A Beginner's Guide To Hosting Thanksgiving

November 20, 2014 by Justine Schwartz
shefinds | Style

Are you hosting Thanksgiving in your home for the very first time this year–or thinking about it and want to know what it entails? Here is our Beginner’s Guide to Hosting Thanksgiving:

Buy a pre-made turkey. Do not attempt to cook a turkey on your first Thanksgiving–if you screw it up, your guests will starve. Cooked turkeys can be purchased at your local supermarket. Compare prices to get the best deal.

Don’t try any recipes for the first time. Unless you’re an expert chef, you shouldn’t attempt to cook any recipes for the very first time on Thanksgiving day. Ideally, you should only cook recipes that you are familiar with on Thanksgiving, but if you really want to try something new, get all your ingredients a week or two in advance and practice the recipe at least once prior to the big day.

Don’t be afraid to ask your guests to bring things. Desserts and drinks (wine, liquor, beer or non-alcoholic beverages) are the easiest and most common things to ask your guest to bring (even Emily Post would approve!). Depending on what your strong suits are, you could also ask them to bring appetizers (crudite, dips or cooked appetizers that they can heat in your oven upon arriving), side dishes or salads (a basic green salad or one of their own family recipes) and even things like cocktail napkins and folding chairs for extra seating. Most polite guests will ask what they can bring–take them up on the offer!

Order a few pretty serving trays. Pretty serving plates and platters go a long way when it comes to entertaining. Stores like Target, JC Penney and Macy’s have low-priced options that are pretty and festive.

Don’t forget the serving essentials–like a gravy boat. If you don’t own a gravy boat, you absolutely need to buy one. This is one of the Thanksgiving Day essentials. Don’t forget about things like serving spoons and a proper knife to cut the turkey, too.

Know what to store buy. Some things, like canned cranberry sauce, are actually preferred by most people over their handmade counterparts. Stores like Trader Joe’s have frozen puff pastry appetizers like mini quiches that are to die for. Serve the store-bought foods on pretty platters and no one will know the difference–or care.

But do cook the one thing you do well. If your made-from-scratch salad dressing is a crowd pleaser, or your mom’s recipe for pumpkin pie makes the whole house smell good, by all means make it! Cooking from scratch is relaxing for some people. If you are one of those people, get in the entertaining spirit by whipping up a dish you can really be proud of.

Know what to make ahead of time. Mac and cheese you can make the day before. Pies you can make early in the morning. Dips can be prepared and refrigerated the night before. Salads should be fresh and bread is best straight out of the oven or warmer.

Decide–family style or buffet? Decide ahead of time how you would like guests to eat–family style or buffet–and arrange your furniture and your menu accordingly. If you are doing a seated dinner, you’ll need enough chairs for everyone at the table. If you’re doing a buffet, put items like the salad and bread basket on the table–people like to have more of each without having to get up.

Pick a Spotify playlist and let it play. Find a Spotify playlist for the occasion (or hit “Play” on the Spotify radio feature) and let it go. Do not attempt to DJ your own party by picking songs on your iPod or changing CDs every hour. Assign one of your music-loving pals the task of turning the music down for dinner, and playing another upbeat Spotify playlist after (impromptu dance party?).

Don’t be the bartender. You won’t have time to cork a bottle of wine every hour or re-fill glasses when they are empty. Set everything out on a smaller side table (a makeshift bar) and let guests help themselves. For your friends that bring wine, assign them the task of opening and pouring it for others.

Put the game on. Do not attempt to entertain your guests with games or conversation. You will be in the kitchen worrying about things like basting the turkey and whisking the gravy and microwaving the peas. Put the game on mute or low volume and let guests make their own conversation.

Don’t forget the clean-up plan. Nothing can kill a turkey buzz faster than having to clean up for 12 people all by yourself. Start cleaning up while guests are still there–kids can clear the table, the men can move furniture, and the women will happily help you clean your kitchen and load the dishwasher because they feel your pain.

Have a leftovers plan. Leftovers are really the best part of Thanksgiving, right? Decide what you’re going to keep for yourself and what leftovers you’ll send home with guests. Make extra of things like gravy, mashed potatoes and stuffing–leftover turkey just doesn’t taste the same without them.


Editorial Director

Justine Schwartz is a veteran women's lifestyle editor; she's written extensively about style & beauty tips, health advice and wedding planning for more than a decade. Her work has appeared in New York Magazine, Huffington Post and New York Weddings. Justine has been with SheFinds since 2010; you can reach her via email at [email protected]

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