This year I will host my 10th Thanksgiving. It is my favorite holiday and one that I look forward to all year long. As soon as our last trick or treater rings the doorbell on Halloween, I switch into Thanksgiving mode. Why yes, I do take the full month of November to prepare for the big meal! Nothing makes me happier than to see our friends and family fully enjoying this special day together so I give the planning of that day it’s due course.
The size of our table has ebbed and flowed throughout the years – it has been as large as 32 and as intimate as 10. Regardless of the guest count, executing a meal of this magnitude can be daunting. Menu planning, oven timing, hosting while cooking etc. is a lot, especially your first few times when you don’t have experience to guide your way.
I spent my first several Thanksgivings a little (lot) stressed and as a result, missed out on enjoying the meal as much as I could have (*Note: when your guest count is 30+, don’t insist on making from scratch popovers no matter how convincing Martha Stewart is when she says it’s possible…) But over the last decade of hosting, I have come to learn that I am at my best when I lean on my professional background to help me execute this day.
As a project manager, I have had to deal with my fair share of shifting timelines, multi-faceted planning, road blocks, and scope creep – Thanksgiving is really no different! And just like any other project you approach, going in with a plan always makes you feel more prepared.
Here are some of my tips and tricks for before, during, and after the turkey is served. Whether this is your very first attempt at hosting or your 10th like me, I hope these help you feel more confident and more importantly, allow you to enjoy the holiday right along with your guests!
- Get organized! I have a folder and notebook I use each year – the folder holds recipes, checklists, notes etc. and I use the notebook to hold my guest list, grocery list, and task reminders. (More on these things later) It keeps everything all in one place and gives me something to refer back to each year.
- Create one master grocery list and do one big shopping trip. Pay attention to quantities for repeat ingredients to ensure you buy enough. When in doubt, always buy more butter.
- Use printed recipes: I am sorry to the trees but it is just easier to have paper copies of recipes vs. toggling in a browser. I tape them up to my cabinets for easy viewing while cooking.
- Delegate! Be specific with what you need help with. If your guests are bringing dishes, make sure to ask for a heads up on if it will need time in the oven so you can factor that into your plan.
- Read through all recipes ahead of time and then make a timeline/oven schedule. I take this a step further and create a checklist for each recipe that might have multiple steps, some of which could be done ahead of time freeing up space in your schedule the day of. Anything that you can make ahead, plan for that. Oh and make sure there is time on Thanksgiving for a cup of coffee and a shower…
- Run the dishwasher and organize the kitchen the night before so you get a fresh start in the morning.
- Keep the kitchen free. Designate a place in the house for guests and help reinforce space in the kitchen. This makes things less overwhelming (or at least it does for me!)
- Clean as you go (this is a good task to delegate…)
- Set timers. Don’t rely on your brain to remember to check the time. This will also keep you on track.
- Once everyone is done eating, package up leftovers and label with the guests’ names so they can grab and go at the end of the night.
- Make notes on things that went well/things you would change on your printed recipes
- Organize and put everything away in a logical place you will remember so you are ready for next year – the you of next year will thank the you of this year.
Wishing you and yours a very happy and stress free Thanksgiving!