6 Tips for Staying Organized When Hosting Thanksgiving

The holidays are upon us, and that means a lot of celebrating and merriment, but it can also bring a lot of stress.  Hosting a holiday meal for friends and family should be enjoyable, but many times hosts feel too overwhelmed to be in the moment.  With some planning and organization, you can spend more time focusing on the spirit of the holiday, and not where to find your shopping list.  Here are some tips for staying calm and organized this Thanksgiving (and they can be applied to hosting any meal, not just Thanksgiving!).

1. Plan your menu in advance.  Planning the menu in advance will give you time to determine what you need to buy and who to delegate to.  When planning your menu, consider each course (appetizers, entree, side dishes, dessert) and food group (protein, fruit/vegetable, starch, sweet) to keep the meal balanced.  Also, consider recipes that you can prepare the day before and require minimal effort on the holiday.  This is a good time to consider if any guests have special dietary restrictions.  Seeing the full menu written out will help you realize if you are planning on preparing too much food and will be overwhelmed.

2. Delegate.   There is no shame in asking for help.  Hosts can feel like they have to do everything themselves, but consider taking guests up on offers to bring food.  If your meal is potluck style, send out a list of the different food categories (salad, casseroles, potatoes, pies, etc.) to your guests, and have each guest sign up for a category.  This way you won't end up with ten desserts and zero vegetables.  

3. Write down your grocery list.  After you've determined which foods you'll be responsible for making, write down your grocery list, including the quantity you need of each item and which stores you need to go to.  I categorize my grocery list by the department or aisle within the store (deli, produce, seafood, cereal aisle, canned food aisle, etc.) in the order that I do my shopping for added efficiency.  This way I'm not wasting time crossing the store multiple times.  Having a plan will make your shopping trip more efficient and will put your mind at ease because you won't keep wondering if you forgot something.  

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4. Set the table in advance.  In the days leading up to the holiday, set your dining room table and get out everything you'll need for serving.  I use sticky notes to designate what each serving dish will be used for.  This is helpful for keeping me organized and making sure that each menu item has a dish, but it's also helpful if your guests are helping out because they won't have to ask you distracting questions about what goes where.  Getting everything out in advance can help avoid an "oops" moment on Thanksgiving, such as realizing that you need to polish your silver or iron your tablecloth. 

5. Create a plan of action.  Create a plan of action for the week leading up to Thanksgiving.  This should include all the tasks you need to complete before the big meal.  Potential tasks include getting a final guest count, writing a grocery list, grocery shopping, ironing the tablecloth and napkins, putting an extra leaf in the dining room table, cleaning off your china, crystal, or silver, cleaning the house, prepping make ahead food, etc.  Design your action plan to front load as many tasks as possible, and only leave tasks for the day before and day of that can't be done in advance.  For Thanksgiving day, you can have a detailed timeline of what needs to happen and when, including when each item needs to go into the oven, when to prep ingredients, showering and clean up time, etc.  The most effective way to plan this is to think backwards from when dinner is served.  

6. Prepare for leftovers.  If you anticipate having more leftovers than you can (or should) keep in your house, plan to send the extras home with guests.  Plan in advance to buy disposable aluminum trays to give guests, so you don't have to give up your reusable containers.

Hopefully these tips will help you have a more relaxed and well-managed Thanksgiving, so that you can enjoy spending time with loved ones and giving thanks.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Stay tuned for more blog posts with tips and tricks for staying organized throughout the holiday season.