No Stress Thanksgiving – A Complete Guide

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No Stress Thanksgiving

Are you hosting Thanksgiving this year? Are you afraid? ….

We’ve all seen the movie Christmas Vacation – it’s funny because it’s relatable. But it doesn’t just apply to Christmas: Anytime you have a family holiday, there’s potential for things to go awry. It can range from mildly awkward to ugly volatility.

Thanksgiving has a predictable progression. You start out going to your home of origin, but if you are lucky, your house becomes the home your people come to. Along the way, there’s sure to be some fairly awful moments as people figure out the ever evolving (or not) rules for the group. Hopefully, the wonderful moments will outpace the bad ones.

Personally, I love hosting Thanksgiving

My Thanksgiving Family is just like my Beach Week Family. We’ve been at it so long it just naturally flows. But, maybe you are like one of my coworkers who says of Thanksgiving:

I just want to survive and advance

Whether or not that is you, you will find this post helpful if you are hosting. As a Tribal Elder, I’ve made many a rookie hosting mistake, and this I know for sure: running out of butter only complicates your ability to gently handle the persistent toddler or the tipsy guest who insists they know the best way to thicken gravy even though they’ve never actually made gravy.

Here’s another thing I know: If you are brining a bird and while carrying the very heavy/sloshing contraption to the garage refrigerator at 1100 PM, the *&%$ing bird jumps out, slides across the floor, and bumps into a tire  …  Your peacefully sleeping family Will. Never. Know.

Well, maybe now they know. Sorry – Greta. 😉

This post will not prevent your family or friends from using Thanksgiving to find closure for old arguments – but it will help you appear as an unflappable, gracious, and understanding hostess.

Hosting Thanksgiving Preparedness Plan – Phase 1

  • Figure out how many people are attending, sketch a menu and assign sides/desserts as appropriate. Assign guests dishes that won’t use the oven but contribute significantly to the meal. Your oven is already booked, but you want to honor their need to feel like a contributor.
  • You are hosting, so you will do the bird, gravy, and stuffing. Farm out the rest, and you can’t have too much of the rest.
  • In the early days of hosting, keep actual written notes of recipes/timelines – I now know it takes longer than 30 minutes to make 10 pounds of mashed potatoes and that we never need 10 pounds of mashed potatoes no matter what my husband says.
  • Figure out where people are going to stash their coats/purses.
  • Determine the buffet/dessert/coffee areas – it is entirely possible you won’t realize until thee day that your lovely kitchen island cannot simultaneously accommodate both the buffet and the kid’s seating.
  • Have a plan for where the bird goes when it comes out of the oven to rest and who will carve it. I know, it sounds ridiculously simple. But this is the glory part of Thanksgiving, and your kitchen will be filled with helpers who will all have an opinion on the best way to do this.

Prepare Your Kitchen – Phase 2

  • “Do your kitchen now”. Meaning, clean out your refrigerator/freezer/pantry. Think of this step the way your husband thinks of cleaning out the garage: he expects a chunk of time and he expects you to watch the kids while he does it. Arrange for the same. You only need to come home once with hundreds of dollars of groceries 3 days before the big event and realize you don’t have room in the frig, your kids want your attention, you have a ton of stuff to cook, and you work tomorrow … Nay, prepare your canvas/workshop early.
Guide to Thanksgiving, Kitchen Organization
An organized pantry is a happy pantry. Link below for the storage containers.

Prepare Your Tools – Phase 3

  • “Do you have the tools you need?” This phrase is stolen from a coworker, but it applies to virtually every situation.  Check your tools against your menu, then check Amazon and order now. Here are some commonly overlooked tools.
  1.  Turkey roaster with a rack – Yes, you can build a rack out of “tinfoil logs” and if yours is a family that values creativity, this could be your moment. Take note: it takes a lot of tinfoil to not collapse under the weight of a 15# bird.
  2. Good carving knife, and Google how to carve.
  3. Cutting board big enough to let the turkey rest on and carve – only buy this if it won’t become a storage nightmare. Otherwise, put a cookie sheet on a beach towel and carve your bird there.
  4. Working meat thermometer – the pop-up things are unreliable.
  5. More clean kitchen towels and pot holders than you think – you will be using them underneath hot dishes, too.
  6. Extra dishwasher (machine and otherwise) soap – you will be hand washing the same spatula and bowls over and over if yours is a minimalist kitchen.
  7. Tinfoil, saran wrap, parchment paper, paper towels.
  8. Go containers.
  9. Toilet paper – and load the guest bathroom appropriately.

