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Hosting Thanksgiving on Paper :: Two Weeks Out

I have hosted Thanksgiving several times over the past fifteen years of marriage.  It can be a very stressful undertaking to be sure.  In fact, one year, while excessively pregnant with my third and obligated to host for a few families in our neighborhood, I quite seriously suggested we have the meal catered.  I was simply too tired, too overwhelmed to clean, decorate, shop, cook, bake, host and clean up afterward.  This suggestion so appalled one of my home-cooking neighbors it essentially ended our friendship.   We wound up cancelling the whole evening and my husband and two sons and I had a peaceful dinner around our own table - stress free.  It was just what I needed that year.  

Don't get me wrong ~ I love hosting the most food-centric holiday of the year.  In fact, this year we will be feeding twenty people and I cannot wait.  But I have realized that the only way to have a panic-free turkey day in the kitchen is to prepare well in advance on paper.

I begin by sorting through my Thanksgiving file folder.  This is where I stash magazine ideas about everything from table-settings to recipes to party favor ideas.  I have one for every holiday as I am a magazine fiend and am always pulling out pictures and recipes that inspire me.

This year we'll have nine children attending our Thanksgiving, ages two to ten.  I want to be organized enough to have a few crayons and some drawing paper at their table to keep them entertained during the meal.

Here I must direct you to BHG to read the most helpful Thanksgiving article ever by Ina Garten.  She talks about how she makes her lists, crosses items off, plans dishes she can make in advance (gravy!) and how she works backwards mentally to plan her cooking to the minute.  It really is helpful and I am also planning to use her chocolate pudding recipe for dessert this year.
One important thing to remember when choosing your recipes is don't try to make too many things you have never made before.   Having to follow a recipe too closely takes extra time and focus on a busy cooking day.  Stack your deck with mostly familiar recipes that come naturally to you in the kitchen.  They are calming as well as nostalgic.

My mom's Candied Sweet Potatoes is one such comforting easy recipe.  I will have no other - and these don't even have marshmallows on top.  I'll have to share the recipe next week because these definitely go in the make ahead pile.  They get better with time!

I jotted this list while on the deck this week.  There are so many things to remember to do that even if I tackle one item each day I probably won't get them all done in time.  That's ok I just have to prioritize the list well and ask for lots of help from my boys!
Here is my menu planning list. On the left are the names of each item I will provide from appetizers to desserts and drinks.  On the right are the serving pieces I will use to serve each item.  This is a crucial step that saves so much time later on.  Here are the headings so you can make a list yourself:

Starters (2-3)
Cocktails/Beverages (4)
Main Meal (4-6)
Desserts (2-3)
Serving Pieces (for each item)

Another helpful list is to map out the guest list and create seating arrangements.  Will you need extra chairs and a folding table?  Where will guests put their coats?  How can you keep the appetizers and drinks out of the kitchen where you will be busy finishing the meal?  Do you have tablecloths for all the tables?  What about centerpieces, candles, music etc...  All this can be thought out so much easier in advance than on the day before the big meal.

Here is my plan of attack as it stands today:

Adults will be at main dining table  (velour tablecloth)
Children at kitchen table which will be moved into office (tablecloth with butcher paper and crayons)

BUFFET PLANS: (Prep on Monday)
Cider/Wine table in front door entryway  (Table runner)
Appetizers on card table in Family Room   (square tablecloth)
Main and Sides in kitchen on island and folding table  (runner and tablecloth)
Coffee and desserts on sideboard in dining room (runner)


Brown-sugar bacon wrapped smokies (from freezer)
Boursin stuffed mushrooms (prepped on Weds.)
Cheese, crackers

Wine (red and white) 
Holiday Wassail
Juice boxes
Coffee (make extra and fill carafe)

Turkey (Prep. on Wednesday)
Dressing (Mrs. Cubbison's Prepped on Weds.)
Mashed Potatoes (ask C to bring?)
Gravy (Made and in freezer - Thaw on Wednesday)
Cranberries (jellied)

Mixed green salad with cranberry vinaigrette (make on tuesday)
Green Beans with crispy shallots (Blanch on Weds. and caramelize shallots Thurs.)
Glazed sweet potatoes - Make on Tuesday (use crockpot on Thurs.)
Corn Pudding (Prep. Weds. bake Thurs.)
Mac-n-cheese (Homemade - Make on Weds. for kids' dinner)
Buns (storebought, some GF) with jam(mine) and pumpkin-spice butter(prep. on Tuesday)

Pie (pumpkin, apple, sunseed) (ask ? to bring one?)
Baked Chocolate Pudding with Cinnamon whipped cream (Ina Garten's recipe)

Music (ipod)
Tree lights on
Votives on tables

Gladwear with  ribbon to send leftovers home with guests
Bottle of wine or bag of coffee with burlap wrap and ribbon 
Kids get brown lunch sack tied with ribbon with a sucker, pencil and notebook from Target Dollar spot 

So now, pour yourself a cup of coffee, grab a pen and paper and begin your Thanksgiving planning on paper.  I promise you will feel both well prepared and more excited by having this part accomplished!

I hope this may help someone else who is trying to think through all that goes into hosting a Thanksgiving dinner. Over the days leading up to Thanksgiving I will be sharing a few recipes and more ideas about Thanksgiving preparedness.  Hope you'll stop by again!

Sharing here:
Featured At Serenity NowSix Sister's StuffLink Party


  1. You know, I've avoided reading this because I'm hosting my Thanksgiving in years...! I finally read it all the way through:) Thank you for sharing! I'll be working on my lists today.

  2. You are a woman after my own heart- I think our lists look eerily similar- drawings and all! Love it! Have a wonderful holiday. I'm glad I found your blog via Amanda at Serenity Now.

  3. WOW! You are so organized. Thank you for this post. Your dinner sounds wonderful. I need to get busy this week figuring out my plan and this will be a huge help. I can't wait to see your sweet potato recipe. I'll take a look at the article you linked to too. I need all the help I can get! Thanks again! :)

  4. Wow. You are awesome!! I could probably never pull that off, but if I ever have to host Thanksgiving...I'll be coming back here. How cute is that crayon place setting idea!! Love it! I pinned it!

  5. Elisa - we are on the same page on the crayon place setting! Was trying to pin it, but pinterest is acting funny and won't let me!
    Great post, fantastic ideas. Will definitely have to refer back to it when I start my Thanksgiving plans.


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