18 Tips For Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner, According to Experts

The holidays are fast approaching. And hosting Thanksgiving dinner can be a stressful process. So, we gathered expert advice to make it as stress-free and memorable as possible. 

Experts revealed tips for preparation, beverages, trending foods, and commonly forgotten items. Time to bust out your finest dinnerware and deck the house into a Michelin-rated restaurant!

1.) Yes, Boring, But Lists Are Your Friend 

Jon Stephens stated: “One of the best ways to make hosting Thanksgiving a little less chaotic is to make thorough lists in advance of the event. 

Jamie Novak, a professional organizer, and author, also recommended food lists: “I suggest creating two shopping lists: perishables and non-perishables. 

“That way, you can shop anytime for some items that last – but shop last minute for those that spoil. No more wasting money re-buying wilted herbs.”

2.) Know Your Crowd

Naturopathic practitioner Julius Cermak suggests polling your guests to know what they prefer: “Know the taste buds at your table: At our first Friendsgiving dinner, we served about 6 traditional dishes. 

“Our guests almost exclusively ate 2 of them–ham & mac n cheese (frankly, I don’t consider either to be Thanksgiving tradition). I can’t tell you how much food we threw away. 

“Don’t assume everyone wants to eat all the classics. Send around a mini-poll. Ask for the top 3 favorite dishes. Serve those.” 

“Plan to serve simple, pre-made appetizers instead of giving yourself extra dishes to cook, and enlist your guests’ help with providing libations for the event,” adds Jon.

3.) Double Check Cooking Times

Shirlene Kyin, Director of Operations of Soylent, makes an excellent point of checking cooking times in advance: “It’s important to check the recipes of dishes you’ll be making for Thanksgiving and put together a cooking schedule well ahead of time. 

“You might be surprised by the cooking time of some items or find that they’re better prepared the night before and warmed in the oven the day of. It’s ideal to be aware of this before you scan recipes on Thanksgiving day!”

4.) Let Guests Bring Dessert

Julius also recommends letting guests bring dessert: “Everyone wants to bring something. Dessert is the easiest dish to outsource. It does not eat up your limited oven space. It’s not critical to tablescapes or dinner presentations. 

“It’s a lovely way for each guest to feel important by contributing.” 

5.) Formula For Figuring Out Side Dishes

Chuck Sillari, has experience in the restaurant and catering business and offered this tip to figure out side dishes: “People are always unsure of how much they should have prepared when it comes to Thanksgiving side dishes. 

“Assuming you’re going to be serving a big turkey and multiple sides, a good rule of thumb is 4 ounces per person. 

“For example, if you have ten people for dinner, and you wonder how much mashed potatoes you need, use this formula (4 oz. x 10 people = 40 oz., 40oz. divided by 16 = 2.5 lbs of mashed potatoes.” 

6.) Remember to Include Some NA Drinks

Author Hilary Sheinbaum, recommends: “I’ve hosted many dinners — including Friendsgiving and Thanksgiving — and my top tip is to have nonalcoholic (NA) options available for guests.

“Every guest can celebrate by serving NA wines, NA beers, NA spirits, and/or NA cocktails. Thanksgiving is a time for being inclusive, so 

it’s important to have options! 

“With zero-proof drinks, you don’t have to worry about guests getting out of hand or slurring their speech. And nonalcoholic beverages are typically less caloric than the alcoholic version of the same drink.”

7.) Method For Rapid Wine Chilling

“Try this tip for quickly cooling your bottle if guests arrive way too early (or if you just need a glass after a hard day in the kitchen). Wrap it in a damp dish towel or paper towel and place it in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes. Additionally, you can immerse your bottle in an ice bath containing salt,” says Eleanor. 

8.) Serve Trendy Foods For This Year

Matt Johnson, founder of Cook Like a Master shares a trending food: “One trendy item that will make an appearance this year is a butter board complete with five types of butter and artisan bread to go with each.” 

“There will be sweet and savory butter, including cinnamon maple butter and roasted garlic and thyme butter.”

Kelsey Riley, recipe developer at the food blog, Planted in the Kitchen shares: “This year’s trends point to keeping our favorite traditional Thanksgiving foods while incorporating new and unique foods. 

“Year after year, we’re seeing a shift toward more vegan and vegetarian options and gluten-free options. This includes modified dishes like crustless pies and meatless entrees. 

“We’re also seeing more mushroom-centered recipes entering the Thanksgiving conversation, various types of charcuterie boards, and more!” 

