I hosted my first Thanksgiving dinner this year, and I have to admit that it was a success! I was a little nervous being the hostess leading up to Turkey Day, but I embraced the symbolic passing of the carving knife from my mother to me, and began planning.
I’ve always described myself as a planner and I love hosting family and friends in my home. Prior to this event, I’ve typically made lists a few days or even a week in advance, but with the pressure of hosting Thanksgiving and the decisions in front me (Yams or Sweet Potatoes? Apple or Pumpkin Pie?), I made an effort to take my planning and preparation to a new level. In the days leading up to Turkey Day, I realized something very important, regardless of what you’re serving, one thing’s for sure, if you plan everything in advance, the big day will be smooth and stress-free.
Everyone recommends (family, friends, Ina and Giada) doing as much food prep as you can in advance. This is certainly the ideal, however as a working girl, this isn’t always feasible. For example, I read that pie dough can be made up to three days in advance of baking. Unfortunately, my dough did not get made until the day before my big dinner. Although only one day in advance, it certainly helped to have some things checked off on Thanksgiving-Eve.
The most important thing I learned from hosting my first Thanksgiving dinner was to create a timeline. Creating a timeline not only minimizes personal stress but it can maximize how enjoyable your event is (to both you and your guests)….Here is my timeline from Turkey Day!
Three Weeks Before
Gather ideas for Thanksgiving dinner. Start reading blogs and perusing cookbooks. I also suggest ordering a book that was recommended to me by a dear friend: Thanksgiving by Sam Sifton. This book was a lifesaver—it walked me through everything I needed to know about pulling off my first Thanksgiving dinner without a hitch.
Two Weeks Before
Plan a menu. I have a recipe binder and collect recipes throughout the year. I try to categorize them as I add them, so as to eliminate excessive leafing through recipes as I plan my menu. For Thanksgiving, I found the recipes that sounded more delicious and festive.
Order a turkey. I decided on a fresh, heritage bird and placed the order to be picked up Wednesday morning.
One Week Before
Get organized by making lots of lists. Make a grocery list and arrange the ingredients on the list by their location in the store. If you are shopping a multiple stores (like me), make a list for each store.
Plan a table setting. This is the perfect time to pull out special family pieces and add festive touches of your own. Make sure that your tablecloth and napkins are clean. If you are planning for a large group, I suggest making place cards—assigned seating may stimulate conversation among your guests.
Prepare your kitchen. Clean out your refrigerator and pantry to make room for the groceries and the turkey. Also, take stock of your kitchen tools and tableware to make sure that you have all that is needed.
Make a cooking plan and timeline. Figure out what dishes need to go into the oven and at what temperature. Planning the timeline was the trickiest part for me. I suggest working backwards, starting from the time you plan serve dinner.
The Sunday Before
Purchase the groceries. Prepare yourself for the madhouse that grocery stores will be and remind yourself to breath when fighting for a parking spot. Remember that Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful.
Take out serving dishes. Now is the time to bring out those special, rarely used pieces. Write the name of each dish on a post-it and place it inside the serving vessel.
The Day Before
Cook in advance. I know that the “day before” is not advance for many, but for the full-time working girl, it is for me. Make pie dough, make cranberry sauce, and chop vegetables (place in plastic bowls and cover with plastic wrap or lids and refrigerate.
Pick up the turkey. If you are cooking a fresh turkey, pick it up from the market. While there, shop for remaining groceries and any last minute items. Don’t forget to get the makings for turkey sandwiches for the next day!
Set the table.
Prep the turkey. Remove the turkey from the fridge in the morning, so it has time to come to room temperature. Put your herbs and spices aside so that they are easily accessible.
Start cooking. Make the stuffing, sweet potatoes, green beans and complete the apple pie. While the turkey is resting (to be carved), make the gravy.
Chill the wine and cocktails.
Serve dinner. Give yourself a pat on the back and graciously accept compliments. Enjoy your meal and have a fabulous time!
Hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year was definitely a milestone for this hostess, and with the help of creating a timeline, I rocked it! Whether you’re hosting your family for a holiday dinner (Christmas will be here before you know it!) or a group of friends to celebrate a birthday, planning a timeline can be an effective way or organizing all aspects of hosting your event.
Here is a printable version of our Holiday Timeline – we hope it helps you plan your next event!
We hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. Happy organizing!