Stress-Free Thanksgiving Do-Ahead Tips

Holiday Table

Stress-Free Thanksgiving Do-Ahead Tips

Holidays are supposed to be about family and friends; love and being grateful; welcoming and peaceful.  Often times we miss the mark because we are totally overwhelmed with putting on the perfect Thanksgiving dinner.  For years I put on huge holiday dinners with at least 50 guests (one year I counted 80 guests).  It is a lot of work for the host, but looking back I realize how important it was for me to give this annual gift to my family. Here are some of my tried and true tips that worked for me over the years. 

1.    Purchase a good roasting pan and rack.  Both items are important in helping your turkey cook evenly and to catch the wonderful pan juices.  You will need to spend a bit of money, but in the end it’s worth it because you will have it for years.

2.    Start with a plan. Make a list of how many guests you will have for dinner.  Make a note of any food allergies, food preferences (like gluten free/vegetarian/vegan), etc.  Make a list of what you would like to make for the dinner. 

3.    Shopping lists. After you’ve decided on the dishes you are going to make print out all of the recipes (if you need recipes for specific dishes).  Make a shopping list of all ingredients.  Making sure to have your shopping list fine-tuned in advance is key.  You may even want to make two shopping lists: one for non-perishables for at least a week ahead and the second for perishables for one or two days before Thanksgiving.  A last minute trip to the store can shave off an hour or two of precious prep time. 

4.    Seating is essential. Beg, borrow or steal as many folding type chairs as humanly possible.  Trust me you will need them.  Over the years I would pick up extra folding chairs and store them away for just such occasions.  I can’t tell you how many times my fleet of folding chairs came in handy.  I never cared if the chairs all matched.  It was more important that people had something to sit on.  Pick them up when they go on sale in January.

5.    Mix and match place settings.  Don’t be afraid to mix and match place settings.  Not everyone has full sets of Grandmother’s fine china.  I often times pick up interesting dishes (whole sets or one plate) at flea markets.  Thank goodness for “shabby chic” because I don’t know what I would do if eclectic wasn’t in style.  Besides the holidays are about making people feel homey.  This goes for tablecloths, serving dishes and flatware as well.  It’s ok…mix and match!

6.    Buffet Style. If you’re having a lot of guests then set your table buffet style.  I had so many guests each year that it was impossible to have a sit-down dinner.  Set up your table or you can do this on a separate buffet table one or two days ahead of time.  Make certain that you have enough dishes, glassware and utensils.  Include clean serving platters and bowls so that they are ready for transferring sides from the oven.  Doing this will also save you time in those last minutes before dinner is served.  If you are having a sit-down dinner then set your table a day in advance. It will make it much easier for you if you do.

7.    Snacks. Set out little bowls of nuts and nibbles around your entertaining areas so people aren’t starving.  Be careful not to overdo it because you do want them hungry.  After all you want people to eat your delicious dinner.  I find that it’s important to be moderate in your pre-feast nibbles.

8.    Clean is everything!  When entertaining it is important to make sure the dishwasher is emptied and you’ve cleaned while you’ve been cooking.  It makes such a big difference if you’re kitchen is as clean as possible and your dishwasher is ready for after dinner dishes.  If you can afford it then hire someone to come over the next day to help get your house back in order.  Hire a teenage kid who may need to make some holiday money. 

9.    Plan for extra bird time. Build in an extra hour more than the recipe calls for when cooking your turkey.  You will need to give your bird a half hour to rest after removing it from the oven.  If your turkey is done ahead of time then no big deal because you can keep it warm with aluminum foil. 

10.Practice.  If this is your first time hosting Thanksgiving or if you’ve never made a particular dish before then you may want to give that particular dish a test run.  This way you’re able to work out any problems and you’ll be more confident when Thanksgiving arrives.  Trust me your family will let you know if that dish works or doesn’t.

11. Shortcuts. Not everything must be made from scratch.  If you decide to pick up rolls or pies from your local bakery then go for it.  Ditch the evidence, no one needs to know. 

12. Let people help.  If people offer to bring a side dish or dessert then let them. This will allow you to focus on the turkey, gravy and stuffing.  If you need help then ask for it.  Most people want to help and will be happy that you asked. 

13. Have fun! Enjoy yourself.  If you’re organized then you will be able to enjoy yourself and have a great time with family and friends.  No one will remember if the cranberry sauce was a little too sweet or if the dog got into the pumpkin pie. 



    Victoria has been cooking and writing recipes since she was a a young girl. Originally from Nebraska, her appreciation for culinary technique took off when she moved to Lyon, France. Victoria is published in Hearst Newspapers, Greenwich Free Press, New Canaanite, and more.

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