Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. Not just because of the gigantic amount of food I consume, but because of the whole day’s activities. My family comes from different cities and states to gather together for a day of gratitude. We reflect on the good (and not-so-good) moments of the year and find thankfulness for our experiences. When I’m planning the event, I try not to go over-the-top. I like to keep Thanksgiving simple. No need to go all out with decor and crazy menus. I stick with what my family loves, incorporate a few new ideas, and let the time spent together be the center of the day.
Thanksgiving shouldn’t be a super-stressful day where frazzled people run around a kitchen aimlessly while trying to carve a turkey, check the bread, bartend, and entertain a hungry three-year-old all at once. I’ve compiled ten of my best entertaining tips to guarantee a [somewhat] smooth Thanksgiving dinner.
1. Plan Ahead. Utilize make-ahead recipes to free up a little time. Also, when making your menu, think about how much oven space you have and the cooking times and temps everything needs. You may need to tweak your choices based on these factors.
2. Serve Snacks. Not only does this keep guests from having uncomfortable growling stomachs, it also helps cut down on meal volume. If guests snack on appetizers, they won’t need as much for dinner. That means you can buy a smaller turkey and make less servings of side dishes. Snacks don’t have to be elaborate. Just a cheese and cracker tray and a bowl of Rum Roasted Pecans will keep them happy.
3. Have A Designated Kid Entertainer. Preferably someone who doesn’t have any cooking duties. Make sure they are armed with an array of activities to keep kids from getting bored. My favorite kid-friendly Turkey Day time fillers (and great printables) are:
4. Allow Yourself To Say “Yes”. Oftentimes when we have guests over, we insist that they sit down, relax, and leave the work to the host. But in all reality, our guests really do want to help. Save yourself the argument and just let them help. When someone asks what they can do, give them a small task. They will feel like they are a part of the event more if they can contribute.
5. Don’t Be Afraid To Cut Corners. Store-bought sides, bread, and desserts are super delicious and trust me, no one will be offended. Save a little time and buy a few dishes from your local grocery deli. You’ll be little less stressed and free up space in your oven and stove for your homemade dishes.
6. Have A Toast. Make a big bowl of punch that can be enjoyed by all ages. Keep a few bottles of alcoholic add-ins for the adults. That way you don’t spend the day playing bartender. When the time is right, make sure everyone has a drink and take turns sharing thankful thoughts. The kids will enjoy being included in the cup-clanking.
7. Skip The Fancy Centerpieces. I know, I know…coming from the person who lives to create centerpieces and design floral arrangements…but hear me out. Put your centerpiece ideas to good use by decorating the buffet with them instead. The open space on the table can house the rolls, butter, gravy, and cranberry sauce. It seems more sensible to have these staples at arms reach than a vase of flowers and branches.
8. Personalize Something. Whether it’s small pumpkins with guests names on them, leaves from the yard with monogrammed initials, or just a simple place card made from scrapbook paper, a personalized spot makes your guests feel like you took the extra time to consider them individually. My favorite place saver (shown above) was from a couple of years ago. I asked guests a week in advance for 10 things that made their heart smile. I printed their answers on photos of them smiling or laughing. It was such a sentimental gesture that they were talking about for months.
9. Send Home Leftovers. You can buy Styrofoam boxes (like they kind you get from restaurants) from almost any grocery store. This saves you from having to send food home with guests in your good Tupperware in hopes that maybe one day you will see it again.
10. The Fun Doesn’t Stop After Dessert. Play a fun game Thanksgiving Pictionary. Print out these topics, cut them out, fold them up, and drop in a bowl (or Pilgrim hat if you really want to play up the theme). Split into two teams and take turns choosing a topic and drawing. The other players guess and earn points for their team with correct answers. The losing team has kitchen cleanup duty while the winners get to relax and recline.
Bonus! Corral Silverware In Napkins. You can get fancy like the Triple Pocket Fold from smartyhadaparty.com or the Pendant Fold from delish.com. If you are serving a buffet-style meal with plates and silverware on the line of food, these restaurant-style rolls from canadianliving.com are perfect and portable.