How to Host Thanksgiving Dinner Without Losing Your Mind
No more tears! Easy, elegant entertaining is just one, beautifully organized list away.
Don’t freak out, but Thanksgiving is three weeks away.
If you haven’t started planning yet, you’re not alone, but trust me when I say, misery does not love company. Hosting a group of your nearest and dearest, as well as family, for a special occasion dinner is stressful enough: don’t burn the turkey, don’t undercook the turkey, make sure to thaw the turkey. There is no reason anyone of sound mind and body should add extra tension to an already taxing day.
The good news is, you’ve got some time to really pull off this holiday dinner party with panache. Seriously. All it takes is a little organization, a bit of timing, and a never-to-deviate from list-making. The key is to get as much off your plate as soon as possible, so you have only the smallest number of tasks to complete on Thanksgiving Day.
So, pour yourself a nice glass of wine, settle in, and let’s get started.
One to Two Months Out
This is the time to begin the actual party planning: inviting guests, creating the menu, picking up non-perishable items that are quick sell out the closer you get to the big day.
1. Invite your guests. You may have the same family members year in and year out, but don’t take that for granted. Maybe your niece has decided to backpack the Himalayas over Thanksgiving. Perhaps your cousin has started dating a vegan. Get your invites out early, whether that be as casual as an email or phone call, so people know when and where to show up, and you know who is coming and with what needs.
2. Plan your menu. Thanksgiving Day is not the time to be trying out a new gravy recipe. If you are going to deviate from your tried-and-true classic menu, or if this is your first time hosting, practice the recipes you intend to serve at least twice. Trust me, you might have beginners’ luck with a recipe the first time so making it more than once irons out any potential kinks before serving it to your guests. Write out your menu in detail, including ingredients, and the vessels you plan to serve them in or on. You will see why soon.
3. Take inventory. Now is the time to go through your cupboards to see what you have and what may need replacing. Do you have enough wine glasses? Did you forget you broke your gravy boat last year? Just before serving dinner is not the time to find that out. This will also give you enough time to buy what you need before the store runs low.
4. Buy the non-perishables now. Every year, on the day before Thanksgiving (or any holiday for that matter), I see a long line of impatient and frantic people waiting outside the wine store. And yes, every year I feel slightly smug about it, because every year I put out articles like this. But my exasperation is a story for another day. While you have the luxury of time – and choice – on your side, pick up the items you know you’re going to need, that will easily last until the holiday: wine, spirits, toilette paper, candles, napkins, canned cranberry sauce, frozen pastry, salt, dried sage… buy them now before they’re gone, and store until you need them – you will be so thankful you did.
One to Two Weeks Out
Now we start to get a little more serious, but we’re still cool as cucumbers because we’ve got a plan.
1. Wash and polish the wine glasses, serving platters, and good silver that’s been sitting in the cupboard collecting dust since last Thanksgiving. Store them with a tea towel over top to avoid getting dust back on them.
2. Refer the menu you wrote out in careful detail a month or two ago. Get your serving vessels and put sticky notes on what will be used for which item. Now you know if you’ve double booked Grandma’s antique casserole dish for both the green beans and the mashed potatoes.
3. Wash and iron the tablecloth, linens, bedsheets and towels for the guest room. Hang or fold these carefully until ready to use.
4. Grocery shop for items that can last a few weeks in the pantry such as squash and pumpkin, potatoes, breadcrumbs etc.
5. Make items that can be frozen ahead of time: pies and cookies, soups, casseroles, whatever will be just as good baked from frozen or thawed, make it now and get it off your to-do list.
One to Two Days Out
Ok troops, it’s crunch time. (Aren’t you tickled you started this weeks ago?!)
1. Thaw the turkey!
2. Prep and assemble everything you can. This includes cutting up vegetables for salads and sides, making the stuffing, blending the salad dressing, whipping up the dips. Refer to your trusty, detailed menu.
3. Set the table. An already-set table is so impressive when guests arrive. And it’s yet another thing done so you have more time to enjoy your party.
4. Clear out the hallway closet. Better your coats piled on the bed than your guests.
5. Set up the bar. This includes batching any premade cocktails.
6. Clean the guest bathrooms. And don’t let anyone use them until the party starts.
7. Final run to the grocery store. This is for those highly perishable items that couldn’t be picked up until now. Don’t forget extra ice, butter, sour cream, and milk.
One to Two Hours Out
As my favourite quote from Elizabeth Taylor goes, “Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together.” Time your day backwards so you are ready and waiting, preferably with a cocktail in hand, to greet your guests when they arrive.
1. Put the turkey in the oven.
2. Assemble all the sides. That way, you just have to pop them in the oven, or place on the buffet when the time comes.
3. Set out ice on the bar.
4. Turn on the music.
5. Light the candles.
6. Relax, smile, and have fun.