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Essentials for Hosting a Stress-Free Thanksgiving

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A checklist with tips, tricks, and product recommendations for planning and hosting a less stressful Thanksgiving experience!

Essentials for Hosting a Stress-Free Thanksgiving

I'm a planner. I have checklists for:

  • the things I need to do at work
  • things I need to do at home and for my blog
  • an ongoing grocery list
  • calendar reminders for paying bills that can't be automated
  • a monthly calendar reminder to log and review all my blog expenses and income
  • a weekly reminder to take out the trash before work each Friday
  • a list that tracks recipe ideas
  • a calendar with scheduled posts according to food holidays and major events…

You get the idea. I could go on for a week just about how many things for which I plan.

Now let's throw THE biggest family gathering, sit-down dinner day of the year (in the United States, anyway) into the mix.

There are dishes to plan, decor to fashion, people to wrangle, enormous turkeys to purchase, cooking times to coordinate… IT IS PLAN-A-PALOOZA UP IN HERE.

All that said, I'm acutely aware that not everyone is a plan-fanatic like myself. And by “not everyone” I mean “most of the population because I'm completely insane”.

So I'd like to use my planning superpowers for good and help you plan out your Thanksgiving so that it's as low-stress as possible. Whether this is your first time hosting, or you've just always found yourself two steps behind on the big day, I hope that this helps.

As for your drunk aunt who hugs you too long, or your brother's kid that insists on pulling your cat's tail… you're on your own.

Before you start cooking – prep your workstation

Let's ease in and start with the basics. Get all the supplies you need out on the counter, washed, dried, and ready to go – it will make the whole process less stressful.

Imagine digging through drawers and cabinets looking for the stuff you need while you're trying to stir gravy with a bamboo skewer because all your dishes are dirty. Here are the things I find the most useful:

Disposable items

  • Aluminum foil – From lining pans, to covering the turkey to prevent it from browning too much, to just covering your finished dishes to keep them warm, foil is going to be one of your biggest helpers.
  • Parchment paper – I find this essential when I'm baking breads, bars, and sheet cakes because it makes it so much easier to just lift out of the pan. You can also use it to line your counter if you need to roll out dough!
  • Plastic wrap – For the dishes you can make ahead of time, just slap some plastic wrap on top and stick it in the fridge until it's ready to serve. If you're a legit, from scratch pie-maker, can also use it to wrap dough.
  • Paper towels – I bet you're laughing at me for even writing commentary for this, but I genuinely believe that select-a-size paper towels should be the only paper towels.

Slicing & Dicing

  • Cutting boards – Having multiple boards will be a time-saver, and different sizes can help save you counter space.
  • Knives – You don't have to spend hundreds of dollars on a cutlery set, but you should definitely invest a bit more than you would straight out of a college dorm. And make sure you take care of them! Sharpen them when they get dull (that's a safety hazard), wash and dry them promptly and fortheloveofgod don't put them in the dishwasher.
  • Herb stripper – If you're using lots of different herbs for your dishes, this little gadget can make that process a lot quicker. I was skeptical when I first bought it, but it's honestly been pretty great – I hate spending more time picking each individual leaf off of a stem that I spend eating the end result. 

Measuring & Mixing

  • Measuring cups – Keeping a set for dry ingredients and another for wet ingredients prevents you from having to wash and rewash the same cups over and over again while you're cooking. That moment you put flour into a slightly damp cup? THE WORST.
  • Measuring spoons – I have two sets of these for the same reasons I have two sets of measuring cups.
  • Pinch bowls – They're basically teeny tiny mixing bowls (aff link). It may feel redundant to measure out an ingredients with a measuring spoon just to put it in a tiny bowl, but I swear – having all your smaller ingredients like baking soda and spaces pre-measured so you can just grab the bowl and dump it in when you need it is a great time saver. It also prevents you from doing things like measuring out a tablespoon of red pepper flake when you meant to use a teaspoon. No, I've never done that, why do you ask?
  • Mixing bowls – Having at least two bowls of each size will keep you from cramming things into a too small a bowl. You know that moment when you try to stir a too full bowl and suddenly your ingredients spill over and are on the ground being consumed by the dog? Let's avoid that.
  • Whisk – I have probably four or fives whisks, but normal people don't need that many. One should be enough to get you through turkey day.
  • Mixing spoons – Same story here, just get heat resistant and save yourself the grief down the line. 

Heat & Stain Resistance

  • Spatulas – Heat resistance is your friend. You can scrape down batter with them, but you can also scrape the bottom of a hot saucepan without having melted silicon in your green beans.
  • Oven mitts – Bonus points for super fun ones
  • Pot holders – Some people use pot holders simply for that purpose, but I also like to use them as makeshift trivets.
  • Apron – The last thing you need is to spill oils and juices all over your clothes before you sit down for dinner! I have this one and because it has so many colors and a design on it (lobster, no less), the inevitable splatters and stains are less noticeable. Win!

Check all your appliances

Next up, your appliances. There's no denying that our ancestors were able to prepare Thanksgiving meals without the help of electric appliances, but why not make things easier on yourself?

  • Immersion blender – If you're not a fan of lumps in your mashed potatoes, this will be your best friend. Having one of these on hand will make blending your side dishes a breeze without having to lug out your food processor or blender – and it's much easier to wash! Think sweet potatoes, celery root, turnip, soups, gravies, sauces.
  • Electric knife – I know lots of people prefer to slice their turkey with a giant knife, but I'm a big fan of using an electric knife – I'm already tired from making all the food, my arms need a break! 
  • Thermometers – one for the turkey (affiliate link) with a cable and probe you can leave in while it cooks, and one for the oven itself to ensure you're cooking at the right temperature. Ovens have hotspots, and you never know how off your oven temperature might be from what the display might tell you! Trust no one (except that little thermometer).

