As much as I love Halloween and Christmas, the beginning of fall reminds me my favorite holiday is near—Thanksgiving. It’s a time when the family comes together to talk and laugh while eating delicious food. In the past, whenever it was my mom’s turn to host Thanksgiving, I would roll my eyes because I knew we would spend time running around various stores until Thanksgiving day. One year, my mom and I stood in one of the longest lines the night before Thanksgiving because she forgot to pick up the turkey.
Even though I spent the entire time complaining, my mom never lost her patience and managed to achieve miracles on Thanksgiving. This is also around the time she began enlisting my sister and my help in the kitchen. It wasn’t until I started helping prepare food that I understood how much work goes into hosting a holiday.
Now that I have my own household, my partner and I have volunteered to host Thanksgiving for the first time—and I may or may not be panicking about it. If you’re hosting Thanksgiving for the first time, too, here are eight tips to help you prepare.
1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Asking someone to help you plan and host Thanksgiving is really a game-changer in terms of limiting stress. This doesn’t mean you’re incapable of handling things yourself, but just because you can, doesn’t mean you have to. Asking for help from your partner, friends, or family members can help you delegate tasks that may feel overwhelming or are easy to forget about. Stress is inevitable when you’re hosting a gathering, but having help can make things a little more fun.
If you’re not quite ready to cook your first Thanksgiving turkey, enlist the help of your dad or favorite uncle. Aside from that, you can also ask attendees to bring their favorite sides or desserts, so there are several options to eat!
2. Fine tune the invite list
We’ve already begun considering the size of our space and how many people we can comfortably invite over. Given that we temporarily downsized, we know we can’t invite as many people as would normally visit my parents’ home for Thanksgiving. So, we’ve created a list of immediate family members who were in attendance for our son’s first birthday party.
Since our space doesn’t allow me to have the round dining room table of my dreams, we’re considering buying card tables and fold-up chairs to accommodate more seating. I actually have my eye on the perfect kids’ table.
Here are some considerations when thinking about attendance:
- How many people can your home comfortably hold?
- Will family members be traveling in from out of town? Will they need to stay overnight?
- Do you have enough seating?
- Do you need a kids’ table?
3. Plan the menu
Once you have a good idea of who’ll be attending, it’s time to start thinking about the menu! If food makes you happy, too, then you’ll love creating a menu that works for your gathering. This is personally my favorite part of the planning process because it allows me to be creative.
Keep attendee preferences in mind
It could be easy to craft a menu that features traditional Thanksgiving foods, but it won’t hurt to include items that cater to different palettes. You’ll want to keep in mind food allergies and dietary preferences. For example, there are several people in my family who have a dairy intolerance, so instead of offering them mac and cheese, I’ve decided to make stuffed bell peppers with rice, chicken (or beans as a substitute), and mushrooms.
Know your kitchen’s capacity
Unless you’re lucky enough to have two ovens, this is a good time to start thinking about batch cooking. Additionally, you may want to consider whether you need to buy or borrow extra servingware, warming trays, or other kitchen gear. For example, my fiancé and I recently purchased a slow cooker that will allow us to cook a pot roast while using the oven for our stuffed bell peppers, mac and cheese, and pies. I love baking, so I have to be able to use my oven!
Consider printed menus
Once you have everything planned, you can consider printing cute Thanksgiving menus for attendees (but these are, of course, not mandatory for a memorable Thanksgiving).
4. Buy some decor (on a budget!)
It’s no secret that stores like Target have amazing Thanksgiving decor options, but it can be easy to get carried away. Raise your hand if you’ve walked in with the intention of buying a couple of things at Target and left with more—oftentimes, much more. Set a budget for decor and for food. To help offset costs, you can ask family members to contribute a dish if they’re willing.
5. Embrace cooking shortcuts
This is a tip I’ve taken from my mom. Instead of making homemade stuffing, she purchases it from the grocery store and adds her favorite seasonings to it. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to over-perform. Nine times out of ten, people won’t be upset if you didn’t make every single item from scratch. Since it’s your first time hosting, it’s OK to take the pressure of perfection off yourself.
6. Have snacks prepared while people wait for dinner
Unlike Sunday dinners in my family, where food seemed to be ready after church, I understand that a little more effort is needed for Thanksgiving. Unless you plan to have dinner completely finished the night before, chances are you’ll still have a few items to prep in the morning. It’s OK if family members begin to arrive and dinner isn’t ready for a couple of hours. Should people feel hungry, you can consider serving finger foods like a charcuterie board.
7. Consider different activities and games for kids
While it’s a given that the adults in your family will usually congregate in the living room, especially if football is on TV, it can be easy to forget about keeping the kids entertained. To make sure all attendees have a great time, you can have a few Thanksgiving crafts or games ready. My cousins and I usually played a series of board and card games if all of the TVs were occupied. You can consider having the kids play games outdoors if the weather permits.
8. Remember why you’re getting together
I think we can agree that everyone looks forward to dinner on Thanksgiving, but spending time with our loved ones also warms our hearts and fills our bellies. Maybe that’s why the food seems to be extra tasty. My grandmother used to tell me that she cooked her food with love when I asked her why something tasted so good. And I believe she did. That may explain why I’ve spent many Thanksgiving holidays with a smile on my face after dinner.
Take a moment to express gratitude for being able to eat good food with people you love and cherish. And now that I’m a mom, it seems my gratitude has grown tenfold. This may be true for you. Perhaps, you have a long list of things to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. One thing is for sure—love seems to find its way in many places, especially when we’re bonding with people we care about. May your first time hosting Thanksgiving remind you why the holiday holds a special place in your heart.