19 Tips for Hosting a Stress-Free Thanksgiving Dinner

by Journals to Freedom September 01, 2021 6 min read

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my full disclosure for more info. All printables are for personal use only.

The holidays are supposed to be a joyful time of year. But what if the thought of hosting Thanksgiving dinner is enough to make you want to pull your hair out? Don't worry, there's hope! I've got some tips that can make your Thanksgiving dinner less stressful and more enjoyable for friends and family.

Read on for our best tips!

1. Have a Thanksgiving plan

Seems clear but maybe you're not sure where to start. Don't get overwhelmed just thinking about all the things to plan and do. Let us help. Start your stress-free planning with this printable Thanksgiving planner! It will help you organize every detail of your big day. Recipes, cooking schedules, shopping lists, food inventory, guest lists, seating charts, activities are all included in this printable Thanksgiving Binder. (plus tons more!)

2. Take food/pantry inventory

Write down an inventory of all the food you already have in the pantry and refrigerator. This will help you determine how much food you actually need to buy for Thanksgiving dinner.

3. Prepare your thanksgiving food list  

Make a list & check it twice. Plan out your Thanksgiving menu ahead of time and write down exactly what ingredients you'll need to prepare each dish. Compare the ingredients you need to what you already have on hand; then make a list of the food items you still need. Use this Thanksgiving shopping list template to help organize your thanksgiving dinner ingredients. Then you can prioritize which recipes to cook first.

4. Delegate the baking and other cooking

Divide and conquer. Delegate the dishes you don't feel comfortable making to guests who are willing to bring a dish or two for your event. For example, I am always in charge of baking the cheesy squash casserole! It's a go-to thanksgiving dish, and everybody loves it!

5. get the groceries

Take your list with you when shopping at the grocery store. This will prevent unnecessary impulse purchases. While you're at the store, cross off the items as you put them in the cart. This will help you keep organized and give you a visual representation of how much food you've bought and still need.

6. Ask for help

Don't be embarrassed to ask friends and family for some help. It is the holidays after all! There are plenty of ways to split up the responsibilities. Planning, cooking, and hosting is more fun when you do it with friends and family, and a little help from the right people can make your job much easier. Here are some tasks you can split up between guests:

  • wash the dishes as they go into the sink
  • peel the potatoes
  • measure dry ingredients
  • keep small children busy and out of the kitchen
  • keep the beverage station stocked (more sparkling cider, please!)
  • tidy up the house
  • place any decorations
  • welcome everyone
  • have kids set the table

The list really goes on...

7. Get a head count

It's always a good idea to get a headcount of your expected guests. This will help you plan out how much food you need to cook and snacks to offer. You shouldn't wait until Thanksgiving Day to ask people if they are attending! Confirm guests early, this gives them time can make changes or find replacements for any individuals who have canceled.

8. Set the table the day prior

Set the table and arrange any snacks or appetizers your family enjoys. This will save you time on Thanksgiving Day, and also makes your home more welcoming when guests arrive.

9. Cook ahead as much as possible

Write out a schedule of who is doing what in the kitchen on both Thanksgiving Day and the day before. This saves you from last-minute scrambling to figure out who's making the turkey or the pumpkin pie! Planning out cooking times and assigning dishes in advance helps eliminate stress and unnecessary frantic behavior. As much of the menu as possible should be make-ahead recipes so you aren't trying to cook EVERYTHING on the big day.

10. Have an organized kitchen

Having everything organized before the big day saves you from stress and makes cooking much more organized. If you're using the oven or stove, unload the dishwasher first so dirty dishes won't pile up. Stowaway everything you won't be using, and find a place to store extra serving spoons, bread plates, platters, etc. This will also keep everything organized and easy for your guests to grab when they arrive.

11. Clean up after yourself

This ties in with an organized kitchen - if you organized your kitchen, then it should be easy to clean up after yourself. Putting away dishes, spices, and other cooking tools as you go saves time on Thanksgiving Day. It also keeps you organized, which means less stress and fewer distractions when cooking. And remember, delegate tasks and ask for help!

12. Schedule downtime for yourself

Say it with me, "I will schedule some downtime for myself."

Yeah. It's a good thing. Whether it's a quick walk around the neighborhood to clear your head or 5 minutes shut yourself in the bathroom to slowly repeat the Serenity Prayer, take some time for yourself during the holidays. Trust me, it's a great way to stay calm and grounded. (Is that last one just me?)

13. Start early on the non-food prep work

You should always start early. This is a no-brainer, but it's worth mentioning again (and again). Thanksgiving dinner preparation is the ultimate test of the early bird gets the worm. At least a week or two before Thanksgiving Day, check that you have enough plates and silverware, servings dishes, wash the tablecloths, clean the bathrooms and living areas.

14. You don’t have to make everything from scratch

Really. You don't. Buy the dessert pies from your local bakery. You can use frozen vegetables. Rotisserie chickens are fantastic. The idea of "making everything from scratch" is lovely, but you don't have to be Martha Stewart (or Ina Garten) to host a Thanksgiving.

15. Write down a gratitude list

It's easy to get wrapped up in what you have yet to do and all the things that might go wrong for Thanksgiving. So much so, you often forget all the things you are grateful for. Make it a point to write down and share what you are thankful for. It's a great way to shift your mindset from overwhelm to gratitude.

I mean, what's Thanksgiving without expressing what you are thankful for?

This printable Thankful Heart Binder is a great way to really appreciate & connect with your family during Thanksgiving.

16. Now’s not the time to try a new recipe

Seriously. Just don’t do it.

Trust me on this one. It's not a good time to try out that new pie crust recipe you found on Pinterest. Stick with the recipes that you know you cook well. Perfect any new recipes well before November.

17. Remember dietary restrictions

Yeah, it's not a good time to discover that the person you are cooking for is gluten-free, lactose intolerant, or vegan. Ask ahead of time if any of your guests have food intolerances, allergies, preferences, or autoimmune diseases (like celiac) that require dietary restrictions. Since 3 out of the 4 of us in our household have celiac disease, we host an all gluten-free Thanksgiving.

18. Break out the appliances

These are your big guns for Thanksgiving! It's a great opportunity to pull out the Dutch oven, slow cooker, pressure cooker (hello Instant Pot!), air fryer, roasting pans, bundt pan, and of course the pie display plate.

Last but certainly not least...

19. Plan for leftovers

Instead of letting friends and family "borrow" your good Tupperware (seriously, you'll never get it back) buy disposable or inexpensive containers for guests to take home leftovers.  

🍽️🍽️🍽️

After you've organized your thanksgiving dinner, it's time to take a step back and enjoy the holiday season. Give yourself credit for all of the hard work you've done, and be thankful for all of the helpers! Make sure that everyone who helped (and not just the people who helped cook) gets a heartfelt thank you and a big hug. Then sit back, relax and reap the rewards of your organized stress-free thanksgiving! After all, Thanksgiving is about spending time with loved ones and enjoying each other's company. Keeping that in mind, you will be sure to have a stress-free holiday! I hope these tips help you and your loved ones have a wonderful Thanksgiving this year!

Journals to Freedom
Journals to Freedom


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