Thanksgiving and Holiday Hosting Tips, 2013

For the first time since I started hosting Thanksgiving back in 2009, the menu keeps changing. This goes against pretty much everything about me. It’s also the first year that I could be hosting 20 people, which is moderately insane in a 1200 square foot apartment, but I’m also letting that one slide.

While I am 100% confident there will be some phrases you shouldn’t say in front of Grandma muttered, or possibly even yelled the day before and the day of, I’ve adopted this very weird sense of just going with the flow of things. This is so unlike my list-making detail oriented self that I feel as though I should be concerned.

In case you missed the other times I’ve given you the menu and prep plans, I figured I’d share this one with you as well.

Menu Planning:

  • Gather all of the recipes you think you’d like to have at your Thanksgiving feast and organize by appetizers, side dishes, main dish, desserts and drinks. 
  • Take a realistic look at your menu. Can you really make 3 different types of stuffing and 5 pies? Will your vegan uncle have something to eat? Is your menu balanced? 
  • Weed out unnecessary items and condense the menu. 
  • Fill in items your friends/family have volunteered to make. Review to ensure its balanced again. 
  • Go through each recipe and write down ALL of the ingredients it calls for, even if you already have them in your pantry/fridge/freezer/spice cabinet, with measurements. Ex. 1/2 stick of butter, 2 cups of milk. 
  • Translate your ingredient amounts into actual quantities you can buy in the store. Ex. You have 6 recipes all calling for 1/2 stick of butter. That’s three full sticks you’ll need. 
  • Expect to need double the following ingredients (recipe dependent, but relatively basic): butter, ice, stock or broth, milk, celery, onions, sweet potatoes, mini marshmallows, pie crust, cheese, bread. 
  • Write out your complete grocery list. *Organizing by type (produce, canned goods, meats, dairy) is a lifesaver during hectic store shopping hours. This is also the time to clip coupons, search for the best deals and map out your grocery store game plan. 
  • Print another copy of all the recipes you’re making (or bookmark them if you’re using a laptop, tablet, phone, etc.) for easier use the day of. Keep in a safe place. 
In Advance:
  • You’ll want to prep everything you can in advance. No one wants to wake up at 3 am and cook straight on through until noon when your guests arrive. 
  • Things you can make in advance:
    • Cranberry sauce can be made and frozen for 1+ weeks.
    • Dough for rolls can be frozen after the first rise and last 1+ weeks in the freezer. 
    • Potatoes can be peeled and covered completely with water for up to 24 hours without browning. Mashing them can be done a day in advance. Put in a crock pot to keep them warm and add extra butter so they don’t dry out.
    • Pies can be made 1-2 days in advance. 
    • Vegetables can be chopped 1-2 days in advance. 
    • Make sure your turkey is completely thawed before attempting to cook him. 
    • If using fresh bread to make stuffing, allow it to sit in the open air at least overnight.
  • READ YOUR RECIPES ALL THE WAY THROUGH. You need to make sure you have softened butter, cream cheese, eggs, etc. 
  • If you’re a compulsive list maker as well, make a general time line of when you need to make something, when it needs to go into the oven, at what temperature, how long it needs to cook, etc. 
  • Put out all of the serving dishes you’re going to use. Sitting the printed copy of the recipe in them really helps to keep things straight in those last final crazy hours, plus allows others to jump in and help you without you needing to stop and explain. 
  • Setting the table can be oddly therapeutic after a day of cooking. 
The Day Of:
  • Follow your time line. 
  • Make sure to clean up as you go. This includes UNLOADING the dishwasher. 
  • Take deep breaths. 
  • Remember that you are most likely the only person who will know if something goes wrong. 
  • Never, unable any circumstances, refuse help. If aunt Sally wants to carve the turkey, hand her a knife and get out of the way. 
At last check, my menu is as follows:
Thanksgiving Menu, 2013
pear and onion focaccia
deviled eggs (aunt M)
veggies and dip 
Main Dishes:
turkey (aunt M)
ham (aunt J)
sauerkraut and kielbasa (aunt M)
Side Dishes:
mashed potatoes and gravy
herbed bread stuffing
butternut squash and poblano gratin
wet cornbread (aunt J)
something with sweet potatoes (cousin W/aunt M)
pumpkin dinner rolls
brown and serve rolls (mom)
pumpkin pie (mom)
apple tart
pear galette 
My Tentative Timeline:
Please note that I am not making the turkey. My uncle gets one free through work so my aunt and I have a deal that I cover just about everything else and give her my roasting pan and she makes the turkey. Although she’s signed up for a lot more this year. Aunt J typically doesn’t come since she’s 3 hours away. Wanting to do something substantial, she is bringing a small ham. 
Sunday, 24th: make and freeze cranberry sauce, make and freeze pumpkin dinner rolls
Wednesday, 27th: 
assemble mac and cheese, refrigerate 
make focaccia
mix ingredients for dip, refrigerate
chop veggies
peel, boil, mash potatoes and refrigerate 
chop all ingredients for stuffing, assemble, refrigerate
assemble and bake grain, allow to cool to room temp, refrigerate
trim green beans
thaw cranberry sauce
thaw and bake dinner rolls
assemble and bake apple tart 
bake mac and cheese and dip to be done 20 minutes before guests arrive at 1
put mashed potatoes in crock pot with butter on low to warm through 
bring gratin back to room temp, warm up again in oven 
bake stuffing
bake galettes 
warm up cranberry sauce
cook corn, roast green beans 
make drinks 
My goal is since the green beans need to be roasted, they will be cooked first and with the increased heat, I can decrease the stuffing cooking time and warm up the gratin faster. There’s room for all three of those plus the turkey if he needs to be warmed up as well.

If you’d feel more comfortable reading a post of someone who has pulled this off already, with a realistic commentary on the hourly details, you should totally go read my friend Steph’s post at her blog,  Life According to Steph


  1. LOVE the idea of keeping the mashed potatoes warm in the crock pot!!! GENIUS! This trick will free up space in my warmer oven. Thanks!

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