty of time to get things cleaned up and to spend time with your loved ones before bedtime.
Now, It’s Your Turn
Are you ready to get started planning your Thanksgiving dinner? Grab your free Thanksgiving Day planner and checklist, and get ready for an awesome holiday!
Do you like to eat early or late?
What are your favorite tips for hosting Thanksgiving dinner?
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Janine Huldie says
I am with you on Thanksgiving not being my favorite holiday, especially since having my younger daughter only two days before it the year she was born (6 years ago). That definitely added a new layer of stress to the mix. But still great advice and will have to keep some of it in mind as we head towards Thanksgiving this upcoming year now. Thanks Leslie!! 🙂
Candace Playforth says
These are great tips, Leslie. I really need to work on #9-getting my kids more involved. They are older now and could actually help quite a bit. It really adds fun traditions and memories to the holiday! Thanks for sharing these helpful ideas :).
Katy @ Experienced Bad Mom says
11. Go to someone else’s house, LOL!
All good tips. I find if I prep a little in advance, it goes better for me.
Angela @ Setting My Intention says
I like be the food of thanksgiving – and leftovers! This year we might get make a complete dinner just with our nuclear family – maybe not on Thanksgiving proper but sometime that weekend. I’ve never hosted a full meal on this holiday though – sounds intimidating!
I would find this super stressful too. Thankfully, I only have to contend with Christmas, but I still use a lot of the tips you’ve given. It’s all about making the day as stress free and fun as possible. I hope with all your planning that you have a fabulously stress free Thanksgiving #happynowlinkup x
Lianne harris says
I’d love to experience a proper thanksgiving dinner!
Love having the kids involved. It’s (sometimes) helpful and makes them really excited about the meal.
Marina @ Parental Journey says
Great tips! I especially like the one about make-ahead recipes! That can save so much time!
These are very sensible tips to help survive the holiday period. We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia – I wish you well with your plans.
Joanne | No Plate Like Home says
Great tips for Thanksgiving Leslie. It can be so stressful for the hosts. I like the printable Thanksgiving day planner and that you offer alternatives to cooking without two ovens. There is an oven roaster that can cook a whole turkey to save oven space.
Thanks for linking to my Lemon Ginger Cranberry Relish.
Tracy @ Our Simple Homestead says
I absolutely love this tip…Plan a Menu That Doesn’t Require More than One Oven. This is where I always tend to get myself in trouble.
These are some great tips. Having family over for any occasion can definitely be stressful. Getting the house cleaned in advance is probably the one thing I never do! But you are absolutely right about this – it helps to head into the weekend with less on your plate, so to speak 🙂
Lorelai @ Life With Lorelai says
Hey, Leslie! Just wanted to let you know that we loved your 10 Stress-Free Tips For Hosting Thanksgiving so much when you shared it at the #HomeMattersParty last week, we’ve FEATURED it THIS WEEK! Hope you can check it out when you get a sec. Happy Friday!!!
Life With Lorelai / Home Matters Linky Party
Leslie, first of all — I WANT YOUR BLOG! LOL Just kidding. You can keep it. I love the title and the topics. It is just great! I am cohosting as a guest on #HomeMattersParty which is where I saw this post but you can count on me being a regular visitor here.
When you said to plan your menu around one oven, I said “YES!!!” My mom was a really great planner when it came to entertaining and she taught me that. I pre-cook items like Butternut Squash in a microwavable dish so that it can be rewarmed the next day. Otherwise, it is all a juggling act of timing for my oven.
Mother of 3 says
I really do love Thanksgiving! I do find keeping the guest list small and planning a simple menu ahead of time really helps. Great tips. Pinned.
Jean | DelightfulRepast.com says
Great tips, Leslie, for any big-deal dinner! Especially about advance prep. Pinning and tweeting this post! #HomemakingParty
Tonight at Merry Monday, I will be featuring your post in my 9 Ideas for a Stress Free Holiday Season! Hope to see you at the party!
Elena Mayfield says
Such great tips – I especially needed the reminder that my kids can help with stuff too. This will be my first year hosting Thanksgiving and I’m a bit nervous for it all. I’ve already started prepping my house for it! I’ll definitely be referencing your post as it gets closer.