How to Host Thanksgiving Dinner
November, 2014 · By Coryanne Ettiene
Thanksgiving is coming and with that comes the massive shopping lists, the hurried menu planning and the stress of pulling of a memorable occasion for your friends and family. And if this is your first time hosting Thanksgiving, be ready for all of that fabulous anxiety to triple. I loathe being the one to say it, but hosting Thanksgiving, for all the amazing moments it will give you, is a mixed ball of good and evil. Well beyond just cooking up an fabulous meal, it is a the one meal that requires military planning.
Thanksgiving in our family is a tradition that is passed on from grandmother to mother, and in our family, my mother always hosts a crowd of 30. On the rare occasion when I am not home for the holidays, I venture into hosting a smaller feast, with a handful of adopted family members and straggling neighbors. We skip the traditional Thanksgiving meal and opt for a pot luck brunch. We keep the menu focused on a turkey dish of some kind and season it with the traditional trimmings is one form or fashion, but focus more on sharing the day with those close to us in a relaxed, very casual fashion.
I dare to think what it is like to host for 30 people and still make it through the day with enough energy to pour myself a celebratory glass of bubbly. Wether it be for 30 or 15, these tips will ensure you make it through the day when hosting a traditional Thanksgiving meal; and if time is not on your side, embrace our version of a Thanksgiving potluck brunch.
1. Map out a plan. 4 weeks before Thanksgiving, map out a calendar that includes grocery shopping, ordering your turkey, party rentals, invitations, menu planning and cooking; taking care to be realistic with your goals and open to the idea of enlisting family members to lend a hand where needed. Don’t worry if you don’t have enough plates, know how to make stuffing like a rock star or have a fridge deep enough to store al the advanced meal prep — with a little planning and help from party rentals and guests, it will all come together.
2. Advanced meal prep. Many dishes can be made in advance of Thanksgiving morning. When menu planning, build your menu around dishes like mashed potatoes, fresh bread rolls, gravy, pie crusts, soups and basting stocks to ensure that you have less to cook on the big day. All of these items can be made up to 2 weeks in advance and frozen to help lighten your cooking schedule.
3. Create your table theme. Easier said than done for most people. Keep it simple with white dishes, and accent with heirloom pieces. If decorating a table is not your strong point, keep it simple by accenting a plain table cloth with corn husks, mini pumpkins and candles. Of all the things to stress about over the Thanksgiving meal, don’t let dressing the table be one of them.
4. Consider your seating arrangements. Assigned seating is the best defense against conflict at the table – it not only allows you to arrange your guests by temperament, it ensures that you are seated next to those that will bring you the most enjoyment of your holiday gathering. When mapping out your seating plan, place elderly guests in the middle so they can hear the conversations, pregnant guest at the end so they have plenty of room and can nip away if they need to, and always place yourself nearest the kitchen so you can leave the table without disrupting the conversation. If you don’t have enough chairs or tables, hire them, or ask your guests to bring them. Stressing about matching chairs, or cramped dinner space is easily solved if you allow yourself to ask for help.
5. Keep your guests busy: Plan pre-dinner activities that a variety of generations will enjoy. Board games, walks, football and family slide shows are all popular alternatives to simply sitting in front of the TV and make memories happen with ease.
6. Allow for generational gaps: If space allows, and when several children are on the guest list, hire a bouncy castle or some sort of play equipment to keep the younger generation entertained for hours. Older guests will appreciate a quite place to relax, simply setting up a sitting room for them to escape for a few minutes peace will be greatly appreciated.
7. Family Feuds: No one brings drama to a party quite like family. The best defense against family tension and flaming tempers is to be prepared, play offense, and enlist the help of those around you. And if all else fails, remind everyone why you are together, and how much a harmonious day means to you – a little sugar coating can go a long way in these incidents. And if it happens, don’t let it spoil you day, trust me… every family has a Thanksgiving moment they would rather forget.
8. Stay calm. Be prepared for late guests and cooking dramas. A calm host that deals with Thanksgiving disasters with confidence and humor will give her guests a holiday they can both laugh about and enjoy without letting a few disastrous moments get in the way. If it makes you feel any better, last year I burnt the carrots and forgot to make mashed potatoes….needless to say, I was so very grateful we had plenty of other sides to keep our guests fed.