How to Host Thanksgiving for the First Time

Planning your first Thanksgiving can be overwhelming! From choosing how many sides to make, timing the cooking of your dishes, and selecting a turkey, there are so many decisions involved. Last year I planned my first Thanksgiving and although it didn’t go as smoothly as I hoped, I came away with 10 tips for a stress-free gathering. Get the scoop below!

One Week Out (The countdown has begun!)

  • Determine a headcount. This will help determine quantities and what size turkey you’ll need. The rule of thumb when choosing your turkey is one pound per person. Factor in an additional person or two. You never know who Uncle Larry might bring along.
  • Make a turkey plan. Are you buying fresh or frozen? Frozen turkeys take about 24 hours to thaw for every to 4 to 5 pounds so factor that in when buying your bird. If you’re going the fresh route, plan to pre-order your turkey and pick it up 2 days before Thanksgiving.
  • Pick your side dishes! As great as it is to fill the Thanksgiving table with delicious dishes, you should consider the size of your oven and cooking temperatures of recipes. Don’t forget to use the slow cooker or Instant Pot to free up oven space. Mashed potatoes are easily made in a slow cooker. Check out my easy “go to” recipe here.
  • Keep things simple. So, it’s your first time hosting and probably first time cooking this much food at once. Don’t stress! If you want to make a sweet potato casserole, look for a simple recipe that is true to the classic dish. Look for recipes that can be made ahead of time.

5 Days Out

  • Make a list and check it twice. Once you’ve finalized the menu, write out all necessary ingredients and figure out if you need any kitchen tools like a cooking thermometer or baster. Before going grocery shopping, double check your pantry and fridge to see what items you already have handy. Try to cover off on ingredients on this trip. Day-before Thanksgiving grocery store visits aren’t fun.
  • Pots and pans and utensils – Oh My! Be sure to have enough casserole dishes and roasting pans for the number of recipes on the menu. Disposable casserole pans are inexpensive and make for easy clean-up. Bonus tip: don’t forget about serving spoons and silverware!

2 Days Out

  • Preparation – the key to success. Divide recipes between dishes that can be cooked ahead of time and dishes for the day of. Stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pies can be made ahead and warmed up before serving. For the others, figure out what prep work can be taken care of ahead of time, like chopping veggies and measuring out the ingredients. I like to clean and chop my potatoes ahead of time so they are ready to pop in the slow cooker.
  • Set your table. Thanksgiving Day can get hectic with the timing of warming up dishes, cooking, and cleaning. Get this simple task out of the way a few days before to reduce stress and cut down on your day of to-do list. Plus, it will pump up the festive spirit days ahead! Check out these festive and fun tablescapes to get inspired.
  • Time up the goodness. Work backward by deciding what time the meal will be served. From there you can map out when to put the turkey in the oven, reheat casseroles, and cook side dishes. Keep recipe temperatures in mind. There are some dishes that can cook at the same time. Multitasking for the win! An hour of wiggle room should be factored just in case!

1 Day Out

  • Your moment has nearly arrived. Set out the appliances, tools, and non-perishables you will need for the big day. If you want to go the extra mile, separate tools, bowls, and spices by the recipe to keep things as organized as possible and ensure you’re not missing anything. Now would be the time to make that last-minute trip to the grocery store.

The Big Day

  • Rise and shine, it’s Turkey Day. Wake up (turn on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade) and get started on dishes that need to be prepared and cooking your turkey. Reheat your premade dishes and once everything is ready set your oven to a low temperature to keep your dishes warm.

Thanksgiving has arrived and with these 10 tips, you’re ready to enjoy a stress-free holiday with your friends and family. Be sure to share your stress-free Thanksgiving holiday recipes and tips with us on our Facebook page and tag us in your holiday dishes on Instagram!