Tips for hosting Thanksgiving dinner stress-free

by Kaiser Permanente |
A smiling family sits together at the dinner table holding sparklers

The holidays can often be hectic — especially if you’re hosting. Try these simple holiday hosting tips to get Thanksgiving dinner on the table without feeling stressed. With a game plan in place for your meal, you can focus on having fun and spending time with family and friends.

Stick with the classics

We associate certain foods with specific holidays — and look forward to our favorite dishes. These annual traditions are part of what makes the day special. Another good reason to stick with the same dishes you made last year? You already have practice making them. Thanksgiving Day is not the time to try a chestnut and 5-mushroom stuffing recipe you just read about last week.

If you do decide to add a new dish to the rotation, test it out at least a week before the big day. That way you’ll avoid surprises — and can taste test to see if a new dish truly deserves a spot on your holiday table.

Ask for help

Just because you’re hosting doesn’t mean you need to do everything yourself. Does your cousin make a killer sweet potato casserole? Ask him to bring it. Have a friend who isn’t a big cook but wants to help? See if they can bring something to drink or pick up a pie at a local bakery.

Read all your recipes

Reading through every recipe is the first step in making your shopping list. Make note of all the ingredients you’ll need to buy. Then check your pantry and fridge to see what items, if any, you already have on hand, like flour or cinnamon. And remember to check sell-by dates — even on your spices — so you can cook with fresh ingredients.

Make it ahead

Once your menu’s set, look over each recipe to see which ones you can make in advance. Cranberry sauce, for example, can often be made at least a day early and then kept chilled in the fridge. If a dish can’t be made ahead, you can still do some early prep — like peeling and chopping carrots or washing and trimming green beans.

Set the scene

Another item to check off your to-do list before the event? Taking out all the serving platters you’ll need. This includes serving spoons, carving knives, and, yes, the roasting pan for the turkey. Use sticky notes to label which items will go in each dish. You then won’t have to hunt for an extra platter for the maple-glazed Brussels sprouts.

You can also count your dinner plates, utensils, and napkins ahead of time to make sure you have enough place settings. And be sure to set the table the night before.

Have a game plan

For the actual day you’re hosting, write up a schedule of when you’ll prep and cook each dish you plan to serve. Start with the time you plan to serve dinner and then work backwards. Any prep work you haven’t yet done can often be completed earlier in the day. If you’re making mashed potatoes, for example, plan to peel and cut the potatoes in the morning, place them in a large pot, and cover with cold water. They’ll then be ready to cook closer to dinner-time.

Also, make note of when each item on your menu needs to go in the oven — so you’ll have enough time to cook everything. Roasting vegetables? Plan to put them in the oven after you take out the turkey. The turkey will then have time to properly rest while the veggies cook. And speaking of turkey — remember to set aside enough time for it to safely thaw. No one wants to start Thanksgiving Day with a still-frozen bird.

See the big picture

If you start to feel overwhelmed when hosting a holiday celebration, take a breath and remember why certain traditions are important to you — and what you most enjoy about this time of year. Remind yourself that the day doesn’t need to be perfect. Instead, focus on the moment and being with your guests.

Feeling more stressed than usual?

It’s normal to feel stressed around the holidays. If you think you need extra support this year, we have many resources available to help you cope.