It’s all about the food

Quick Notes

  • It can be stressful hosting your first Thanksgiving meal for family and friends.

  • Follow this guide for the best food to prepare.

  • Include decorations and find out how to serve the food.

It can be stressful hosting your first Thanksgiving meal. After all, food is the focus of the holiday for most people. Well, food and football, of course. Thanksgiving is one of the biggest and most delicious family gatherings of the year, so you want to make sure your meal is perfect.

If you’re hosting your first Thanksgiving meal, don’t worry. We have the complete guide on everything you need to know while you prepare for the big holiday. Aren’t you feeling thankful for that?

Stick to the basics

When it comes to Thanksgiving, your guests will have expectations. First and foremost, they’ll expect turkey with all the trimmings. You can serve a classic brined and roasted turkey, or put a fun twist to the traditional dish by baking a chile-rubbed turkey.

“For the turkey, you will need three-quarters to a pound of turkey per person,” says Diane Phillips, James Beard Award nominee cookbook author and cooking instructor. Buy the turkey as early as possible and freeze it. However, you need one day of thawing for every four pounds of turkey. Keep that in mind, while you’re planning your schedule.

Stacy Spensley/Flickr

In addition, you will need to serve plenty of side dishes: stuffing, dressing, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, roasted squash, green bean salad, and many more. Also, don’t forget the pies. People still love the traditional pumpkin pie, but you can also bake a pecan pie or even a chocolate silk pie.

There are countless ways to approach the Thanksgiving meal, but remember to keep it simple. Stick to your comfort zone and always include the holiday favorites. You don’t want to disappoint your guests by skipping out on the pumpkin pie or serving fish instead of turkey.

Decorate without using Pinterest

You don’t need to be elaborate on your Thanksgiving decorations. Instead, you can arrange a few low-lift touches to make your dinner table shine on the big day. For example, you can use disposable plates, as long as they don’t look disposable. Buy plastic plates with a decorative gold filigree edge. Or, purchase these amethyst purple watercolor and rose gold paper plates. Disposable plates no longer have to look “tacky.”

In addition, decorate your dinner table with a simple centerpiece. You can make an easy, low-key table centerpiece with eucalyptus, simply trimmed and laid organically on the table. You can also add extra herbs, including sage, rosemary, and thyme.

“Print out a blank November calendar, and then fill in with when you will shop, when you will make certain dishes ahead, and any pick-ups you may need to make or deliveries coming to the house,” Phillips suggests.

Finally, don’t be afraid to use candles. Chocolatier at Dandelion Chocolate Annie Kamin commented, “Don’t underestimate the power of candlelight in setting a cozy tone for an evening. I like to overdo it (as I do with most things), so I use a mix of candles of different heights.”

How to serve

Everyone will serve their Thanksgiving dinner differently. If you have a formal dining room with a spacious table, you can place every item on its own piece of serving ware. If you have a smaller eating space, you can serve the food from the kitchen. If your kitchen is too full, lure your guests away by setting up a bar or assortment of snacks in the main living space. Let your guests socialize while you’re setting out the food.

Everyone will serve their Thanksgiving dinner differently

Allow your sides to take center stage on the table. After a brief show-and-tell moment with the turkey, carve the holiday bird in the kitchen. Pass the slices around the dinner table. This is the best serving strategy to free up space on your dinner table.

Don’t forget to have fun! Thanksgiving is about feeling grateful for what you have. Even if the turkey is dry, enjoy the holiday with your family and friends. Take a deep breath and relax. You’re going to do just fine.

A deeper dive – Related reading from the 101:

Planning your first party is a stressful process. Follow this helpful guide to prepare the best dinner party your friends will ever attend.

Just in case you need some cooking ideas for Thanksgiving, review this list of all the pumpkin-flavored products on the market this season.