Week 1: Stress-Free Thanksgiving – Invite, Plan, and Delegate!

I’m excited to be hosting Thanksgiving this year in my home. The last few years my family and I have been out of town, over at the high desert, where we created wonderful memories with our kids. Let’s say that our colorful friends are coming this year. The Greens, Blacks, and Browns – 4 families, a total of 18 people.

Here are my thoughts on planning a dinner, on how to be organized, and how to make the meal come together, with little stress.

It’s easy to either dread the day, or to love the day. To be completely disorganized or to have a plan where it all flows easily.

My timeline goes like this: If you are planning a traditional turkey dinner, I’ve found it’s exciting to venture out and to try a few new recipes. Personally, I don’t feel like you have to “test” a new recipe, either. With the traditional menu, why not change it up a bit and try something new? There’s always an abundance of food on Thanksgiving Day, so if a new recipe isn’t the “star” recipe for the day, that is okay. (You will just make a note that you do not want to make it again).

Do this NOW — this weekend!
1. Notebook: Gather or buy a notebook (Dollar store works!)
2. Guest List: Write out your guest list.
3. Menu: Plan the menu and decide what YOU want to cook first, and then what you want your guests to contribute. (But be flexible!)
4. Invite: Call or email your guests and invite.
5. Delegate: When you hear back from your guests, follow up right away and tell them what you’d like them to bring.

Example Menu for Traditional Thanksgiving Meal:
Remember, have fun and gourmet it up a bit! (I am Coughlin, the hostess, so you can see exactly what I will be making.)

Drinks – Coughlin and Black
Appetizers – Smith and Brown
Turkey – Coughlin
Dressing – Green
Potatoes – Coughlin
Sweet Potatoes – Coughlin
Vegetable – Smith and Green
Salad – Brown and Black
Rolls – Green
Dessert – Coughlin and Black and Brown

Since I am the hostess, I am preparing most of the food, but not all of the food. Thanksgiving is a time to include everyone in the meal. If you feel you have to do it all, to be honest, I feel sorry for you. You will be exhausted. I am not super-woman and I need the help.

Plus, I love how each family can contribute to such a beautiful day.

Have you made your Thanksgiving Day invitation?

Have you planned your Thanksgiving Meal?

You’ve got your homework outlined for you this weekend, so get going on your planning! Next week, join me for Part II of organizing your recipes, shopping list, and thinking about the table! Watch for the promised Balcony Girl’s Apple Charlottes recipe and the Pecan Pie recipe that goes with this easy “no-roll” pie crust! Have a great weekend, friends!

25 comments on “Week 1: Stress-Free Thanksgiving – Invite, Plan, and Delegate!”

  1. Pingback: Thanksgiving: Keep it Simple

  2. Pingback: How to Roast and Garnish a Turkey | reluctantentertainer.com Reluctant Entertainer I Sandy Coughlin - Lifestyle, Entertaining, Food, Recipes, Hospitality and Gardening

  3. Pingback: Thanksgiving Celebrates What Everyone Brings to the Table - Reluctant Entertainer I Sandy Coughlin - Lifestyle, Entertaining, Food, Recipes, Hospitality and Gardening

  4. Sometimes I’ll throw in a favorite salad or side dish as well.

  5. Pingback: Week 3: Stress-Free Thanksgiving – Space, Table, & Turkey Planning! — Reluctant Entertainer

  6. Pingback: How to get people to commit to your holiday party – Oregon Women’s Report

  7. Pingback: Week 2: Stress-Free Thanksgiving – Organize your Recipes & Shopping Lists! — Reluctant Entertainer

  8. Oh, Sandy, you’ve inspired me! We always have out-of-town guests for Thanksgiving, so I usually provide all the food and drinks. But I need to get things really organized, and I think I can follow your method!

  9. Thanksgiving this year will be quiet and small. My husband will be recuperating from total knee replacement and unable to help me as he always does. It will be just us and our son’s family.
    Dinner will not have so many side dishes and I will cook a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey.
    I will probably have my daughter in-law bring a dish or two.

  10. This year is super simple…just hubby and me! The kids are going to their in-laws [we alternate years] and steaks will be on our menu per husband’s request. I will grill them so clean-up will be super easy. It might even be a p.j. day for us including a nap.

  11. Sandy, Thanks for all of the great tips. We’re hosting Thanksgiving this year and your list is helping to get me going on getting organized. Thank you, my dear….

  12. When it is what I think of as a Food and Family Holiday, I feel it a particularly “inclusive” touch to ask your guests to bring a dish. While being strictly a guest is wonderful most times, I think on these occasions everyone likes to feel they made a contribution and played a part in the whole celebration.

    Looking forward to reading your posts as you get ready for Thanksgiving.


  13. Sandy, do you make your dessert up ahead of time or is it domething you make on Thanksgiving day? Just curious how much is done ahead-of-time from a seasoned entertainer! :)

  14. I am like you…super, duper organized with a list for everything. I would like to ask you how you would handle this Thanksgiving dilemma: We have always celebrated the day at my mother-in-law’s home where she includes families who are in the US from different countries. This makes the holiday so very meaningful, for it is so unique to our country. The past three years we have had the dinner at our home and I find that I am making adjustments to the guest list up to the very last minute. Either my mom-in-law adds folks that she “forgot”
    about, or the family from Russia have guests they would like to bring. Last year the number of guests around the dining room table, the kitchen table, the card tables set up here and yonder totaled 26. But the morning of our
    gathering, I was expecting 18. That’s alot of dishes, flatware, glassware, napkins, etc to throw together! Any hints on how to best handle such a fluctuation in numbers? The good news: no leftovers (although my husband did miss having a turkey sandwich the next day….)

