In life, there's always a first time, for everything: A first time to get married, have a baby, move out of your parent's home, etc. And one of the most overwhelming first of them all is hosting your first Thanksgiving.
I thought I knew everything there was to know about Thanksgiving, from how to shop for the best turkey to planning the menu. None of the actual cooking, mind you. I’m the guest who usually brings the beverages and the to-go containers as my tangible contribution. It’s safer for all parties involved that I not be near the oven, trust me. But having eaten and planned a lot for Thanksgiving for most of my 31 years, I’ve never been charged with the intimidating task of hosting Thanksgiving in my own home.
On one hand, I can understand the sense of empowerment that comes from conquering your first Thanksgiving and pleasing your in-laws and relatives with how flawlessly you roasted the turkey. But then again, I imagine some (i.e. plenty of) people fall victim to the pressure of being Martha Stewart for the day. I wouldn’t even know where to start with cleaning my home to prepare for guests, much less preparing a meal to meet the expectations of all those sitting around the table with empty plates and bellies. Take it from the girl whose experience with cooking typically follows three steps: Remove frozen dinner from freezer, unwrap, and heat in microwave. Honestly, I don’t know how my mom and all you lovely hosts with the most out there do it year after year.
But now that I’m living further away from my hometown, I've been wondering what to expect and what mistakes to avoid, should I someday soon (def not this year) decide to don my hosting hat for Thanksgiving dinner. I sought out advice from our trusted staffers on what they wish they’d known or done differently. If you’re a first-time host this year, take a deep woosah, roll up your sleeves, and get ready to have the most stress-free, delicious Thanksgiving ever, thanks to these seven simple gems of wisdom.
"Something I wish someone would’ve told me: It’s okay to ask people to bring a side dish. You’re not weak if you can’t fit fifteen casserole dishes into the oven at one time to pull off the perfect Thanksgiving."
-Abigail Witt, Assistant Digital Editor, Southern Living
"Technically, I have never hosted my own Thanksgiving. However, my friends in college and I would always do a "Friendsgiving," and if there’s anything I learned, it's that it’s best to delegate all the different foods potluck-style and let people bring what they want. This way, everyone has something that they know they like and money isn’t a huge issue. Also, always make your pie dough ahead. Making pie from scratch is such a long process, so it’s much easier to break it up rather than try to plow through the whole thing in one sitting. Also, there’s no shame in store-bought items. Rolls, pies, casseroles, etc. can all be bought at local bakeries and what not, so if you know you like them, then go for it!"
-Sara Tane, Digital Fellow, Cooking Light
"It's only immediate family who gets together each Thanksgiving, but my family is super casual about Thanksgiving. So it wasn't a big deal for me to host it one year. I wish I had made more side dishes though, instead of focusing on a huge and complicated main dish (a Butternut Squash VegDucken) the entire time. It was delicious, but I only had mashed potatoes and sage dressing as sides, so I wish I'd made some more veggie-centric sides to balance out the dish."
-Hayley Sugg, Assistant Digital Editor, Cooking Light
"As for advice, I wish that I had been told that the true art of hosting is not in the table or the menu, but in the graciousness of the host and his or her ability to make others feel welcome and at home. No one cares if you still have up Halloween crafts. Forget about the clutter you see and invite people anyway. They’re happy to have time with you."
-Ashley Kappel, Digital Content Manager, Cooking Light and MyRecipes
"I’ve never hosted my own Thanksgiving so I can’t speak to that, but from helping my mom out over the years, I’ve learned that it’s much harder than you think to make sure everything is served at the right temperature! I’d still love to know the best tips on how to do that."
-Emma Crist, Assistant Editor, MyRecipes
"I think timing is still always the hardest thing about hosting for me, making sure all is hot and ready is tougher than you think!"
-Kathleen Varner, Freelance Assistant Photo Editor, Cooking Light
"I wish someone would have told me that not every dish on the table has to be some sort of from-scratch, gourmet masterpiece, and that just a few sides are enough. I completely wore myself out trying to go beyond the traditional side dishes and fill the table with a vibrant array of 'original' vegetable sides, with every element made fresh by yours truly. By the time it was time to sit down, I didn't even want to look at the food. And while my family definitely enjoyed the spread, they would have been equally as happy/impressed had I stuck with green bean casserole and mashed potatoes. They were just stoked for us to be together."
-Darcy Lenz, Editor, MyRecipes