Thanksgiving Dinner Hints – Part Two

I hope I didn’t come off as a know-it-all in my post on Monday. I am the last one to claim that I am the expert on hosting large groups of people, but I do know what makes it easier for me. So, with proper humility, I give you the rest of my tips for making Thanksgiving dinner (or any other big dinner party) a little easier.

Everyone knows the party always ends up in the kitchen. I love it and think it is great. If you are someone who doesn’t like to share the cooking, or you have a tiny kitchen, plan for that. Have appetizers and drinks in the living room or dining room to encourage people to stay there. If you don’t mind company, or want the help, plan what tasks you can delegate, and then do it. Lesson 4 for Turkey Day: Put your guests to work, or give them something else to do while you happily work alone.

I am a planner. I do not do well with change or surprises, generally. I do find that if I have the time to make plans, build in extra cooking time and have back-ups available, I am much better at going with the flow. Whether you like order as much as I do, or you would rather fly by the seat of your pants – get organized for Thanksgiving. Lesson 5: Make a plan. I write out a list, complete with menu, shopping list, cooking times and a plan for when different things go in the oven. It helps to avoid those last minute realizations that the turkey will never be done in time or that no one remembered to buy cranberries.

Lesson 6: Do as much ahead of time as possible. I do as much cooking as I can on Wednesday, including dessert (always pies for our Thanksgiving). I make as many side dishes as possible, ready to bake when the turkey comes out, or to serve cold. I even set the table and bring up the extra chairs from the basement the day before. I want to be able to enjoy the party too, so the more prep work I can do, the better.

Finally, a tip for the guests – help your host. Offer to bring a dish, ask if you can help with prep work or wash the dishes. Better yet, just pitch in. There really are very few people who don’t welcome help with the dishes after a big meal. Or do like my mother does, and start washing dishes while the prep work is going on. She loves to have as many dishes washed as possible before we ever sit down at the table. Thank you, Mom!

What tips do you have for making the day go a little more smoothly?


4 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Dinner Hints – Part Two

  1. Hi Sarah,

    I think you and I are very much alike. I always plan the menu and the timing so that a lot of prep can be done ahead, even the mundane stuff like chopping veggies. There’s nothing worse than having to get up at 4am to start a late afternoon meal. And it’s even worse to realize that everything you planned on making won’t fit in your oven, so review your list to see what is stovetop vs. oven so you know you have room for it. I also find that it helps to start the day of with an empty dishwasher so that as things are used for prep, they can go right in, and maybe even run a load before everyone gets there. Also, make up a menu for the planned dishes, whether you’re prepping them yourself, or someone else is bringing them. That way, you’ll be less likely to forget something in all the buzz of people. And I think the best tip of all is: don’t overreach yourself, whether it be a too-ambitious list of dishes, or just too much labor-intensive prep. People won’t enjoy themselves more if they know you spent the last three days prepping for a meal that lasts half an hour. It’s all about enjoying the occasion.


    • Thanks for sharing our tips, Karen! I so agree about the work all coming down to a thirty minute meal. It is easy to get bogged down in the presentation and cooking and forget that people really just want to get together and share some food and fellowship.

  2. Sarah, these are great tips! I never make lists, so from appearances I am a fly by my pants kind of cook, but in actuality I’ve thought everything through and considered my contingencies. I just haven’t written it down!
    My best kitchen help for a Thanksgiving meal (which happened on Christmas day, so not like there was anything else going on in the days leading up to and morning of the meal) was my Danish sister-in-law. She’s super creative and super design oriented, so my first task for her was arranging the centerpiece/dining room decorations. I loved what she did so much I took pictures to recreate each year! Then she came into the kitchen and chopped what I asked her to chop, stirred what I asked her to stir, and when she wasn’t doing any of that she was washing pots and pans. She even nested my mixing bowl in the middle of a set of Tupperware bowls–something I’d never thought of doing yet so clever and space saving that I continue that as well.
    Back to Thanksgiving–having a willing talented sous chef is great.
    The other thing I like is using available appliances (not just the oven) for cooking. I’ve recently posted my mashed potato recipe that can be made ahead and cooked in the crock pot. I read about cooking stuffing in the crock pot, too.
    You’ve reminded me to bring my Thanksgiving box up out of the basement so all my table decor is handy.

    • Reliable help in the kitchen is truly invaluable! I neglected to mention that my husband, Rich, is right in there along with me. He cooks, washes dishes and does whatever is needed.

      I do my mashed potatoes in the crock pot too! Never have tried the dressing that way. I like mine crispy, so I imagine the crock pot isn’t for me for that dish, but there are others in the family that like their dressing moister – and we do multiple kinds to please everyone, so the crock pot may make an appearance this year. Thanks for the idea!

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