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7 Smart Tips for Hosting Thanksgiving

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The countdown is on! It’s time to start looking at those Pinterest pins you saved and the specials at the grocery store. Thanksgiving Day will be here before you know it and while we can’t control what Aunt Phyllis is going to say after her third glass of wine, we can control the stress that can come with hosting any holiday. These 7 Thanksgiving tips will have you feeling like master of the kitchen.

overhead view of a plated thanksgiving turkey

Less than 2 weeks away from Thanksgiving Day and if you’re hosting it can feel a little overwhelming. How long does it take to thaw a turkey? How many sides do you need? Remember last year when you forgot ‘X’ ingredient and all the stores were closed . You know, those pesky questions that come up. 

After years of watching my mother dish up 2 turkeys (because, leftover turkey is a necessity) and a counter full of accompaniments for roughly 25 people, along with several years organizing the execution of large party dining in the restaurant industry….you pick up a few things over the years. When it comes to having as much of a stress free holiday as possible – whether it’s your first time hosting or your 30th – these are my most favorite tips for a low stress Thanksgiving Dinner.

(Just here for the goods? Grab a PDF of all these free printables here.)

Plan Your Menu

And we’re not just talking about picking the pretty pictures off of Pinterest. Like, actual recipes in your wheelhouse. I’m not saying don’t try something you’ve never done before, but if you’ve never made a box of mac and cheese maybe don’t take on a turducken.

Here are my go-to tips when it comes to planning a Thanksgiving Day menu:

  • Keep in mind that the turkey (or whatever roast your family is serving as the centerpiece) will likely be taking up the majority, if not all, of the oven space. That’s going to leave all your side dishes to need another cooking method or before/after the turkey.
  • The turkey needs about 15-30 minutes to rest before carving so that’s a great time to jack up the heat and throw veggies back in there to finish roasting.
  • If you’ve got a slow cooker, electric pressure cooker, or a kick butt toaster oven, figure out which side dishes are going  to come from where. You’ve also got the stove top to cook mashed potatoes and veggies too.
  • Now just stop for a second and channel your inner organizer….look at your menu and take 5 minutes to plan what can be done in advance. Can you chop those sprouts the morning before? Can that cheese platter be made the night before and wrapped? Yes and yes. A stress free holiday starts with having as little to do as possible on the actual holiday.

To make your life even simpler….work out your menu on paper with this menu planning sheet.

Thanksgiving Menu Planning Sheet

Or you can cut out all the guess work and grab a copy of an already planned out mouth watering menu, shopping list printable and tip filled ebook right here!


Yes! Yes, YOU! Yes, you with the pen and paper and your perfectly crafted menu. Yes, you and your foodie reputation that precedes you. I get it, I am you. Right? Like all the flavors are just where they need to be and what if Joanne’s brussels sprouts are undercooked? GASP. No, you need to let that go and take the help, but that doesn’t mean you can’t guide it in the right direction.

What I’ve learned most, especially since having two kids and two businesses, is that when people offer to help they actually want to do it. I’ve also learned that some times things happen and life gets lifey and plans change. So when it comes to delegating the menu…

  • assign prep and major menu items to make to people who will be in the house that morning or that you know will definitely be there
  • extra sides, desserts or cold appetizers are great things to ask people to bring
  • wine, ice, soda are all perfectly acceptable requests as well

Make the freaking list

My husband? List hater. His mom? Also a list hater. My husband’s step-dad though, ohhh man, Mike and I love a good to do list. And when it comes to that battle for the bag of parsnips at the grocery store, put the pride of your memory aside and just write the dang list.

Now for my fellow list lovers, here’s my very favorite tip – and I know a lot of you already do this(!!) – write your grocery list by department. Why? Because when you’re all the way in produce with a full cart and you realize you forgot the heavy whipping cream back in dairy, you’re going to say, “Oh I just pick it up later.” But you won’t or you’ll forget and really, just trust me on the list.

thanksgiving shopping list printable organized by department

Look at your menu and go through each recipe, check your pantry to see what you already have and write your list. After your list is done, keep it in a high traffic area until you go to the grocery store so you can easily add things as they pop into your mind.

Set a reminder to thaw your turkey

You can just go shopping the day it needs to start thawing and just store it in the fridge from there. That’s probably most people’s Plan A. You do also have 4 days post thaw to cook it before it goes bad. 

How much time do you need to thaw your turkey? Well that all depends on your method and the size of the turkey. Thawing the turkey in the fridge is the easiest, safest and least involved method. So I vote that one.

guideline of when to start thawing your turkey in the refrigerator

worksheet with turkey thawing tips listed

You can also thaw it in a cooler with cold water but that needs to be monitored for temperature and changed every few hours.

Just don’t set the bird in the sink overnight please. Why? The outermost part of the turkey will be at a much higher temp than the inside of the turkey – and likely within what we call the “danger zone” where bacteria likes to grow. Live dangerously, but don’t live dangerously when it comes to the chance of giving multiple people food poisoning.

Set the table the night before

Start the morning off with as little to do as possible! 

  • take out the trash
  • recycling
  • empty the dishwasher

Prep what you can!

A lot of tedious work can be done the day before which makes the actual cooking part of Thanksgiving just a matter of timing. If you want to be able to relax with your guests, try picking out a few sides that can be made or prepped the day before and just finished or reheated on Thanksgiving day.

Keep before meals simple

Whether you choose to do take out, simple pasta, or frozen pizza – keep the meals leading up to a big holiday simple. Something where cooking is minimal and clean up is easy.

More tips and tricks for holiday hosting…

Looking for one stop shopping? I’ve got just the thing for you! If you’re loving all these thanksgiving tips, tricks and hacks here you should seriously check out Simple Thanks

sliced turkey on a platter with grapes and sage

It’s the Thanksgiving cookbook chock full of holiday recipes from start to finish, cocktails, a printable shopping list and more organization tips to make this your most delicious and easiest holiday ever.

At the end of the day, it’s about the people at the table more so than what’s on it but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to make it delicious and stress-free. Happy Thanksgiving!


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