 Pantry Staples – Phase 4

  1. Replace things you know are old – poultry seasoning, celery seed, nutmeg, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, cloves, baking powder, baking soda.
  2. Check your supply of cornstarch – thickens gravy easier than flour.
  3. Cornmeal – are you making cornbread stuffing?
  4. Making bread? Fresh yeast.
  5. Vanilla extract, various baking chocolates.
  6. Cooking oils
  7. Coffee condiments

Cold Staples – Phase 5

Your refrigerator/freezer is clean and orderly and there’s space to store and defrost your bird. Now’s the time to get the cold stuff in your house.

  1. More butter than seems reasonable – someone in your group is going to think the mashed potatoes need an entire stick. Stand your ground.
  2. Milk – you’ll cook with it, people will put it in their coffee.
  3. Half and Half – people will use it in coffee, you’ll find places to use it.
  4. Vanilla ice cream – this is your backup dessert plan, it’s good with other desserts, and it’s also a milk substitute in a pinch.
  5. Bacon. Buy what you need, then buy another pound – It freezes well and defrosts quickly in a sink full of water.
  6. Frozen whipped topping if you know you’ll never make your own.
  7. A bag or two of frozen corn or broccoli as a backup veggie or the start of a casserole.

Enjoy Your Family

Here’s the big picture: small things can trip up the whole day so devote a decent amount of time and brain power to preparing. Start early, order as much as you can online, and make things both you and your guests like. If it goes poorly, understand it’s one Thanksgiving. It’s just a day, not a predictor nor a value judgment on you as a person, a cook, a mom, a spouse. If it turns out to be all too much – next year, make reservations or make excuses regarding your whereabouts. Either way – it’s all good. 🙂

For more tips check out this, this, or this.

The storage containers in the pantry photo are from Amazon. I love them.

Guide to Stress Free Thanksgiving
Have a Happy Thanksgiving!




  1. Will you do Thanksgiving at my house this year? I will let you use the brining turkey as a hockey puck on my garage floor, if need be! ????

  2. Good idea on the tin foil, but I use carrots and celery stacks they cook under the bird with the drippings and broth along with quartered onions and can then be served on the plate with the turkey.

  3. You go girl. Have contacted 42 people that like your plan and we will be there on Tuesday and will depart on Sat. Hope you have room for all of us. Will send food preference list along with allergy list ahead of time.????????????

    1. I am cracking up! Dinner will be at 3. This will provide ample time for digestion, a nap, and travel time back to the hotel!! Next year I’ll post the vegan version … The pillow is swoon-worthy.

    IM DETERMINED TO PREPARE EARLIER THIS YEAR! Do you do your base gravy ahead of time and then add after the turkey is done? I would love to get your turkey and gravy tips.
    Thanks again my friend.

    1. Maryann,
      Great to hear from you! I use the Cook’s Illustrated high roast turkey recipe, so yes, the gravy is made ahead of time. I’m pasting the link, but it looks like CI is going to ask you to sign up. I roast the neck, backbone, some veggies, etc and then de-glaze the pan to make the gravy. The first year I made the CI recipe I made 2 birds/stuffings/gravy. One the traditional way and the other was the CI recipe. My people voted unanimously for the CI recipe! I hope to publish a post that explains it all soon! The high roast method means everything is done on Wednesday so on Thursday you are cooking the bird and stuffing and reheating/adjusting the gravy. It frees up time and oven space for side dishes and desserts – seriously: the flavors are so rich and satisfying, you think you are in a 5 star resturant – but it’s all YOU! 🙂

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