If this is your year to finally take a crack at hosting your first Thanksgiving dinner, congratulations. Taking on this task is no easy feat, but it can be done. Don't panic, don't freak out, all you need is...let's be honest...a lot of planning, and hopefully some help from a friend or family member(s). I'm a year 8 in the Thanksgiving dinner department, and every year it's exhausting, it's a lot of work, but the final product and the smiles that go along with it, have made me come back to doing it year after year. Plus, LEFTOVERS!
Now if you're wondering, why post this now since it's only three days into November, but that's about the time you really need to start with your planning so you won't get overwhelmed and overworked near the end.
Who's Coming To Dinner?
Call/email/text/talk to those you intend to invite and get a ballpark number of who all is coming. This is of course important because you'll need to know about how many chairs/tables/and food and drinks you'll need. Always plan for a few more bodies to show up because they always do.
Come Up With a Menu
Really sit down and think up and write down what all you intend to serve down to the last roll and Sprite bottle. Some people will of course want you to make this or that item, but only commit to what you know you can handle. Don't be pressured to committing to something you know you have neither the time, skill, or money to do. The way I look at it, people are coming to your house to eat for free what you will have slaved away making, so if they want "another pie," they are welcome to buy that and bring it for themselves #truth.
Keep It Simple
There is no need for you to try to become Martha Stewart your first go round. Keep it simple. At the basic level, you'll need turkey, 3+ veg, bread, gravy/cranberry sauce, stuffing, and 3+ dessert options. Add to that water, soft drinks, and alcohol if your guests will be drinking. If guests offer to bring something LET THEM! In fact, write them a list, lol!
Find The Best Deals
Now is the time to crack open a newspaper or the internet to find out who amongst your local grocers, has the best Thanksgiving deals. Thanksgiving dinner can get expensive with a big crowd, so you do want to make an effort to save money anyway you can. Look for value coupons you can use for more than one item, and stock up now. Most of your items are not going to go bad before Thanksgiving, or like the turkey, can stay frozen until you need it.
Buy or Borrow or Rent or Thrift
If you don't have enough dishes for your intended meal, now is the time to go on the hunt for those items before the mad rush begins. Preparation is the key...don't end up on long lines when you're already stressed. If you don't have enough chairs/tables/plates, forks, etc, see if you can borrow or rent them. If you need to rent, RENT NOW, because closer to Thanksgiving, rental places may be out of stock. A great money saver is to go thrift shopping for serving platters, glasses, plates, etc. Often for less than $5/piece for serving ware, and less than $2/piece for plates/glasses, etc. you can save a TON of money, only second to borrowing what you need.
Clean out your fridge/freezer
Hmm...where is all that food going to go if you haven't seen the back of your freezer in 2 years? You need to make room. Start eating, giving away, or moving items out of your fridge/freezer now, so that when that week comes, you will have space to store stuff.
Organize/Clean/Decorate your house/apartment
I like to do the bulk of this activity 2 weeks prior to Thanksgiving and then spend those two weeks leading up to, just maintaining the "museum" like status of my house until guests arrive. The last thing you want to be stressed out over or have to do, is both clean AND cook at the same time. If you don't want to do it yourself, hire a maid service to tackle the job. Again, book early. Also use this time to decorate. Switch out table covers, put up decor throughout, put up any kids artwork you may have, etc.
Learn to cook
Now is not the time to be prideful about your inability to cook or make certain things. Start now on a journey to learn to do what you have no skills for yet. If you've never made a pie, go to grandma's house and learn. Go to the internet and start practicing how to cook and slice a turkey. Watch the Food Networks, and take notes, practice, and don't be afraid to ask or call someone who knows what they are doing for help if you get into a jam.
This is a life saver. Prep as much as you can now and stick it in the freezer until you need it. Here is a link to all that can be prepped ahead of time: http://www.thekitchn.com/foods-you-can-prep-now-for-thanksgiving-tips-from-the-kitchn-212516
Two to Three Days Before
If you haven't cleaned up, start now. If you freezer prepped start defrosting now---especially your turkey. Write down on a big sheet, all the items for your menu...what needs to be prepped...how much time is needed...when to cook it...what ingredients you still may need...etc. etc. This will be your master sheet. As you complete a task, check it off. You're the captain now. If you need something, find a minion, and send them to the store for you. This is the time to threaten everybody, lol, let them know there will be NO dessert if they don't come back with said ingredients.
Laugh At Yourself
It's rare that everything will be a total disaster like your oven failing, or all the cookies burning at once, but if the sh*t hits the fan, remember that during the holidays the most important thing is that you are spending it in the company of friends and family. You must be able to laugh off the mistakes, toss a bad turkey that there is no saving, and realize that you put salt instead of sugar in the cake. Sh*t happens, but don't ruin the day by having a complete meltdown about it. Pick up the phone, order a couple of pizzas, kick back in the yard, and know, that yeah, there's always next year.