Prep your bakeware

  • Roasting pan – I can't emphasize enough what a difference it makes to use the right size roasting pan with a rack you can lift out. It helps the turkey cook more evenly, and makes it easier to baste (if you're the type that bastes the bird while it cooks).
  • Loaf pans – I recommend having more than one on hand, even if you only plan on making one loaf of bread. When the pan is as pretty as this, you can store cookies, veggies, or anything else that can be piled or stacked and cover it with foil or plastic wrap until dinner time and just place it on the table as is! No need to dirty more plates or bowls for serving purposes.
  • Casserole dishes – I find myself using casserole dishes for two months out of the year, and I probably use them more in those two months than I use anything else in my kitchen all year! I adore this one, and I have a couple sets of these Pyrex baking dishes. I know people have their opinions on Pyrex, but quite honestly it's the perfect inexpensive alternative to other fancy, pricey ones.
  • Baking sheets – I like to keep some baking sheets that are rimmed for things like roasting veggies, and non-rimmed ones for things like cookies. But that's all a matter of personal preference!
  • Silicon baking mats – You've seen me talk about them in most of my recipes and I swear by them. Your cookies and dinner rolls will thank you.
  • Cookie cutters – I mean c'mon, could you say no to cookies make with these adorable autumn cookie cutter set? I've made many, MANY cookies with these, and the moose in particular is always a hit. You can get them in a set of 4, 8, or 12 – but to be honest, four is all you need unless you want to have more for others to help you divide and conquer in the kitchen.

Prep your food

  • Make sure you have all the ingredients you need. This is a simple step that probably seems ridiculous to list out, but it's also one that people tend to overlook and find themselves scrambling. The last thing you need is to realize halfway through a recipe that you're out of eggs, or only have enough potatoes for two people when you need enough for eight. On Thanksgiving Day, you're going to be hard pressed to find a grocery store that's open so make sure you plan ahead!
  • Get all the ingredients out in plain sight, pre-measured and prepped, in the order you'll need them. If they're all out on the counter, ready and waiting, you'll be much less likely to leave out an ingredient or skip a step. Peel and slice everything before you start so that you're not hurriedly trying to peel a carrot and prevent biscuits from burning at the same time.
  • Get out nonstick spray, butter, and/or your oil(s) of choice – Your going to find yourself frequently reaching for a spray or oil to heat in a pan while you cycle through your different dish prep, so just set it next to the stove in advance so it's accessible. 
  • Use a salt keeper – I've heard people ask what the point of a salt keeper is when you already have a salt shaker/grinder, and my answer is this: When a recipe calls for a pinch of salt, that's exactly what you can do. Just reach in and grab a pinch of salt! 

Prep your serveware

Get proper serveware so that you don't find yourself in a position where you're serving all the food in cereal bowls and tupperware. Unless you're going for college dorm chic, in which case… go for it!

  • Pie Box – If you're not hosting in your own home but in charge of the pie, then you need this – and it's exactly what it sounds like: a box to carry your pie. And you'll want to order the carrying strap with it. I know it's a little extra money, but it will be totally worth it when you only need one hand to carry the pie and your other arm is free to hug a loved one when they greet you 
  • Serving platters – You need at least one big one for the turkey – that's non-negotiable! But you'd definitely benefit from having a few more for your various sides.
  • Serving bowls
  • Serving utensils
  • Salad servers

Setting the table

You don't have to be Martha Stewart to have a warm, welcoming tablespace. Just search Pinterest for “thanksgiving tablescape” and BEHOLD. You'll find ideas for tablecloths, runners, centerpieces, candles, place cards… the list goes on and on.

But as for the essentials

  • Placemats – They might not always be the more stylish, but I live for placemats I can wipe clean. I have these in a few different colors and they're exactly what I need. Dress them up with a woven fiber placemat underneath!
  • Dinner plates, salad plates, and bowls – Invest in a stylish set, or save in a classic, simple white set
  • Glasses – For water and for wine.
  • Flatware – I don't believe in spending a bagillion dollars on flatware, so something like this simple set does just fine. 
  • Utensil holders – These are just the cutest!
  • Napkins – There's nothing wrong with using disposable paper napkins, but if you want to be fancy grab a set of cloth napkins to keep around for special occasions like this.
  • Gravy boat
  • Butter dish
  • Salt and pepper grinders

Prep for dessert after dinner

In a shock to no one, dessert is my favorite part of Thanksgiving. Pies, cakes, cookies, bars, puddings and some decaf espresso are the perfect way to end the day. I find that having all of my after dinner prep stacked together on a serving tray makes it nice and easy.

  • Dessert plates – Sure, you could just wash and reuse your salad plates, but why not get something cute or fun?
  • Dessert forks and spoons – I don't believe in using full sized utensils at dessert. A smaller fork or spoons means it will take you longer to eat it, which means you get to enjoy it longer. SCORE.
  • Coffee or espresso cups – Saucers optional, but encouraged.
  • Send people home with leftovers! You don't want to lose all your storage containers, so stock up on some cheap containers that you won't miss. Or you can get a little more cutesy with something like this or this.

I hope this helps you plan your stress-free Thanksgiving – or at least lower stress Thanksgiving!

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means that I may earn a commission if you click on the link or make a purchase using the link. If you do, thank you in advance for your support!

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  1. This is such a great list! I’ll definitely be using some of these tips for my own party this year. I linked to this article on my own blog post about holiday essentials as a more in-depth resource. That’s going up today. Excellent job!