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source: D. Sharon Pruitt

Preparing for Thanksgiving: Thinking Through Your Needs

Thanksgiving dinner
source: D. Sharon Pruitt

To be honest, I’m still in shock that it’s already November, never mind that Thanksgiving is just three-and-a-half weeks away.

But it is, and I got an email from a sweet reader, Jenna, a couple of weeks ago asking if I could please talk about hosting Thanksgiving dinner since I had skipped right to Christmas planning. Oops!

This week we’ll take a look at some strategies for hosting a stress-free Thanksgiving dinner. We’ll start out by thinking through our individual needs and then look at sketching a game plan and some other tips later in the week.

The Food

Oh, the food! I love traditional American Thanksgiving dinner — turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing and sweet potato casserole and — well, you get the point! However, it’s the eating part that I enjoy, not so much the cooking part. To be honest, I find it a little stressful to try to prepare so many dishes at one time, and I much prefer potluck-style dinners where everyone contributes to the meal. But whichever style dinner you’re planning, thinking through your needs and making a plan ahead of time is guaranteed to make it less stressful.

  • Have you created a menu for Thanksgiving dinner?
  • Will others be contributing to the meal, or are you responsible for all the food?
  • Do you make the same recipes every year?
  • Is this your first year making family favorites passed down from your grandma?
  • Do you need to look for new recipes?
  • Are you comfortable with all of the recipes you’ll be making?
  • Do you plan to try any of them out ahead of time?
  • Have you thought about making and freezing any of your dishes ahead of time?

The People

As much as I love the food, Thanksgiving is really about people and celebrating the blessings in our lives. defines hospitality as “the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers.” Whether you’re expecting just a few close family members, hosting out-of-town guests for the week or celebrating with people you don’t know very well, thinking through ways to make their time in your home more comfortable will make the day more enjoyable for everyone. (Note that none of these questions have to do with creating a perfect Martha Stewart event!)

  • Will you be hosting any overnight guests?
  • How many people will be attending dinner?
  • Do any of your guests have specific dietary needs that you need to take into consideration?
  • Do you have activities to keep any children who will be attending busy during dinner preparations?
  • What traditions will you be incorporating into your dinner to show your thankfulness this year?
  • Are there any special dishes or drinks that you know a particular guest loves?

The Stuff

And finally, taking time now to make sure you have everything you need for your guests — from the number of place settings to linens for overnight guests — means you’ll be less likely to call the neighbor in a panic minutes before your guests arrive.

  • Do you have enough seating for everyone?
  • Have you checked to make sure there’s room for the extra tables and chairs you plan to set up?
  • Is your guest room ready for any overnight guests? (We’ll be talking about this next week!)
  • Will you be using nice dishes or paperware? Do you have enough place settings for everyone?
  • Do you have enough platters, bowls and serving utensils for the food on your menu?
  •  Can you borrow extra items from someone, or do you need to purchase them?

Start Your Preparations Now

Now that you have a basic idea of what you want Thanksgiving to look like and what you need to do to get ready, take some time to write down your plans. Begin checking items off ahead of time so that there’s less to worry about in the week leading up to Thanksgiving.

  • Create a menu. Confirm who’s bringing what to dinner.
  • Gather your recipes.
  • Make your grocery list now. Double and triple check it to prevent any last minute trips to the grocery store on Thanksgiving day!
  • Test out any recipes you’re unsure about.
  • Consider rewriting any recipes that you plan to double so that you don’t forget to do it while you’re cooking. Although this tip may be just for myself since I’m famous for that!
  • Sketch out a game plan for the day. (We’ll talk more about a game plan later in the week!)
  • Make a list and purchase any decor, place settings or servingware you need.
  • Make a list and purchase any linens or niceties you need for overnight guests.

Are you hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year? What are you most looking forward to? What stresses you out?