11 Tips and Tricks for a Stress-Free Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and if you’re the one hosting your friends and family for dinner, then there’s a good chance you’re starting to feel a little overwhelmed with how much you have on your plate to get all of the delicious food onto their plates.

There’s no need to stress, though. All it takes to stay frazzle-free is a little bit of planning and organization. Here are 10 tips and tricks that will ensure you’re able to make a great meal and still enjoy time with your guests.

Create a Detailed Menu

Putting together a menu is the first step to staying organized. Once you know what you’re going to serve, you can make your grocery list and figure out what you want to delegate to other people.

You’ll need a final head count (and any allergies or food restrictions guests may have), at which point you can make decisions about appetizers, turkey accompaniments, rolls, salads, vegetables, potatoes, stuffing, casseroles, and dessert. Just keep in mind that with holidays like Thanksgiving, the head count often fluctuates (someone might just come for dessert or bring a last minute date). Err on the side of too much food (more leftovers!) and try not to let a wavering headcount stress you out. After all, the more the merrier!

Don’t Go Overboard

Just because people on your guest list like their potatoes cooked a million different ways doesn’t mean you have to make whipped potatoes with horseradish, potatoes au gratin, twice-baked potatoes, and a potato and celery root mash. Pick one dish and focus on making it as delicious as possible. If people want something else, they can offer to bring it or host Thanksgiving next year.

Buy Some Pre-made Dishes at the Store

You don’t have to make everything from scratch, especially now that there are so many gourmet grocery stores offering full Thanksgiving menus. If there’s something you don’t love to make or don’t have time to make, pick it up at the store. After all, as long as the pie is delicious, no one is going to care where it came from.

Write a Grocery List

Look at the recipes for all of the dishes you’re going to make and write down everything you’ll need to buy at the store. Everything. Yes, even things you’re sure you won’t forget to buy, like “turkey” and “potatoes.” Split the list into things you can buy a week in advance (non-perishables, canned goods, etc.) and things that you’ll want to wait to buy until a few days before Thanksgiving (vegetables, etc.).

The best way to avoid crowds is to shop early in the morning, late at night, and/or when it’s raining. Check everything off of your list as you put it in your cart and don’t be afraid to buy extra of things you might run out of, like butter.

Clean Out Your Refrigerator

You’re going to need room in your fridge for all of your groceries before Thanksgiving and all of your leftovers after, which is why it’s a good idea to spend some time before your first grocery trip getting it in order. Throw out anything that’s old or expired to make as much room as possible.

Check Your Kitchen Tools and Serving Pieces

Look at your menu and write down what kitchen tools you’ll need to make each dish and how you’re going to serve it. Then, go through your cabinets and drawers to make sure you have everything you’ll need. If you don’t, well … thank goodness for Amazon and/or friends and family who aren’t cooking dinner and will be happy to lend you anything you need. Just be sure to keep a list so that you remember to return everything after.

Wash anything that needs it ahead of time so that you’re not wasting time cleaning serving platters and soup terrines on Thanksgiving Day.

Read our guide about the 10 essential tools you need to cook Thanksgiving dinner.

Prepare as Much as You Can in Advance

While there’s not much you can fully cook before Thanksgiving, there are lots of components for dishes that can be prepped ahead of time, including the bread for the stuffing, pie and roll dough, vegetables, salad dressing, cranberry sauce, soups, and more.

If you have more than one table where you and your family can eat, then you can also set the dining room table a day or two in advance. Not only will this be one less thing to do on Thanksgiving Day, but you’ll also get to enjoy your tablescape for longer.

Write Down a Plan for Thanksgiving Day

Write down a game plan for Thanksgiving Day so that you have a good idea of what you will prep first, how long tasks will take, and when things need to go in and out of the oven. Don’t forget to leave time for getting dressed and mingling with guests.

Guide Guests to Where You Want Them When They Arrive

There is such a thing as too many cooks in the kitchen, especially when that kitchen is doing double or triple duty. Set up appetizers, water, and wine in the area where you’d like your guests to hang out and lead them there when they arrive. Since you will inevitably not be able to keep everyone out of the kitchen, use guests who insist on being in that space as sous-chefs.

And if someone asks how they can help, give them a task! It can be something outside of the kitchen, like making cocktails, setting up games for the kids, choosing music, or greeting guests as they arrive.

Opt for Potluck

You don’t have to do it all. Even if you want to be in charge of the turkey and some other key dishes, you can assign the appetizers, stuffing, side dishes, pies, and beverages to your guests. Not only will it save you time and money, but it will also allow others to feel good about contributing.

Relax and Have Fun

Don’t forget that while Thanksgiving is definitely about the food, it’s also about spending time with friends and family and remembering what we are thankful for. Remind yourself throughout the day that it doesn’t matter if the sink is full of dirty dishes (although definitely ask for help when it comes to that!) or if a pie burns a little. All that matters is that you’re with the people you love and everyone is enjoying each other’s company.

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