I’m not an expert on Thanksgiving by any means, but I do have some big meal hosting under my belt. I’m pretty sure my mom won’t let me host Thanksgiving until she’s long gone, so I try to find other people or holidays to host. Also, my mom is the queen of Thanksgiving, so it’s not like I really want to cook for our family anyhoo.
Here are a few of my tips for hosting Thanksgiving or really any bigger or special occasion gathering:
- Plan out your menu. Then write down your schedule for the day: what needs to be started when, what order, etc. When we first started hosting things, I always forgot something: a dessert in the fridge, bread in the oven, the potatoes in the crock pot. I still forget things, but now I have list that I check before the guests get there and again right before dinner so I’m less likely to miss something. This is my schedule for the day or two before and the day of one of our Thanksgivings this year:
- Own at least one, preferably two, cute aprons that you enjoy wearing and wear them the entire time you’re prepping and cooking. I learned this the hard way.
- Ask your guests to bring specific things. I have no ego about asking guests to bring things – I think it allows us all to get in on the cooking fun and helps me out too. But I try to be really specific about what to ask them to bring, so that I can plan accordingly. Instead of asking someone to bring a side dish, I ask them to bring a sweet potato side dish, for example. That way, the day of, I’m not worried about duplicating or missing anything.
- Find a sous chef. Grant is my sous chef, but if you don’t have a live-in sous chef, invite a friend over earlier to help you chop and prep. Open a bottle of wine, visit while you work. This has actually become my favorite part of hosting – all of that easy conversation that happens in the midst of making dinner.
- Serve appetizers. I’m biased here because I loooove the appetizer and drinks portion of the day/evening. Some people say that you shouldn’t serve appetizers for Thanksgiving (including the Thanksgiving king himself), but I like to have that time before the meal to visit and catch-up. It’s also a buffer for the cook in case of any last minute culinary emergencies.
- Put on some music. All of that list making and food prep can be stressful, but music makes anything more celebratory and nothing kills stress like a little kitchen dance party.
- Serve a special drink. Sparkling wine or cider is an easy one here, but we usually serve Apple Jacks (see below for “recipe”) for Thanksgiving. There’s something about a little bubbly or a special cocktail (alcoholic or otherwise) that really elevates the gathering.
- Pick up, don’t clean. Don’t worry too much about cleaning your house. My friend always tells me to wait to clean after the guests leave because no one is checking out how much dust is on your furniture while you’re feeding them good food, and you’re going to have to clean after they leave anyway. I like that method. I pick up the random Legos and blocks on the floor, so that grandma doesn’t break a hip, but I don’t spend much time deep cleaning the house.
- Remember the kids. If kids are coming, have some ideas for how to keep them occupied. We’ll have lots of kids at our Thanksgiving feast this year, so we have some game ideas to keep them entertained, hopefully outside. But we’re working on some back-up plans if the weather stinks too. We like to distract the kids from the food and drinks, so that the adults can have a space for some adult conversation. Our new place makes that more difficult because it’s quite a bit smaller, so we’ll just have to be creative.
- Relax. On your schedule of events, add another entry to remind yourself to relax and enjoy yourself, preferably about an hour before guests arrive and again about five minutes before the guests are scheduled to arrive. You’ve worked hard to make this whole thing happen, and it would be a shame if you get so consumed with all of the details and what everyone else is thinking that you don’t have time to enjoy the meal and time with your family and friends.
- Practice gratitude. This worksheet of sorts that my mom created a few years ago has become a Thanksgiving tradition for our family – we send them out a few days before so people aren’t rushing through them. Or for our small group celebration, we all come up with something that we’re grateful for each person for + something that we hope for them in the coming year. It’s simple, but special and memorable. But even if you don’t have time or don’t want to do those ideas, I love just going around the room and everyone offering something they’re thankful for – during the meal, not before, or else everyone (me especially!) is just rushing through and wanting to dig in.
- 1 cup local apple cider
- 1/4 cup Jack Daniels or whiskey of your choice (the cinnamon whiskeys are yummy here too to spice things up)
- This recipe is scale-able, so if you're making a big batch, just count on this making a serving and plan accordingly. So if you have ten people, you'll need ten cups of cider and 2.5 cups of whiskey.
- Heat up the cider on the stove until it just barely starts to bubble. Add the whiskey and take off the heat.
- Serve in mugs. Easy as pie!
We call these "apple jacks," but I think that is technically a different, more complicated drink. We like our work play and have been making them for so many Thanksgivings that the name sticks.
What are your tricks for a happy Thanksgiving? Share them in the comments below!