For many households, Thanksgiving is one of the biggest holidays of the year—both in terms of the number of guests and the amount of prep work needed. Getting your home ready for hosting Thanksgiving dinner requires more than shopping for ingredients, inviting your loved ones, and throwing together a meal.
Here are some other important things to consider:
What Thanksgiving recipes you need to prepare
Food allergies or specialty diets
When to thaw and roast your turkey
Who is bringing what side dishes and fixings
As Turkey Day approaches, stay calm with these 12 tips to make your Thanksgiving holiday a success.
Hosting Thanksgiving can be rewarding and challenging. The holidays are often a whirlwind of social events and activities, so getting a definite answer from your guests on whether or not they will be attending can be a chore. People often wait until the last minute to accept or reject an invitation—especially during a busy, family- and friend-filled holiday.
Make sure to check in with family members, friends, and other guests early and often to make sure their plans haven’t changed. However, it’s always a good idea to prepare for extra people, like significant others or friends who don’t have plans.
Most important, be accommodating and gracious. It is Thanksgiving, after all.
Perhaps you’ll take the traditional route and serve holiday staples like turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and green bean casserole. Many families like to incorporate dishes from their specific cultural backgrounds, vegetarian dishes, or dishes for guests with allergies and food sensitivities.
Aim for preparing the Thanksgiving dinner menu in early November so you have an idea of the ingredients you’ll need and how long each dish will take well before the holiday arrives. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, check in with your guests to make sure their dietary requirements haven’t changed.
Create a detailed hosting Thanksgiving checklist.
There are some people who seem to have the ability to throw together a successful dinner party effortlessly. However, for the amateur host or host-in-training, learning how to prep for Thanksgiving dinner can be quite challenging.
To avoid having a meltdown while five dishes are on the stove, use lists and charts to plan everything out. Your best bet is to create a detailed list of the tasks you have to do and the timeline for each task. Post it on your fridge and cross off each item when it’s complete. Include things like creating the Thanksgiving centerpiece, setting the table, lighting candles, and more. We’ll provide suggestions for a cooking schedule later.
Clean out your freezer and purchase containers for leftovers.
You may need some extra freezer space for dishes that can be made ahead of time and frozen. Go ahead and toss out that old tub of gravy from last year—you’ll soon have a new one to replace it with.
Purchasing take-home containers for your guests can also be a big help. You won’t be stuck eating turkey until the 4th of July, and they won’t have to cook for a few days.
Assuming you’ve planned your menu in advance, you can save money on the holiday meal by watching for sales on nonperishable ingredients in the weeks before Thanksgiving. You’ll also be able to stock up on specialty ingredients—like turkey stock, pumpkin puree, cinnamon sticks, and pie crusts—before they run out.
Prepare make-ahead dishes that can be frozen for the big day.
Shopping ahead and cleaning out your freezer are two helpful Thanksgiving tips to take away some stress. Doing so gives you the chance to make some of the dishes in advance. Turkey gravy, green bean casserole (without the fried onions), and whipped sweet potatoes freeze particularly well.
Prepared dishes can be popped into your newly cleaned freezer for as long as two months, ready to be pulled out and cooked on Thanksgiving Day.
Create a Thanksgiving prep schedule.
When figuring out how to host Thanksgiving, one of the most difficult parts is getting everything on the table at the same time. Review your Thanksgiving recipes and create a cooking schedule that breaks down the meal’s culinary challenges day by day, hour by hour. Some dishes, like pies, cakes, and sauces, can be cooked a day or two before Thanksgiving. If you’re wondering how to keep some items hot, try Bobby Flay’s hot broth trick. Just make sure to use vegetable stock if you have vegetarians or vegans at your table.
When preparing a turkey for Thanksgiving, remember that food safety is the top priority. According to the CDC, your bird needs to be thawed in the refrigerator for about 24 hours per four to five pounds of meat.
Figure out who’s bringing what.
One of the best Thanksgiving tips is to ask guests for help. Even the best host wants a little help—whether with cooking or other parts of the get-together. Plus, guests like to feel involved in the event.
Delegating some of the cooking to your guests can make preparing Thanksgiving dinner more manageable. Start a group chat with guests to decide who’s bringing what appetizers, side dishes, desserts, and other fixings so you can cross those off your list.
If some guests want to contribute but don’t feel comfortable cooking or baking, ask them to bring beverages or a game for everyone to play after the meal.
Take time to taste-test new dishes.
Are you trying something new this year? Take the recipe on a test drive before Thanksgiving. Trying out the recipe will let you know whether it should be showcased at the holiday table and will give you valuable insight into how difficult and time-consuming it is to make. You may decide to strike it from the menu after making it once.
Plan the seating arrangement.
If you’re having a number of guests this Thanksgiving, tackle the seating arrangement sooner rather than later. That way, you’ll know if you need to purchase or borrow extra folding tables and chairs to ensure everyone has a place to sit.
Deep clean your home and prepare for overnight guests.
It’s a good idea to deep clean your home the week before Thanksgiving, so you only need to do a quick clean the day before the holiday. If you don’t have time to deep clean your entire house, you should at least deep clean the areas where your guests will be (like the kitchen, living and dining rooms, and bathroom).
If you are hosting Thanksgiving guests from out of town, you’ll need to get guest bedrooms dusted and cleaned up, with fresh bedding on the beds and fresh towels in the bathrooms. Depending on how many guests are staying over, you may need to plan to put some people on couches or air mattresses.
Check that your kitchen and appliances are in working order.
Hosting Thanksgiving dinner means that you’re asking a lot of your appliances. Prepare your kitchen for Thanksgiving by checking that your crockpots and roasters are functioning, your blender is at the ready, and your dishwasher is ready for the post-meal cleaning task.
The star appliance is, of course, going to be your oven. The last thing you want is to have to troubleshoot your oven on the big day, so make sure everything is working properly ahead of time. Scrub the inside and clean the oven racks to make sure they’re sparkling. We also have tips on how to keep your oven clean before and after the holiday.
It’s a good idea to have an American Home Shield® home warranty in case any of your covered appliances or home systems break down. If they malfunction due to normal wear and tear, we’ll help to repair or replace the covered item, subject to your plan’s coverage and limitations. We even have an oven warranty to help protect your budget if this hardworking appliance breaks down from everyday wear. Just remember that there is a 30-day waiting period from the time you sign up for a home warranty until you can submit a service request. See the plan contract for coverage details, including service fees, limitations and exclusions. Charges for non-covered items may apply.
These Thanksgiving tips can help you prepare stress-free and avoid Thanksgiving Day emergencies. The most important thing to remember is to have fun and enjoy the time with your friends and loved ones. Remember: If a dish comes out burnt or two guests have to share a chair, it will be a great story for next year’s Thanksgiving table.
AHS assumes no responsibility, and specifically disclaims all liability, for your use of any and all information contained herein.