    • I would like to hear comments on this too- I hosted my first family get-together as a married woman earlier this year. I was expecting eight, but ultimately hosted around eighteen people. My husband and I did all the cooking the night before, and the last-minute guests were so last minute that they didn’t bring anything. I sent one person out to get some ice, my sister went to get some sodas, and my F-I-L went and got some fried chicken and sides. It turned out fine, but is there a better way to plan for something like that?

  15. I really am not sure what we are doing this year. we will more than likely go to my in-laws this year, unless they go out of town, then we will have it at home and probably invite a few people who really don’t have anywhere else to go. When I host, I usually call or invite people in person to join us. I will tend to do the turkey, potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes and maybe a dessert. I will have guests bring appetizers, desserts, a hot vegetable dish and salads. Sometimes I’ll throw in a favorite salad or side dish as well. Oftentimes it’s just us and my hubby’s family.

    When we are guests in my MIL’s home I usually will bring a salad, appetizer, side dish and rolls. If we are guests in someone elses home, I bring whatever it is they ask me to bring.

    If I’m hosting I love to find at least one new recipe to try, or a new take on an old favorite. One year I found a “healthier” version of the traditional green bean casserole. It was wonderful and better for us. Since I love to cook I find that I really don’t get stressed too much, especially if I took time to plan ahead and make lists and plans on paper.

  16. Since we live around family, we all have our assigned dishes we bring to family functions. The only thing that really changes is what the hostess provides depending on whose home it is at. She provides the main dish and her “specialty” It is so nice knowing what to bring. A family get together can be organized in a snap…and it is a treat to host knowing therre will be plenty of food and plenty of help!

  17. We are going to be at my mom’s in Arizona for thanksgiving. We are all coming in from out of state which is a bit of a challenge for everyone to bring something. Luckily we are driving 5 hours and I can premake my dishes and bring them with. Others will buy items and make at my moms. Should be fun. It’s been 5 years since we’ve all been together with my mom. We will be getting together with my sisters and brother and their families over the weekend for a picnic at the park, a chili cookoff and bowling. We are ALL so excited.

    Have a wonderful day! Connie

  18. We always just have family, but there are between 10 and 20 people depending on the year and people’s schedules. This year there will only be 7 of us, our youngest son is going through a divorce, and our oldest has to work and is going to his in laws. ( I am learning to share, and I must say I am NOT good at it!! ) But because both of our parents are still alive and in thier mid 70’s, when we ask them to bring something, they just hand us money and tell my wife and I to buy it, make it or what ever. We have always done all of the cooking, and you are right Sandy it is a big job, but we really do enjoy it. I am in charge of the turkey, dressing and potatoes, my wife does the desserts and side dishes, and I set the table with a different tablescape every year. We will celebrate Thanksgiving this year with fewer people around our table but the love will stay the same, the fellowship will be sweet, and the food great! Wishing all of you a blessed Thanksgiving.
    Blessings to you and yours
    Curtis & Sherrie

  19. Awesome! I’ve been going by your plan for years without knowing it! ;)

    I always pick what I want to make first, then make a list of desired sides or categories (dessert, appetizers, etc.) This year, since it looks like it’s only going to be immediate family for the first time in 5 years, I told everyone to pick a side/dessert, bring a small appetizer (to reduce pressure, plus with 6 people bringing a little goes a long way), and a bottle of wine/champagne/sparkling cider as per preference.

    We do the turkey, one or two sides (this year it’s mashed acorn squash with browned butter and sage and pancetta-roasted brussels sprouts) and non-alcoholic beverages (cider, iced tea, coffee for dessert). Super low-key, and everyone gets a stake in the dinner!

    Plus, my stress-free tip is I cook my turkey in pieces (gasp!). Since turkey is served carved-in-the-kitchen at our house anyway, it makes no difference appearance-wise, plus I get to choose how much light/dark meat I buy. This also cuts the cooking time down to about an hour, and the turkey is never, never dry.

  20. Thanksgiving has come and gone here, but it was lovely. Small, intimate. I did delegate. That was fun, too. I love what you did with the tiny gourds and berry branch. What is the actual size of that? It speaks to me.

  21. Top of my to~do list is planning our Thanksgiving Menu, writing a list of necessities for overnight guests, and making sure I have all I need for the table. I’ll be the one in charge of it all since everyone is coming from out of town…. but looking forward to us being able to stay HOME. Have a wonderful weekend!!!

  22. Just found out we will be having 18 people here too. Not real sure how much they can help out as they are coming from 8 hours away. I am going to use all your tips…thanks for sharing.

  23. My butterball has been airlifted in and is sitting in the warehouse waiting for delivery. :) We’ll probably have another military family or a missionary family over and we are planning to have a dessert buffet Friday for the FSNs (foreign service nationals) that work in the office. I believe I have just about all we need for dinner, though, and room for someone to add to it!

  24. Just immediate family (and not all of those either) this year. So, a total of 10 for us. Invites already extended, menu pretty much set. Now to delegate! I used to “try” to do it all, and yes, it is EXHAUSTING! Now, I usually ask that they bring “cold” items or those that can easily be reheated as I don’t have a huge oven. It works perfectly!!

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