Your Guide to Thanksgiving Dinner Planning

Planning Thanksgiving is a culinary challenge, one that just might leave you popping the Pinot while stuffing the bird. From the shopping to the cooking, from the hosting to the looking festive - things can easily turn into a harvest of havoc.

But feasting on frustration is avoidable with a little (okay, a lot) of proactive thinking.

So, take a deep breath and consider the following:

Don’t Focus on the Things That Could Go Wrong

It’s easy to let your imagination run wild, conjuring up a disastrous dinner where everything that can go wrong does. The meal is flavorless, the spirits are flat, and the guests are so demanding that even the potatoes roll their eyes.

Focusing on the cranberry calamities that could happen takes away from enjoying the moment. It also forces you to aim for a level of idealism impossible to attain. Remember, the little imperfections that you might fret over are things your guests are unlikely to notice.

Offer Variety

With so many dietary restrictions and unique health circumstances, it’s more important than ever to offer a variety of food to your dinner guests. Offer dishes geared toward vegans and vegetarians and don’t forget those who are gluten-free or dealing with allergies.

Variety spills over to the bar, as well: make sure to offer both non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks and diversity within these subsets. In other words, don’t assume that everyone likes wine; some of us are beer people.


One of the nice things about hosting Thanksgiving is that people are generally willing to offer help: accept it! There’s no reason you must do everything solo. If you still find yourself in need of extra hands, solicit your children. They tend to be more amenable when presents are coming down the pike.

If you simply don’t have time for the larger tasks, such as cleaning your house or hanging your holiday lights, outsource it. Yep, there’s an app for that.

Don’t Try New Recipes

Experimenting in the kitchen is fun and rewarding, but timing is important. Trying out a new casserole dish or watching a YouTube video to learn how to fry a turkey the morning of invites too much risk when dinner is on the line. So, stick with what you know and experiment in your free time.

Set the Table the Night Before

Do as much as you can the night before, including setting the table (which tends to take a while when you’re feeling fancy). Of course, this comes with a caveat: if you own a cat that’s obligated to walk all over the dinner plates in the middle of the night, refrain from any setup until morning.  Instead, focus on another job you can do ahead of time, like baking the pies.

Buy What You Can’t Make

There ain’t no shame in the Whole Foods game! Hosting dinner doesn’t mean every dish needs to be the result of your blood, sweat, and (very emotional) tears. If you don’t have time to make something, buy it! If you’re worried about what your mother will think, put it on a plate and hope she doesn’t give it a second thought.

Save Time to Get Ready

Spending so much effort preparing to shower your guests with attention can leave you failing to literally shower yourself. Don’t get so wrapped up in the minor details that you forget about self-care. Give yourself at least an hour of “me-time” before anyone arrives.

Use a Cooler

Space is typically limited, no matter how big your house is, which is why a cooler comes in handy. Haul one up from the basement or garage and use it to store soda, bottled water, or beer. Keep the cooler out of the kitchen so guests will stay out, as well. A deck or back porch is a great place to park it.

Hosting Thanksgiving is the ultimate chore, but one that comes with reward in the form of love, family, and ample dessert. Not everything will go perfect; remind yourself that that’s okay. Even doing a lousy job comes with a silver lining: if things go that terribly, no one will ask you to host next year.

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