I had the opportunity to host my first Thanksgiving dinner last year. I have dreamed of hosting Thanksgiving for years and started planning months in advance. At the time, James and I were living in our little house in Virginia. We had no dishwasher, a small table with four chairs, and we needed to make room for six people.
We had to use a plastic folding table and a bench for extra seating. It was crowded, but we had a great time. My brother-in-law claimed that it was the best Thanksgiving dinner he had ever had!
For all of you ladies out there who thrive on decorating and setting a beautiful table, I commend you. I wish that I could be like you. There’s nothing wrong with spending time setting the table and making centerpieces. But what really matters at Thanksgiving is food and fellowship. Whether you’re celebrating with family or friends, people will remember the food, the conversation, and the laughter.
Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful, and one way that you can show those you love that you’re thankful for them is by creating a comfortable and welcoming space for them. That means good food and a spirit of peace and joy. The quickest way to take the joy out of Thanksgiving is to demand that your guests stick to a specific menu or schedule. Create a space where others can relax and enjoy themselves.
With that being said, I’ve come up with 10 tips to give you the perfect Thanksgiving dinner — one that you and your guests will enjoy!
1. Keep it simple.
We all love to see the beautiful dishes in Southern Living magazine and Food Network, but spending hours making fancy dishes isn’t necessarily the best use of your time. It’s okay to have one or two elaborate sides, but stick to the basics. Rolls, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole. Those are the things that your guests are looking forward to, and you don’t need to individually wrap each stalk of asparagus with chives and prosciutto to make your guests ooh and ahh.
2. Buy a turkey roasting pan with a lid.
The turkey is easily the most stressful part of making Thanksgiving dinner. Opening the oven door every 30 minutes to baste the turkey causes your oven to lose heat and lengthens the amount of time that it takes for your turkey to cook. Investing in a roasting pan with a lid like mine will be a huge time saver for you. The lid of the roasting pan creates steam which keeps the turkey moist and prevents it from drying out.
3. Failing to plan is planning to fail.
Plan your Thanksgiving menu in advance. Buy your turkey about 2-3 weeks before the big day (check your local grocery stores for sales to find the best price). You can buy non-perishable groceries like canned pumpkin, wine, and broth ahead of time. Use the week of Thanksgiving to knock some items off your to-do list so you’re not trying to do everything on Thanksgiving day. Make your pie crust ahead of time and store it in the freezer. Assemble casseroles and other sides the day before. Chop vegetables the night before to save time on the big day.
4. Use the slow cooker to your advantage.
Many of your favorite side dishes can be made in the slow cooker. Using the slow cooker can free up oven space for your turkey and other oven-essential foods. Mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, green bean casserole, and even rolls can all be made in the slow cooker. Put your crockpot to work and sip on a glass of wine while your Thanksgiving dinner cooks itself!
5. Don’t forget about breakfast.
You may be completely focused on the turkey but your guests and family are not. You can go simple with some bagels or donuts, or try an overnight breakfast casserole or cinnamon rolls. Just make sure you have some coffee and breakfast foods for your family. If not, you’ll be sure to answer the “is it ready yet?” question about a hundred times before you finally sit down to eat.
6. Keep the appetizers light.
As your guests arrive, they’ll be smelling the delicious food and their mouths will be watering. Make sure you have a little something to snack on to keep them happy. A simple fruit and veggie platter, cheese tray, or dip will keep your guests out of the kitchen and stop your husband from stealing the fried onions off the top of the green bean casserole. Thanksgiving appetizers should never take more time to prepare than they do to eat. You’ve got more important things to do. Save the crostini and stuffed mushrooms for another time.
7. Taste is more important than tradition.
Some people may disagree with me on this, but I believe you should enjoy your Thanksgiving meal. Growing up, my family never ate pie. Our Thanksgiving dinners would feature cheesecake and brownies, and we loved it! If you find yourself topping your sweet potato casserole with pecans and then everyone in your family picks them off, just forget the pecans. Too often people sacrifice what they really want to eat for the sake of tradition. If you don’t like it, start your own tradition!
Nobody said you have to cook this whole meal on your own. If you have friends coming over, ask them to bring a side or a dessert. Enlist your kids or your husband to help you in the kitchen. Ask your family to help you clean up the dishes, bring flowers for the centerpiece, or bring over a pot of coffee. Let go of your inner control freak and let your kids help out in the kitchen, even if the mashed potatoes are a little lumpy or the pie doesn’t look as pretty. Your family and friends will prefer a warm home and a happy host over a 5 star meal any day.
9. Variety is key.
The best part about Thanksgiving is loading up your plate with 10 different dishes and seeing how much you can fit onto your plate. When you think of Thanksgiving, you think of turkey, potatoes, dressing, and pie. And while those are all wonderful things, you need to provide a little bit of balance to your meal. Take a look at your menu. Strive to have at least one or two green vegetables. If you find yourself with too many sweets like sweet potatoes and honey glazed carrots, try adding a savory side like macaroni and cheese or hash brown casserole. Be sure to include some dairy free or gluten free sides for your friends with dietary restrictions. Lots of options just means lots of leftovers!
10. Enjoy the day.
If you find yourself running around the day of Thanksgiving, bickering with your family, and worrying about everything, you’re doing it wrong. You should be able to sit down and enjoy a glass of wine or a mug of hot cider and chat with your family. Do whatever you need to do to give yourself that time. Whether it’s making your side dishes the day before, using disposable baking pans, or using shortcut ingredients, make sure you have time to enjoy the time with your family and friends.
Best of luck! I can’t wait to hear how your Thanksgiving dinners go!