How to Host a Stress Free Thanksgiving

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Preview: Thanksgiving can be stressful on the host. This post shares ways to host a stress free Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving can be such a wonderful time of the year. There is the fun of getting together with family and friends without the pressure of gift giving. That is why it tends to be one of my very favorite holidays. However, stress can creep in if you are hosting the big meal. There are lots of dishes to prepare, not to mention cleaning the house.

To make things easier, I thought I would share some ways to make hosting Thanksgiving easier, along with some menu ideas you can prepare ahead of time. Here’s to hosting a stress free Thanksgiving that you can actually enjoy!

stress-free Thanksgiving decor

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Plan the Thanksgiving Menu

The very first thing to do to host a stress-free Thanksgiving is plan the menu. Draw up a rough outline of what foods you would like to serve. This will vary depending on the number of people you plan to invite. (If you’re not sure how much food you need, check out this article from Good Housekeeping.)

I always plan the menu BEFORE inviting people so that I have an idea of how much food is needed. (Better to plan on too much food rather than run out. Running out of food would not lead to a stress free Thanksgiving!)

A sample menu is shown below.

  • turkey or ham
  • dressing or stuffing
  • green vegetable side
  • potato dish
  • bread
  • salad or second green vegetable
  • dessert (1 or 2 or more depending on the number of people attending)
  • beverages (sweet tea, wine, coffee, etc.)

Remember, it doesn’t have to be an elaborate meal. The focus should be on being thankful for our blessings and enjoying time with family and friends.

If you would like a Thanksgiving Checklist to help you take the stress out of hosting the big meal, sign up below. You will find the printable in my Resource Library (near the bottom).

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Invite People to Your Thanksgiving Meal

The second thing to do to have a stress free Thanksgiving is to invite people. You may have a standard list of people that come every year or it may vary, but you still need to at least call each family and ask them to come and let them know what time you will be eating. It is best to do this at least two weeks in advance.

When you call to invite them, hopefully they will ask what they can bring. Whether it be a side dish, rolls, or dessert, let every family that is coming contribute one dish. Since you made a list of what you need–vegetable side dish, dessert, etc. you can ask them which item they would prefer to make. This way you don’t end up with 5 sweet potato casseroles and no dessert.

Start Cleaning In Advance

Don’t wait until the day before Thanksgiving to start cleaning your home. Yes, you will probably want to do a quick clean on the bathrooms the night before (or morning of) but you shouldn’t save everything until the last minute. If you have established a cleaning routine, your house is probably in pretty good shape.

But whether you’ve been cleaning regularly or have let some things slide, make a list of what needs to be cleaned and plan it into your days. If the windows need washing and the blinds need dusting, put time for that on your calendar. Set aside at least an hour a day if your home really needs a deep clean. You can dust and clear the clutter several days in advance, but save the mopping and vacuuming until the day before.

Most of all, remember that your home doesn’t have to be spotless. Most people are thankful they aren’t the ones doing the hosting (and therefore, the cleaning)!

Set the Table & Set Up the Serving Area Ahead of Time

Thanksgiving place setting
Thanksgiving place setting

The night before (or up to two days before), go ahead and set the table with your linens and silverware. If the food will be passed at the table, you can set the plates on the table as well. Serving buffet style? The plates are better off in the front of the buffet line.

If you are doing a buffet, it is also a good idea to decide where each dish will be placed in the buffet line, including the dishes the guests are bringing. I do this my placing a note where each dish should go. While it may seem silly, it will ensure you have space for everything. It can be stressful to realize at the last minute that you don’t have room for all the food.

You can also organize the buffet line so that all the side dishes are together and the main dish is at the beginning or the end (whichever you prefer). It also lets guest know where to put their dish when they bring it in. You may also want to include a few pot holders or trivets to set the hot dishes on as well.

I also like to set out a serving utensil for each dish. Many times guests will forget to bring a spoon so be sure you have plenty of serving utensils on hand. If you are short on utensils you may want to consider picking up a few plastic serving spoons to have on hand if needed.

Make a Few Dishes Ahead of Time

Do you want to be in the kitchen all day on Thanksgiving? I sure don’t. I want to visit with my family and enjoy the day. That’s why I’ve learned to make many dishes in advance. My green bean casserole and sweet potato casserole can be made the day before and refrigerated overnight. They can then be placed in the oven and cooked just before time to eat.

If you are making dessert yourself, choose a dessert that can be made ahead of time. Cheesecakes are great, as well as most pies. Don’t forget that your guests should (hopefully) be bringing a dish as well so you shouldn’t feel the need to prepare everything.

Remember What Thanksgiving is About

Above all, remember your guests are coming for the food and fellowship. They don’t want a stressed out host. If a few things have to slide, that’s OK! If you don’t have to time to break out the fancy china, bring out the paper plates instead. The added stress of making everything perfect will ruin the holiday for you. Check out Lessons on Hospitality for more tips on making your guests feel welcome.

And since you may also be thinking about family relationships and how to make those less stressful, check out my friend Miranda’s post on 6 Survival Tips to Reduce Holiday Stress. Many of these tips are applicable to both Thanksgiving and Christmas and even everyday dealings with family and friends.

How Do You Celebrate Thanksgiving?

So, how do you celebrate Thanksgiving? Do you host or are you fortunate enough to attend a get-together? If you don’t host, do you usually bring a dish? Let me know in the comments.

Don’t forget to get your free copy of my Thanksgiving Checklist. It lays out a plan to get your house ready and the food prepared so you can actually enjoy the day!

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stress free Thanksgiving checklist

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4 thoughts on “How to Host a Stress Free Thanksgiving”

  1. Great suggestions Julia. Especially letting people help with the food. It’s easy to get caught up in making a fabulous meal, and then realize that you’ve bitten off too much. Thanks for reminding us that it’s not all about cooking and cleaning, but about friends and family.

  2. Great tips! I like the idea of setting cards where every dish should go. One less thing you have to see to as people come in! Oh I’m glad to know I can mix the green bean casserole ahead of time:)


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