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by Lori Herren November 05, 2021 6 min read

It’s early November, and that means Thanksgiving is right around the corner! If you are hosting Thanksgiving this year or taking on the responsibility of planning Thanksgiving dinner for your family or friends, it’s time to get to work! There is no meal more famous or infamous than Thanksgiving. It is your “do or die” reputation as hostess or host extraordinaire, all relying on the success or failure of the most important meal of the year. No pressure! Are you stressed out now? Who wouldn’t be? But fear not, fellow meal planners, we are breaking down this “beast” (pun intended) into simple, easy steps and tricks to make your Thanksgiving experience the best it's ever been. Longing for a successful, stress-free holiday? You’ve come to the right place. Pull up a chair and take notes; we are simplifying Thanksgiving this year so your family and you can enjoy the day and make it one to remember (for good reasons).

 

Thanksgiving Lessons 101

With an undertaking like planning and hosting Thanksgiving, where does one even start?

  • Start EARLY!! - That’s right, start planning as early as possible. Plan out what time you want everyone to gather, make a list of what your menu will include, and as you send out invites, you ask each guest that confirms to choose an item to bring. Don’t think you’re doing this all on your own! If they are capable of showing up and eating, they are capable of bringing something. If you aren’t good at delegating or letting people help you, this is going to be the year you learn how!
  • The LIST is ESSENTIAL!! - We mentioned that you need to make a list, but that list is key to surviving this holiday. Your list will have sublists and micro-sublists, all from who brings paper products, drinks, side dishes, and desserts to your guest list and who sits where. This is where knowledge of who doesn’t get along with whom comes in very handy! Nothing like an argument over politics or a fight breaking out over who gets the turkey drumstick to dissolve the peace of thankfulness in the air. Food list, guest list, seating chart, grocery list, who brings what list, and what needs to be done lists. Sounds stressful? It really isn’t. Even if you end up with 10 lists, they keep you grounded, organized, and on top of everything. Just make sure each “to-do” item has a date next to it when it needs to be accomplished. This gives you a good timeline, allowing adjustments as the big day draws near.
  • Table Decoration, Centerpiece, and Door Wreath- Highly decorated, holiday-themed tables or grandma’s card table with a table cloth pulled from the linen closet, you at least want to make it look like you made a little bit of effort to showcase some holiday spirit with a bit of flash of “wow” on the tables. Crafting and decorating is not your thing? Me either. That’s when I call on my artsy, talented, overly eager family and friends to produce some fantastic fall pieces that add spirit, feel, and warmth to our Thanksgiving table. And, if they feel the need to hang a beautiful fall wreath on my door when they arrive for the holiday, I will welcome the gift!
  • Clean The Host Home - Whether you are hosting from your own home or someone else’s home, start your clean-up several weeks before Thanksgiving so the week of you aren’t stressing about cooking AND cleaning at the same time. If you are hosting but having the meal at another person’s home, offer to come a day or two a week to help clean and prepare leading up to Thanksgiving, then the two days before the holiday, plan to stay all day and help and set-up, cook, and prepare for the big day. 
  • Pre Meal and Post Meal Activities - A good host, is prepared with some activities up their sleeve. This can be as simple as Thanksgiving color pages for the kids, a craft for the adults, Thanksgiving trivia, holiday movies to show after the big meal or go all out with games and fun. You know your tribe best and what will appeal to those that are your guests. 
  • Prepare For A Packing Party After The Meal - What in the world is a packing party at Thanksgiving dinner? Well, some of the best parts of this holiday meal are the leftovers, which will be flowing like a river once everyone is done eating. Invest in some plastic takeout containers, or ask your leftover moving guests to bring their own. This will ensure you get the corner piece of dressing for the next day and make an enormous cleanup effort go that much smoother. Not to mention you won’t get stuck with 7 kinds of cranberry sauce to sit and rot in your refrigerator, only to be found once the new year happens.
  • EVERYONE Gets A Job In Clean-Up Time!! -Everyone? Oh yes, everyone will have to take an obligatory job cleaning up this massive mess. If they can eat it, they can help clean it up. Whether it is scraping pans in the sink, washing dishes, prepping leftovers, finding room in the refrigerator, drying dishes, or taking out the garbage, this is an everyman pitch in a clean-up effort.

 

Helpful Hints And Holiday Help

In these times, people want hacks, you know, insider info on the down low, secret tricks that make things easier. Here are some “Thanksgiving Hacks” that just might top off your Turkey Day!

  • Several side dishes and desserts can be cooked a week or more in advance and frozen, thawing out the day before. It is perfectly acceptable to cook things ahead of time and freeze them. Don’t worry, no one will know!
  • Side dishes can also be prepared a day or two in advance and heated up on Thanksgiving Day in a crockpot, staying warm throughout the meal.
  • If cooking an entire turkey is overwhelming to you, order one from a grocery store or food place nearby your home. You can always purchase turkey breasts and cook those that morning. They are easier than trying to prepare an entire bird and take a lot less time to cook.
  • Have kids coming to dinner? Find some easy tasks that they can help with. Kids are great helpers and feel honored when asked to help prepare the meal; it makes them feel like an essential part of the day.
  • Every dish does NOT have to be made from scratch. Unless you are hosting world-renowned chefs, taking some shortcuts with pre-prepared food, mix, or frozen helps make this meal more of a joy and less of a chore.
  • Have an eclectic group coming to Thanksgiving dinner? Not sure how everyone might get along or have things in common? Have some prepared conversation starters to ease any silent moments. Ask each guest to share one thing they are grateful for, how they spent Thanksgiving Day when they were children, and what is their favorite side dish.
  • Get some good disposable kitchen supplies. Aluminum pans, plastic tongs, turkey baster, plastic pie server, and by all means, don’t be afraid to use nice disposable plates, napkins, and silverware.
  • Have a few extra bags of ice on hand, or ask a guest to stop and get some on the way. Ice is the one thing most holiday hosts seem to run out of and not think about stocking up.
  • Make a point to ask all guests if they have food allergies or dietary restrictions. It’s a common problem for many people, and it shows care and concern on your part as a host who cares!
  • Don’t spend all day in the kitchen. Enjoy the food, the company, the games and be present in the holiday. Planning ahead of time, accepting help, and letting your guests work together to pull this thing off and clean it up will help you to be just as present as a participant like everyone else.

 

Make Memories

Don’t be so busy in the meal preparation that you neglect to participate in this beautiful time of being together with the ones you love. These holidays, though often crazy, are memories that we carry with us throughout our lives. Take a few minutes at each part of the day and soak in all the laughter, friendly faces, and joy during this joyous time. And smile to yourself, knowing you were able to bring together these people on this day and enjoy the beautiful memories unfolding before your eyes.

 

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Sources:

https://www.bhg.com/thanksgiving/planning/thanksgiving-countdown/

https://www.familylife.com/articles/topics/holidays/featured-holidays/thanksgiving/15-favorite-ideas-to-create-a-meaningful-thanksgiving/

https://desmoinesparent.com/tips-planning-family-friendly-thanksgiving/

https://www.self.com/story/tips-for-hosting-thanksgiving

https://www.thekitchn.com/12-essentials-to-know-before-hosting-thanksgiving-for-the-first-time-reader-intelligence-report-212661

 

Lori Herren
Lori Herren

Lori D. Herren is a graduate of the University of West Georgia where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communications for Broadcast Journalism and Public Relations, with minors in Marketing and Music. She enjoys spending time with her family and friends and pursuing her love of music.


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