It’s one of those absolutely monumental moments of your year. It brims with memories (good ones and hey, maybe a few bad ones too! #drunkunclejim, am I right!?) It’s on everyone’s calendar. It rings in the festive season. And most of us spend weeks anticipating the FOOD.
The turkey. The yams. The pecan pie.
When you’re pipped to host it for the first time, it can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders to get it right. Heck, it can feel like this the second, third, fourth and fifth time you host too! It’s one event you don’t want to mess up.
But hosting Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t have to be scary!
Full disclosure: I didn’t grow up with Thanksgiving. I live in Australia. But Chris and his family are American, so Thanksgiving has been on my radar since we started dating in 2006. We’ve hosted Thanksgiving dinners, and I can’t wait until it’s my turn again.
So trust this Aussie when I say: I got ya, boo. We’re going to nail your Thanksgiving dinner together.
Hosting your first Thanksgiving dinner can feel huge and a bit overwhelming, whether you’re hosting a small group of close friends, your immediate family, or all the aunts, uncles and cousins. It can feel like there’s a lot of pressure on you to be the perfect Thanksgiving host and cook the perfect Thanksgiving meal.
Luckily, a bit of forethought and preparation beforehand will set you up for success!
Seriously, anyone can host Thanksgiving dinner like a boss. If I, a 30-something Australian, can nail it – you can too!
So check out my tips for success, and get excited… you’re hosting your first Thanksgiving dinner!
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1. Prepare, prepare, prepare
Avoid last-minute stress on the day by setting yourself up beforehand. Check with your guests on any dietary restrictions. Make sure your oven is clean and working well. Plan your menu and write your shopping list well in advance. Begin preparing your food a day or two before (many elements should keep well in the fridge/freezer for a day or so). Write up a time plan for all cooking remaining on the day of the dinner, making sure you consider your available fridge and oven space. Have ice on hand to ensure drinks are served chilled. Stock up on tea and coffee. You can even take the time to practice any new recipes in the weeks beforehand. Consider everything, and set yourself up for success from the start.
2. Don’t be intimidated by the Thanksgiving turkey
As the centre point of every Thanksgiving dinner, this can be the number one stress point for fledgling Thanksgiving hosts. But it doesn’t need to be. Begin with a clear idea of how you want to prepare your turkey at least a week in advance. If you haven’t been handed an old favourite family Thanksgiving turkey recipe, find one online with lots of comments and reviews, so you know it’s been tried and tested. Then let Google help with the specifics.
If your turkey is frozen, consult Google on how long it needs to defrost in the fridge for. Check the weight of your turkey and work out its recommended cook time – remembering to account for stuffing if needed. Yes, stuffing really does make a significant difference to the cooking time!
On the big day, prepare the turkey before you prepare anything else, and set it in its roasting tray in the fridge so that you know it’s ready to lift straight into the (pre-heated!) oven at just the right time. And remember that once it’s in there, the most you have to worry about is a little basting every now and then. Even turkey first-timers can have a perfect result with a calm and measured approach, so don’t stress!
I do highly recommend picking up a cheap meat thermometer so you can be 100% sure that your bird is cooked through before carving it. This one is less than $10 and is the one I’ve been using for years.
3. Incorporate some Thanksgiving decorations
You don’t need to go all-out with a floor-to-ceiling Pinterest-worthy Thanksgiving decor plan (though feel free if that’s your thing!). But a few well-chosen details will go a long way. String up some fairy lights or plop some little pumpkins on the table as centrepieces. Head to your craft store and grab some burlap for a makeshift table runner. Collect fall leaves and incorporate them into your place settings. Decor is definitely not my strong point, so I consult Pinterest for easy decor ideas that I can copy!
Be sure to check out these stunning DIY Fall decor projects for some gorgeous ideas to decorate your home for the season.
4. Open your house up early
Avoid having people arrive just as the turkey’s due to hit the table, as it creates a bit of a rushed mood. Instead, have them come an hour or two early. Have light snacks and drinks available, the game on the TV, and games/activities set up for any kids.
Though it sounds stressful to have people around when you’re in the peak busy-period in the kitchen, it may help to keep the evening relaxed. It means you won’t feel pressure to have Thanksgiving dinner on the table right as people are arriving. It allows your guests to soak in the smells and the little decor details in your home. And it offers an opportunity for people to lend a hand in the kitchen!
5. Set the scent
Our nostrils play a surprisingly important role in making an event memorable. A cozy Autumnal scent lingering in the air will set a lovely warm tone for your dinner. Burn a festive scented candle like spiced pumpkin or apple pie. Or if you’re an essential oils buff, try diffusing a blend that will give everyone all the Fall feels. A blend of wild orange, cinnamon and clove will make your home smell like mulled cider (mmm). Or try a cozy pumpkin spice-style blend, with cinnamon, ginger, clove and cardamom. Pinterest also has a ton of wonderful Fall oil blends to try out, so jump on and have a search.
If you have a a bit of time and a spare burner on your stove, a stovetop potpourri is an absolutely gorgeous touch that will be sure to blow your guests away.
6. Cater to the kids
If there are going to be any kids at your Thanksgiving dinner, make sure they feel looked after. Have some kid-friendly drinks (seriously, apple juice will do) and snacks (candy corn, easy). Set their own table (or even a picnic rug on the floor) with paper plates, brightly coloured straws and some kind of novelty item (games or toys) that will help keep them entertained while the adults chat and enjoy the meal.
If you’re feeling really industrious, you could even set up a craft space with some simple crafts like these clothespin turkeys, these fork-painted paper plate turkeys or these fun paper pumpkin pies. Just be sure to delegate an adult to watch over the crafts if there will be very young children… and make sure you ask them before the big day… because nobody wants to be sprung with a last-minute request like that with a cocktail in one hand and a slice of fancy cheese in the other!
