Today, we are talking Thanksgiving–specifically hosting your first Thanksgiving. I’ve cooked and hosted my family’s Thanksgiving dinner for the past few years and have picked up a thing or two along the way. I previously shared my general entertaining tips on the blog and try to answer specific questions as they come up. But with Turkey Day about a week away, I thought I would answer the most popular questions in one place along with my general advice for making this day less stressful if you’re the one hosting this year.

How do you prepare your home for hosting Thanksgiving dinner?

One tip I cannot recommend enough is to clean out your fridge. Before any event but Thanksgiving especially, it’s helpful to have your fridge clear and organized to accommodate all the ingredients for dinner and leftovers after the fact. Here’s my home cleaning routine and some easy fall home updates.

How do you decorate for Thanksgiving?

The table is usually full of food so I don’t do much aside from light a few candles and put out a simple seasonal floral arrangement (this one costs $20!). Here are all my tips for buying flowers on a budget.

Thanksgiving dinner and decor on table

How do you shop for all the ingredients without forgetting anything and beat the crowds at the store?

First of all, I almost always forget something and wind up sending my dad or someone else out to the store the morning of. 🙂 Cooking in stages helps combat that, though, because I’m not working with and taking stock of everything I have on hand at the last minute. Pick up my Flawless Thanksgiving Guide–it walks you through the entire process from menu planning to setting the table! Grocery stores tend to be a madhouse close to the holidays so I shop for what I can in advance. I start grabbing the frozen, canned and non-perishable items I’ll need during regular grocery trips in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. Then I get produce, dairy, and meat the weekend or a couple of days before so as not to lose my mind (and avoid things going out of stock).

Here are my time-saving grocery shopping tips including every grocery delivery and curbside pickup option currently available in Houston. As far as determining how much of everything to buy and make, I always account for extra guests. It’s better to have leftovers than to run out of something, in my opinion. If you don’t want to have a ton of food sitting in your fridge after Thanksgiving, one thing my family typically does is use leftovers to make a number of plates that we then take to less fortunate individuals who are outside or in shelters on Thanksgiving. It’s helpful,  doesn’t take long, and helps ensure food doesn’t go to waste.

Help! What are your tips for tackling dinner?

Again, I recommend cooking in stages. Oven and stove top space are at a premium when you have so many dishes to make so I tend to make the desserts a day or two before and chill them until showtime. I also prep produce ahead of time. Peeling, chopping, slicing, etc. all gets done the day before then I store all the prepped veggies in the fridge in sealed containers or ziploc bags. To relieve any anxiety you might have about new dishes, test drive them before. If I’m thinking about making a new Thanksgiving recipe, I make it at least once during the preceding weeks for lunch, dinner, or a potluck.

It’s also important to realize that everything doesn’t have to be homemade/made from scratch. We’re actually fans of the weird jellied cranberry sauce so we always buy that along with Kings Hawaiian rolls. Sides and desserts are my specialty but my mom usually provides an assist with the turkey. This year, I tried out Jennie-O’s Oven Ready™ turkey for a Friendsgiving dinner and was so pleased with both the process and the outcome. There was no basting, brining or checking required during the roasting process and the turkey was a hit taste-wise. We picked it clean to the bone, y’all. If you’re looking for a shortcut, I recommend this one. There’s not even any thawing or prep needed.

holding Jennie-O oven redy turkey in bag

What are some non-traditional menu items? Looking for meat options besides turkey or ham.

I’ve got you covered! Here are my recently updated Thanksgiving sides roundup and Thanksgiving desserts roundup. Each one has a mixture of traditional Turkey Day recipe ideas and dishes with a twist in case you want to try something different (like jollof rice). I also recommend you check out the Black Food Blogger’s Thanksgiving recipe roundup for unique ideas. Each of these posts includes traditional, vegan, gluten-free, paleo, and keto recipes. For different meat options, check out 15 alternatives to turkey from Babble here.

cooked Jennie-O turkey on platter with orange slices and rosemary

What are your tips for a stress-free Thanksgiving–especially with in-laws or new guests?

Aside from the above, remember to stock up on the non-food supplies that will inevitably come in handy:

  • foil, plastic wrap, parchment paper
  • paper towels and toilet paper
  • to-go plates/containers
  • cleaning supplies

I also recommend using all or mostly-white serving dishes. This makes coordination a no-brainer and is a tip I use year round. You can easily incorporate a festive dish or two as you see fit and everything winds up looking polished and put-together. Here are a few inexpensive options you can have to the house by Turkey Day!

A tip that will help on the impressive front is to have snacks on deck. This will keep your guests happy and buy time before the main event. Does Thanksgiving dinner ever start on time in your house? It did in mine last year…for the first time ever. 🙂 If you’re looking for ideas, try this Thanksgiving appetizer board or this fall cheese board. Here are all my favorite appetizers, in case you don’t like either of those. For advice on hosting overnight guests, see here.

small cheese board and champagne cocktail glasses on table

If you have any other questions, let me know below. I wish y’all a blessed and enjoyable holiday. Thanks for reading!

Signature Dash of Jazz

Turkey provided by Jennie-O. As always, all opinions are my own.