12 Tips for Staying Sane When Hosting a Crowd for Thanksgiving

thanksgiving dinnerMany of us are having a few people over for Thanksgiving -- maybe five or six guests. And then there are the generous, ambitious hosts who are having many, many more guests than that. As in ... 20 people! How do you manage a Thanksgiving circus like that? So much potential for chaos and food poisoning.

I've been having this conversation with a group of friends, and some of them came up with advice so creative and useful I just had to pass it on. Take it from a few women who have hosted massive dinners (not me!): This is how you organize a BIG Thanksgiving dinner without losing your mind.


1. Plan out what you can do ahead of time, and then write out a detailed to-do list for each day. Things that can be done ahead: Setting the tables, baking pies, making gravy (buy turkey wings and/or necks), making soup. Some sides can be done ahead, too.

2. If you're cooking a frozen turkey, start thawing it out in the refrigerator on Sunday.

3. Hide all of your serving utensils (so no one can use them for random stirring, etc.) until you're ready to actually serve. Make sure you reserve (and hide!) a clean set for dessert.

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4. If people are contributing sides, ask them to do all their cooking at home. Encourage people to bring dishes in Crock-Pots, which you can plug in immediately to keep dishes warm. Or, wrap hot dishes in towels. If it's in the budget, this might be a good time to invest in a hot plate.

5. Have a pot ready to receive the turkey carcass so you can start your turkey stock right after dinner.

6. Put sticky notes on each cooking appliance with its respective cooking schedule. For example, for the oven: "Stuffing 3:00-5:00." That way no one removes your half-done stuffing to warm up their green beans.

7. Make two to three times more gravy than you think you'll need. (Or if someone else is making it, you make some, too.) Hot gravy can improve lukewarm side dishes. And really, you can never, ever have too much gravy.

8. Have a plan for storing leftovers. Not mentioned in that post I link to: Line any Crock-Pots you're using to keep sides warm (see above) with plastic bags for quick storage later on.

9. Keep a sense of humor. I recommend sipping a little wine throughout the day -- and snacking -- to help. A friend of mine freezes bourbon into little ice cubes and lets them dissolve into her Coke. Either way, you'll want to be moderate. No good getting roaring drunk under these circumstances. Not that you would ever!

10. Place gravy, cranberry sauce, butter, and other condiments in several smaller containers all around the table (instead of setting just one or two of each) to make passing easier.

11. Try to get a loaded dishwasher running during dinner so that the dishes you have to deal with after dinner are from the dinner itself.

12. Relax! People will flake on assignments. Dishes will be broken. Sides may not turn out perfectly. Prepare your patient, indulgent "Oh that's all right!" facial expression and expect to use it often.

What's the largest group of people you've hosted for a holiday meal?


Image via Philms/Flickr

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