7. Set a neat Thanksgiving Dinner table
If “buy good china” has been sitting on your to-do list right under “pay rent” and “put food on the table” your entire adult life, don’t stress. You don’t need a full set of matchy-matchy crockery to create a good impression with your tableware. Your everyday-use plates and cutlery will work just fine.
Just ensure you set the table before your guests arrive, and include all the necessities – a dinner plate, appetizer plate, wine glass, water glass and a set of cutlery at each place setting. Place a nice napkin (these linen cocktail napkins are just divine) at each setting and voila – Thanksgiving table is set. For the items you don’t have on-hand/enough of, just go disposable. People will be too grateful to have warm food in their bellies to worry about what they’re eating off. You can get some pretty snazzy plastic plate sets (including cutlery) on Amazon these days, as well as festive plastic cups and even paper place mats.
8. DIY Thanksgiving Dinner Place Settings
Place settings really add an element of elegance to the Thanksgiving dinner table, and make it feel like more of a “special event”. This is an item that is really easy to DIY – even if you’re not usually a crafty person! On the easier end of the scale I adore this super simple pinecone place setting DIY or these gorgeous rosemary sprig place cards. For those with a bit more time/DIY experience up their sleeves, these gold painted pumpkin place settings are stunning, and these woodland creature place card holders are pretty charming.
Buuuut if the idea of DIY-anything makes your skin crawl, Amazon’s got you covered with heaps of options, like these super cute mini chalkboard place settings or these tiny tree stump place card holders.
9. Let people help
There’s something wonderfully communal about throwing a Thanksgiving dinner. The more people involved in the process, the better. If someone offers to bring a dish or a bottle of wine, graciously accept. If extra hands are offered in the kitchen, take them! People love to get involved and feel like they’ve contributed to an amazing meal (and alleviated some of your stress levels too!).
10. Express your gratefulness
After all, that’s why you’re all there, isn’t it? It can be easy to let the reason for the season slip over our heads in favour of stuffing and pumpkin pie. But thankfulness is so important to recognise (not just on Thanksgiving either, but it’s a good place to start!)
Before the event, consider the best time to have people share what they’re thankful for. Perhaps it’s after appetisers, before the turkey is carved, or even as everyone sits around filling themselves with pie and coffee. Work it into your schedule for the evening, stand up, and encourage everyone to share. It’s a wonderful way to reflect, and also bond with your family and friends as they get a little vulnerable. Or if the going-around-the-table tradition isn’t your thing, find a more unique way to incorporate it into the evening, like the awesome “gratefulness pumpkin” pictured above.
11. Allot some relaxation time
After the last bite of pie has been swallowed and the last sip of coffee downed, don’t be too quick to send your guests on their way. Move into the living room to watch a movie or listen to music and chat. Offer an alcoholic night cap or breath mints. Just because the meal is over, the evening doesn’t have to be. Make a point of spending time enjoying everyone’s company.
12. Send them home with Thanksgiving Dinner leftovers
And do it in style! I am obsessed with this 20-piece set of Thanksgiving left-over boxes on Amazon, with its cute little turkey guy. These containers are perfect for hot leftovers or for cramming in pieces of leftover pie. Your guests will be touched (and impressed!) that you’re organised enough to send them home with their own little piece of Thanksgiving dinner in a perfect little Thanksgiving leftover box.
13. Keep the Thanksgiving dinner cheer going into the next day
If you have guests staying in your home after dinner, don’t be too quick to take off your host’s hat yet! After everyone’s slept off their turkey dinner – serve it up again! Use Thanksgiving leftovers to create an epic breakfast the next morning. A breakfast casserole is a classic option, or for something a bit fancier, try making waffles with your leftover stuffing.
I have no doubt your guests will be ready for Thanksgiving Dinner: Round II when they smell it coming out of your kitchen. Just make sure they earn it by doing a load of dishes with you!
14. Take photos
Everyone will already be Instagramming a birds-eye shot of the table, so while they’ve got their phones out, make sure they’re snapping the faces around them too. Thanksgiving memories are precious, and the photos you take at each gathering will be treasured by everyone for many years to come.
Check out my modern-day memory keeping ideas for ways to maximise those memorable moments too!
Feeling a little more ready to host your first Thanksgiving dinner?
I hope so!
Just remember that no Thanksgiving dinner is EVER perfect. Seriously. Something will be burnt on the stove or forgotten in the fridge. Someone’s going to drink a little too much or spill gravy on the carpet. There are any number of things that can go wrong, but they won’t be the things that set the tone for the day. Friends, family and a decent slice of pie are the things that will get your toe over the line.
So relax, enjoy, and nail Thanksgiving dinner this year. You’ve so got this!
Hosting dinners is kind of my jam, so be sure to check out some more ideas on hosting a kick-ass dinner party.
My favorite is set the scent 😂 Thanks for the awesome tips!
Klara Donovan says
So glad you enjoyed that one – a lot of us don’t consider the sensory experience a carefully chosen scent can provide.
Wonderful tips! Thank you!
Madilyn Burkwood says
Such great tips – I especially needed the reminder about the DIY place settings. This will be my first year hosting Thanksgiving and I’m a bit nervous for it all. I’ve already started prepping my house for it, I even got my floors refinished! I’ll definitely be referencing your post as it gets closer.
Britney Jones says
Thank you so much for sharing! I have been so nervous about hosting Thanksgiving with my family this year! I’ve been searching for ideas to help me and I’m so glad that I found your post! I know that it’s going to be insane at my house. I’ve just been prepping for the insanity haha – hiring a carpet cleaning company, raking all of the leaves on the lawn, deciding who is making what, etc. I still need some decorations so that’s on my list too. Anyway, thank you again!