No matter how many people are coming over, hosting Thanksgiving dinner comes with a lot of responsibility — and it can come with some anxiety too. You, understandably, want to make sure that everything goes off without a hitch, particularly if it’s your first time hosting. And with a meal this large, with so many moving parts, you might be worried that things will be forgotten. Though I don’t host Thanksgiving (no one wants to come sit on the floor in my tiny apartment), I do the vast majority of the cooking each year, which means I’ve learned a little something about what it’s like to be the gal in charge on the big day (I’m basically the host — thanks for the space, Mom!). Remembering a few key dos and don’ts will help ensure that things go smoothly and that everyone leaves looking forward to what you’ll come up with next year.
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DO: Make an exhaustive grocery list.
I know that this might sound obvious, but making a complete grocery list of absolutely everything you’ll need will help avoid those frantic Thursday morning grocery store runs. Don’t rely on your memory when you’re at the store to just “grab what you’ll need” and don’t hurriedly scribble a list right before you walk out the door. Make sure you make a list of the dishes you’ll be making, gather your recipes, and go down your list. It’s not foolproof (Uncle Mark might use the last of the cream in his morning coffee, your sister Kate might mistake your prepped carrots for snacks for the kids), but it’ll give you a good foundation and minimize any last-minute missing ingredient panic.
I also take this time to think about any equipment or tools, serving dishes, and the like that I’ll need for the big day. No one wants to pull their turkey out only to realize they don’t actually have a roasting pan.
DON’T: Forget about appetizers and snacks.
Unless you’re planning to get food on the table around lunch time, you don’t want to forget that people will likely need a little something to eat before dinner. It’s so easy to get focused on all of the various components of the big meal and end up with nothing in the house to eat earlier in the day. Besides the fact that everyone will likely start to get at least a little bit grumpy if there’s nothing in their stomachs all day, at least some of the adults in attendance will likely start drinking, and if there’s no food around for hours, things could start to get a little ugly.
DO: Prep as much as you can ahead of time.
Yes, hello, it’s me, the lady who (ideally) starts prepping for Thanksgiving at least a week ahead of time, telling you that you should absolutely get strategic with your planning and get things done well before Wednesday night or Thursday morning. No, you probably don’t want to roast the brussels sprouts or make the mashed potatoes days in advance, but there probably are things that you can start to get done. Set the table early so that it’s one less thing you have to worry about the morning of. If you’re planning to make pie dough from scratch, get that made and freeze it until you’re making your pies. Ditto if you’re making your own turkey stock. Granted, the exact timeline you’ll need is very much dependent on how much you’re doing, but finding some things that you can get done sooner rather than later and getting them done will make you feel much more capable going into Turkey Day.
Also, whatever you do, don’t forget to factor in time to thaw a frozen turkey if you have one. There’s nothing more panic-inducing than realizing that turkey you were planning to breezily put in the oven (channeling your inner Ina Garten, of course) is still frozen solid.
DON’T: Overlook the kids.
If you don’t have kids, you might not think all that much about the ones that’ll be in attendance on Thanksgiving. It’s not that you don’t care about them or that you’ve forgotten about them, it’s just that you’re not used to having plenty of kid-friendly snacks around, making sure there’s somewhere they can safely play, and ensuring you have drinks on-hand that they’ll like (and can drink). If it’s usually adults-only at your place, hosting kids might take a little extra thought.
DO: Put your tools and gadgets to good use.
Because I live in a small apartment, I don’t have that many gadgets and I’m also short on some necessary tools. An Instant Pot? Nope. Endless amounts of bowls? Also no. But I make sure that I put the ones that I do have to good use when getting Thanksgiving dinner on the table. My favorite trick as of late? Making the mashed potatoes ahead of time and then putting them in a heavily buttered slow cooker to keep warm (but not cook) until everything else is on the table. A mentor of mine who was my very first boss (and a trained chef) gave me that tip and I’ve never looked back. So here I am, passing it on.
DON’T: Be afraid to Google.
You can plan and plan and plan, but sometimes, things still come up. If you’re not sure what time to put the turkey in, what temperature it should be cooked to, if the sweet potatoes will oxidize and turn brown like white potatoes, or how to make a quick pan gravy, don’t be afraid to whip out your phone, tablet, or laptop and have someone look it up. (Yes, I said have someone look it up. Put your friends and family to work. They’ll be happy to help.)
DO: Remember that the people are even more important than the food.
When you’re in the midst of trying to make sure the turkey doesn’t get over or undercooked, get everyone seated, and the like, it can be easy to get frazzled or frustrated, focused on making sure the food is just so. But it’s good to remember (or be reminded) that more important than the exactly golden-brown turkey, the perfect gravy, or the creamiest pie filling are the people you’re celebrating with, whoever they may be.