Thanksgiving Guide: How to Plan the Perfect Meal

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What you need to know to make sure you and your guests have a wonderful Thanksgiving Dinner

wonderful Thanksgiving Dinner

Who’s coming to dinner: The party invitation

Throughout the years there are several holidays and celebrations, each one bringing people together around food, but of all the celebrations I think Thanksgiving is the ultimate American Food Holiday. There are no material gifts, special services or rituals – just simply bringing those we love together, giving thanks for all we have and dining in a feast of delicious food.

With that said, I think the Thanksgiving meal is the most stressed-over meal of the year. There are so many moving parts, people to accommodate, timing is critical, oven space is a commodity. And how many times other than this holiday do people really cook an entire bird? – Never! This leaves too much to chance and plenty of areas for things to go horribly wrong.

Which is why I am writing this article for you in early October, not early November. There is a reason. A little bit of planning goes a long way to making a delicious and stress-free evening later that everyone will truly enjoy. The time you put in now will be rewarded as you will be sipping a glass of wine by the fire rather than yelling at your kids to pick up their toys and your husband to get the bird cooking.

We have all been there, or at least witnessed the stressed out host, the still frozen bird, the sweet potatoes that caught on fire or the pie that was dropped. After helping my mother for years and assisting clients host many parties, my husband and I hosted our first Thanksgiving in our new home last year. We had a houseful of guests, with 23 adults, 2 kids and 1 baby, and it went off wonderfully. Here is my Thanksgiving entertaining and cooking guide filled with hosting secrets on how to plan the perfect meal setting you up for holiday entertaining success.

I have broken this Thanksgiving guide into several pieces. So stay tuned each week! I will walk you through exactly what I did and how you can plan the perfect meal too.

Step One: Be clear on your guests and communicate well in advance

Who’s coming to dinner: The party invitation

(When you know who is coming, it is easier to plan and make accommodations in advance)

We are all busy, and lately it seems like every other person has a specific diet need, restriction or plan, “I just won’t eat that” issue. This fact alone would deter a person from wanting to cook and gather people together. Here are some solutions.

Here is what I did. I love getting real mail, so I thought it would be fun to send actual invitations for Thanksgiving complete with a response card for easy menu planning.

thansgiving invitations
(Thanksgiving invitations and response cards)

For some, Thanksgiving is hard as there are many people we want to see – friends, significant others and divided families – sometimes making for 2-6 stops in the day. As a host, you want to be as flexible and accommodating as possible to welcome your guests. However, what I have learned with large family gatherings is that no matter how hard I try, there is no pleasing everyone. Inevitably something will not work out for someone and that’s ok. Everyone gets to make his or her own choices and that is not part of my job. My job as a host is to provide a welcoming environment, some nice conversation and a delicious meal to those who attend. Since I am doing most of the work for the event, I take into account as many factors as I can to please others, and I do what fits for me.

Sending invitations early gives people a chance to plan and make decisions early in advance rather than scrambling to figure out details and fit it all in last minute, which is stressful for many. To make the most flexible accommodations with a large meal, I broke it up into courses with timeline guides: Appetizers and Cocktails at 2pm, Main Dinner at 4pm and Dessert at 6pm. This allows guests to come for as much or as little as they want and gives time so that they don’t arrive mid meal and you are scrambling for another place setting, more on this later. Some guests only came for appetizers, other just for dinner or dessert. It is important that guests R.S.V.P. or you follow up with them to get counts on how many people to expect so you can plan accordingly.

Stay turned for the rest of this series to set up the perfect Thanksgiving meal.

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