Janet Coleman, adds some more dishes: “Pie pops are easy to make in just minutes and are perfect for kids of all ages. You can use store-bought pie filling or make your own by combining pumpkin puree, cream cheese, and cinnamon. You can also make them in advance and freeze them for later. 

Strawberry Shortcake 

This classic dessert is always a hit at Thanksgiving, thanks to the strawberries and whipped cream topping. And if you’re looking for an even healthier option, try making this recipe without the added sugar! 

Pumpkin Pie Muffins 

These mini muffins taste just like pumpkin pie but without all the extra calories! They’re also freezer friendly, so you can make them ahead of time if you want to do something special for your Thanksgiving guests.”

Jacob Richards adds two more trending dishes:

1. Roasted squash soup with sage and pumpkin seeds – This soup is perfect for fall, and it’s easy to make ahead of time. 

2. Cranberry-apple crisp – This dessert is a nice change from traditional 

pumpkin pie, and it’s sure to please everyone at your table.  

Liana Werner-Gray, founder and author of The Earth Diet, suggests the following five dishes this year:

“1. Mashed Cauliflower, instead of potatoes, to cut the carb load. Ideal for paleo and keto. Delicious, and make it just like you would make mashed potatoes with milk and butter (you can choose vegan or regular). Make it smooth or with some chunks. Folks also enjoy doing half cauliflower and half potato! Such a great combo to still enjoy the traditional dish but with less carbs and more nutrients from the cauliflower. 

2. A gluten-free stuffing made from gluten-free pasta instead of bread! Cook a packet of Explore Cuisine green lentil or chickpea fusilli noodles and then stuff it in the turkey with an egg and the classic spices thyme, rosemary, oregano, salt, and pepper, and it comes out delicious – just like bread stuffing! 

3. Add some fresh ginger to cranberry sauce! Cranberry sauce gets gingery! It adds a delicious flavor and is a powerful anti-inflammatory to help with any thanksgiving bloat. 

4. Brussels sprouts are the new green bean casserole! Smash them and then roast them with some bacon on top, salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese. 

5. Make some Chocolate SunButter Cups for dessert four days prior. This makes you feel better about being prepared, and you gain momentum by being ahead of schedule. Melt down some dark chocolate and pour it into paper cups, then add a teaspoon of Sunbutter into each one and pour more chocolate on top. 

Not everyone likes pumpkin pie, and there should always be chocolate as an option when you have guests come over! Chocolate helps to release serotonin so your guests can leave feeling happy.”

“Instead of traditional stuffing, try making your stuffing with wild rice and mushrooms. The nutty flavor of the wild rice will complement the savory mushrooms perfectly, and guests will love the change in flavor,” adds Brittany Kline, the owner of the blog The Savvy Kitchen.

9.) Make it a Pie & Coffee Holiday!

Coffee and culinary expert Alex Mastin shares: “While Thanksgiving often brings up opinions about the best way to cook a turkey and whether cranberries should be eaten with the meat or the stuffing, the holiday should be more focused on dessert. 

“I love a good coffee cake or tiramisu. You can even make a coffee custard for pie if you’re committed to Thanksgiving doubling as a pie holiday.”

“Good coffee and great desserts are the secrets to any social gathering. If you regularly have a pot brewing, the oven on, and some chocolates on the counter (especially chocolate-covered coffee beans), then your guests will be happy.”

“If you have any leftover coffee, you can store it in the fridge until you bake a chocolate cake. It adds to the flavor and enriches the texture to make it more moist. The holidays can be busy with plans and house guests, but as long as there’s good food, it’s a win.”

Nunzio Ross, CEO, and Founder of Majesty Coffee, also suggests setting up a coffee bar: “prepare your coffee bar and station essentials. Coffee is a must-have at any Thanksgiving party, and the adults will be more than delighted to have a wide selection of coffee products they can try. 

“Decorate your coffee station and clear the clutter around it to avoid unwanted accidents. Make sure you have enough dry napkins for the guests to wipe out potential spills and messes. 

“You can add a hot cocoa or smoothie station next to your coffee bar for the kids and non-coffee drinkers. It can help keep them entertained and juiced up after meals. Similarly, have cleaning materials nearby for after-use.”

Eleanor Fletcher adds some preparation tips: “Pies can be frozen in advance for a worry-free dessert.

“Prepare your pie all the way up to baking it the weekend before Thanksgiving. Fruit pies, such as apple, berry, and cherry pies, as well as those with streusel topping, work best for this. Then generously cover it with freezer paper, foil, and plastic wrap. No need to defrost; you can bake the pie right from the freezer.”

