Thanksgiving dinner is one of the most exciting — and yes, stressful — meals of the year. For some families, Thanksgiving represents a tradition both treasured and sacred. But even if you aren’t celebrating Thanksgiving with a traditional array of guests, you may still feel pressure to get everything perfect, especially if it’s your first time tackling the meal yourself. Rest assured, you’re going to do just fine. Here are six tips for hosting your very first Thanksgiving.
To avoid last-minute scrambling, it’s best to start forming your plan of attack as soon as you know you’re going to be hosting dinner. Sit down with a pencil and paper and chart out everything you need to do before the day arrives and try to schedule things evenly throughout the time you have available so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
Schedule things you can easily take care of ahead of time, like grocery shopping and picking out decorations, as early as you can and save the days leading up to Thanksgiving for cooking. If it helps you to stick an incredibly detailed outline on the refrigerator, do it.
Gather Trusted Recipes
Thanksgiving is probably not the best time to experiment with new recipes. Since it’s your first time hosting, though, you may need to gather some. If you have your own recipes to use, that’s fantastic, though you can also find ideas online.
If you’re taking the reins from a family member or friend, ask them for recipes they could share. And, if there’s a special dish that’s part of your Thanksgiving tradition, make sure to track it down.
Ask Guests to Bring Something
Most of the time, guests don’t expect their hosts to make everything. In fact, many guests like to feel helpful and will gladly bring a dish to share with everyone. If there’s a particular dish you dread cooking, or if you think someone else would be better suited to prepare an aspect of the meal, consider delegating it to them.
Popular things for guests to bring include the salad, appetizers, desserts or wine. Just make sure to ask well in advance and specify exactly what you’d like them to bring.
Start Cooking Early
Because the food is the centerpiece of a Thanksgiving get-together, you want to have a lot of it. However, trying to cook every dish the day of probably won’t work out. Even if you manage to get up at 4 a.m. and finish the food by the time guests arrive, you’ll likely miss out on the most important part of the holiday: spending time with those you love.
To spare yourself some stress, try to prepare at least a few dishes in the days or weeks leading up to the holiday. Many components of a traditional Thanksgiving meal, like gravy, cranberry sauce and even pumpkin pie save well in a freezer or fridge. Schedule your cooking early to take the pressure off on Thanksgiving day.
Set the Table the Night Before
If you’re having a traditional sit-down Thanksgiving meal, setting the table the night before is a smart idea. It allows you to make sure you have everything you need — napkins, plates, silverware, etc. — while simultaneously saving precious time the next day.
Dig through your cabinets and bring out everything you’ll need. Wash dishes and serving trays if necessary and set the table. If you’re going to add decorations, here’s a tip: It’s good Thanksgiving etiquette to opt for low decorations like gourds or fall foliage instead of tall flowers to avoid disrupting the line of sight across the table.
Don’t Stress too Much
On the day of Thanksgiving, you’re probably going to be busy preparing the turkey, fixing last-minute seating issues and answering the door when your many beloved guests arrive. Though preparing for such a big meal can be stressful, the most important tip first-time hosts should remember is to relax and have fun.
Even if things don’t go perfectly, and they never do, you’ll still have a nice time eating and celebrating the season with your friends and family. Have a glass of wine, turn on some music, tell a joke or two — and, of course, make sure to thank your guests for coming and let them know how much they mean to you. It is Thanksgiving, after all.
If it’s your first time hosting Thanksgiving, follow some of these tips to prepare, but try not to worry. When the meal is finished, all the fuss will have been worth it.