For many homeowners, hosting Thanksgiving is a daunting rite of passage. If you volunteered (or a relative volunteered you) to host for the first time, you might be overwhelmed about where to start. Here are tips on how to navigate your first time hosting this holiday season.
A good host is an organized host. As soon as you know you’re hosting dinner, grab a piece of paper and a pen and start planning. Questions to ask yourself include:
- How many guests have RSVP’d yes?
- Do any guests have dietary restrictions or known allergies?
- Will there be any children in attendance?
- Are you doing all the cooking or will guests bring any dishes?
Once you know the answers to these key questions, you can prepare the menu and entertainment.
There are a few golden rules about menu planning:
Keep it simple. Now is not the time to experiment with that incredibly complicated, interesting recipe you found for stuffing that requires 20 separate ingredients, half of which you’ve never heard of before. Stick with what you know you can make! And if there is a recipe you think would be delicious, but aren’t 100% comfortable making, give it a test run a week or so prior to see how it turns out.
Don’t procrastinate shopping. Stock up on the majority of your groceries at least the weekend before Thanksgiving. Not only will this spare you from the last minute craziness in the turkey aisle of your local grocery store, but this way you’re all but guaranteed to find everything you need. In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, double check all your supplies – and this includes cooking supplies, like a meat thermometer!
Defrost the turkey. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not giving your turkey enough time to properly defrost, and winding up with a frozen turkey on Thanksgiving morning. The general rule of thumb is to allow 24 hours for each 4-5 pounds of turkey. If this is your first time cooking a whole turkey, the USDA has a helpful guide on how to defrost a turkey properly and safely.
Cook what you can ahead of time. Thanksgiving Day is going to be hectic enough without you needing to worry about cooking every single side and dessert on that day. Take a look at your menu and see what can be prepared ahead of time! Common items include cold dishes like cranberry sauce, and desserts such as pies and cakes. Even some other side dishes, including sweet potatoes, can be prepped in advance – just hold off on any finishing touches, like marshmallows, until the day of the main event.
Set the Table the Night Before
If you haven’t caught on yet, one of the keys to surviving your inaugural Thanksgiving is doing as much in advance as possible. This includes setting the table! The night before (or even earlier, if possible), set your table so you don’t have to worry about folding napkins when you’re keeping an eye on the turkey. There are plenty of ways to set a table that will look as elegant and charming as your new house must be. We’ve compiled tips here.
Prepare Your House
It’s time to break out the vacuum cleaner and the potpourri! In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, give your house a good, thorough cleaning session. Pay extra attention to the areas where the guests will spend most of their time. For instance, make sure the living room floor is vacuumed/mopped, that the bathroom has plenty of soap and fresh hand towels, and that your kitchen is clear of clutter. To add some autumn charm, consider buying a Thanksgiving wreath for your door, or setting up candles throughout the house to enhance the atmosphere.
Wake Up Early
Set your alarm early Thanksgiving Day, and no matter how tempting it is, don’t hit snooze. You’ll want to get an early start on cooking, especially for the turkey, which will take the longest. Additionally, waking up early will give you enough time to shower and get ready to greet your guests. The last thing you want is to be awakened by the sound of hungry guests knocking on your door!
Entertain the Guests
As a host, your Thanksgiving Day priority is to cook and make sure you have a hot meal on the table. Still, you don’t want to completely ignore your guests, especially if they arrive hours before dinner is served! Lean into the entertainment side of being a host by doing the following:
Make sure the guests have something to do. This can be as easy as turning on the TV and letting guests know how to operate the remote. If you have Netflix or any another streaming service, offer to show guests how to access these, also. If your guest list includes children, give them some activity books to keep them occupied.
Provide refreshments. Offer your guests light appetizers while they’re hanging out and waiting for dinner. Avoid serving anything too heavy; after all, you don’t want to ruin their appetite for the main meal! You can keep it as simple as cheese and crackers, or tap into your creative side to make an autumn-themed treat of apples or cranberries. Drinks should also be offered at this time. Offering wine is always appreciated, but don’t forget nonalcoholic choices like soda and juice for folks who don’t indulge – and for children.
Try to Relax
Chances are, something won’t go according to plan – and that’s okay. Before you have a meltdown over your prized casserole coming out too mushy, remember this: breathe. No guest worth having over will expect perfection, and you shouldn’t expect it of yourself, either. Unless you burn down your house, in all likelihood, any hosting mistake can be fixed or will be too small to matter in the long run. So take a deep breath, laugh off the mistakes, and enjoy the big day!
Sarah graduated from Trinity University in 2012 with a degree in International Relations and Political Science. She writes blogs on new homes, decor, communities, and more for NewHomeSource. When she’s not writing, you can find her spending time with her three cats.