10.) Spatchcocking Turkey to Speed Up Cooking Time

Lisa Lotts of Garlic and Zest, shares a unique turkey cooking method: “Spatchcocking a turkey is a great way to speed up the cooking process on your holiday bird. By removing the backbone and snapping the wishbone, the turkey lays flat and cooks in about half the time. It’s also easier for carving. 

“You can roast or grill a spatchcocked turkey, and it will be a showstopper at your holiday meal.”

Chef Charity George also recommends using a digital thermometer spatchcocking: “A digital thermometer is your BEST friend when it comes to making food, period! Making sure all the things you are cooking get to the proper internal temperature, so you don’t make your friends and family sick with food poisoning is the most important part of cooking this meal. AND…. don’t EVER stuff a turkey to cook in the oven. 

“The stuffing is the number one thing that creates food-borne illness on Thanksgiving. It rarely gets to the proper temperature inside a turkey. If you HAVE to have stuffing, and you want it inside the turkey, then cook the two separately, then once both are cooked properly, you can cheat and put the stuffing inside the turkey before it’s all served.

“Frankly, I’ve found my favorite way to cook a turkey (and quickly) is spatchcocked on the smoker. It’s the juiciest and tastiest turkey I’ve ever eaten!”

11.) Grocery Shopping Early & Local

Kelsey advises: “Start by taking a quick head count of your guests and identifying any food allergies or specific dietary restrictions or needs. You can then start planning your Thanksgiving dinner menu! 

“Do a thorough inventory and clean out your fridge and freezer before getting started.” 

“Shop early, shop sales, shop local, and buy before you need it. Then, by sourcing close by, if you need more of an item than expected, you can run back to the store, have someone get it for you, or even have it delivered to your door if you’re short on time,” says Matt.

Kelsey also suggests: “Start shopping early if possible and get things like canned goods and shelf-stable food items taken care of now. 

“Save things you’ll need fresh, like produce for the day or two before the big meal.”

Jacob adds to go for pre-cut produce to save time: “Take advantage of pre-cut fruits and vegetables. These can be found in the produce section of most grocery stores and can save you time when preparing meals.”

12.) Getting The House Ready

Matt also advises preparing your home: “Look critically at your setup with your crowd in mind. For example, do you have a designated play area/room with toys and books if young kids are coming? 

“Do you have a kid’s table at their height so they can eat comfortably? Are your chairs accessible and easy for the older company to get into/out of? 

“Are there rugs or chords that need to move so family members with limited mobility can move around your home easier? Ask these things and look your house over.”

Jon also suggests doing a deep clean: “Thanksgiving is an excellent opportunity to deep clean your home, and I recommend doing so the week prior.”

13.) The Day Before Thanksgiving

The day before, you’ll want to get some food prep done: “Prepare the day before Thanksgiving and prep and pre-chop everything you can. Make your cranberry sauce, salad dressings, casseroles, etc. This will save valuable time on the day of,” mentioned Kelsey.

Liana also recommends food prepping: “Review your recipes, make some things the day before, make pumpkin pie, make the pasta bread stuffing, peel and wash the brussels sprouts, so they are ready for cooking. The less you have to do on the actual day, the better. 

Matt Johnson also adds: “Bake items like corn casserole, sweet potato casserole, and even mashed potatoes ahead, then heat up just before serving. This will cut down a ton on day-of work.”

Kelsey also suggested getting some last-minute items checked off: “The day before your guests arrive, ensure all common areas are clean and ready for guests. 

“Make sure there are fresh hand towels in the guest bathrooms, a tidy place for coats and shoes.”

Kate Shungu, the blogger behind Gift of Hospitality, suggests setting the table the day before: “Set the table at least one day ahead* so you can focus on the food on Thanksgiving day.”

Caroline Duggan suggests adding some surprises for the guests: “planning surprises for your guests can provide you with a much-needed reprieve and your guests with delight. Place humorous items around your house. Write welcome letters from the pets. 

“For guests staying overnight, leave instructions similar to Airbnb’s and mints on the pillows. Also, provide hidden toys or prizes for children to find.”

14.) The Day of Thanksgiving 

thanksgiving day family hosting dinner.

Kate offers this tip: “Place water pitchers and wine bottles on the table* so guests can refill their beverages themselves. This way, you won’t have to keep jumping up, and you can enjoy your meal, too.”

“If you’re just doing coffee or tea, half an hour before your guests arrive should be fine. If you’re doing cocktails or mixed drinks, give yourself an hour or so to get everything ready,” said Jacob.

 Devin Alexander, a cookbook author, suggests only letting a few select individuals in the kitchen with you: “Some ban everyone from their kitchens, but you’re actually creating more memories of the entire an experience by opening up your kitchen. 

“There are a lot of dishes that can be pre-prepped, so having your kiddos or partner even wash or peel potatoes, pluck any herbs, tear the bread for the stuffing or bake that pumpkin pie with you, and you end up feeling even more Thankful! Plus, you’ll feel more honored not doing all the work yourself.” 

15.) Thankfulness on Thanksgiving

Julius shared an exercise to get guest laughing: “Always do a thankfulness exercise. You may get groans at the beginning, but everyone loves this once the energy feeds itself moving around the table. “Saying what you’re thankful for” was even a success with our son’s football team Friendsgiving (20 teen boys!). 

“Each young man had something to say. They all enjoyed laughing, commenting & Snapchatting the answers live.”

Eleanor also reminds us that we should reflect on ourselves as well: “Keep in mind that Thanksgiving is actually a time for us to reflect on what we’re grateful for in life, about others, and especially about ourselves, amidst all the chaos, stress, and activity of the holiday season. 

“Spend some time on Thanksgiving reflecting on your blessings, your many gratitudes, and the qualities you value most about yourself. Taking some time during our meal to allow each person at the table to express their gratitude genuinely, specifically, and personally is a wonderful way for us to remember and celebrate the many blessings in our lives, especially on Thanksgiving.”

16.) Take Home Containers

“My favorite tip is to buy some cute, inexpensive take-home containers. You can pick these up at the dollar store or just about anywhere. Then, have people package a meal with leftovers to take home after the meal,” says Marjory Pilley.

“It’s a welcome gift and makes clean up so much easier!”

17.) Cleanup Tips

On cleaning up, from Sarah Steffan, Executive Chef at the Dogwood at Blackberry Farm: “Clean as you go! The worst part of cooking is the cleanup. If you’re cleaning as you’re cooking- it’s not SO bad at the end.

“Also, a beautifully scented counter spray after the deed is done is an elegant way to close the kitchen down and have it smelling 100%. I use Caldrea sea salt neroli; such a pretty scent!).”

Being a professional organizer, Jamie Novak offered this expert list of cleaning up after Thanksgiving:

1. Stock up on leftover containers to send leftovers home with guests and store some for yourself. 

2. Triple-line the trash can so a new liner is ready to use. 

3. Box up excess glassware and serving dishes to be used again in a few weeks. 

4. Make notes about what went well and what you’d like to change or remember next year. Note the quantities of food so you can have the right amount when hosting again. 

5. Share photos from your phone. Maybe even pick one to be your holiday card this year. 

6. Treat stains before they set in. 

7. Shop after holiday sales to stock up on needed items, like paper goods. Shop from a list, so you only buy what you need. 

Kelsey suggests these cleanup tips: “You’ll be glad that you pre-cleaned your fridge and freezer, so you have plenty of room to get leftover food packed up and stored away. This is a top priority to prevent food-borne illnesses! 

“After guests have gone home and the food is put away, I strongly recommend resting on the couch and enjoying an extra slice of pie!”

18.) Items Commonly Overlooked 

“Commonly overlooked items include extra toiletries accessible in the bathroom, so guests don’t get stuck inside for lack of toilet paper. 

“Put out throw blankets for guests in case they get chilly. Have appetizers available when people arrive to whet their appetite and give them something to enjoy, even if dinner is an hour away. 

“Push seating together so family and friends can easily visit together without rearranging the furniture themselves or awkwardly standing around,” says Matt. 

Jamie Novak mentions some items she often forgets: “We often forget to make space in the coat closets for guests’ coats.”

“And the table centerpiece is the top forgotten item.”

Flowers can also be a nice touch, adds Jacob: “Take a look around your home from your guests’ perspective and see if there are any little touches you can add to make them feel more welcome. 

“A vase of fresh flowers in their room, a basket of toiletries in the bathroom, or a tray with snacks and drinks in the living room will all help them feel right at home.”

Jacqueline Gilchrist provides a reminder about seating: “Make sure you have enough chairs*: One of the most commonly overlooked items in the home needed for guests is having enough chairs for guests to sit on for the Thanksgiving meal. This includes booster seats or high chairs for small children. This doesn’t mean you have to buy chairs.

“You just want to ensure you borrow enough chairs in advance, have items in the house you can repurpose as chairs like an ottoman, or ask some people to bring chairs so you’re prepared for the meal.”

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Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.