How to Host Thanksgiving – The Ultimate Guide for a Stress-Free Holiday

///How to Host Thanksgiving – The Ultimate Guide for a Stress-Free Holiday

How to Host Thanksgiving – The Ultimate Guide for a Stress-Free Holiday

Are you hosting Thanksgiving for the first time this year?  Or perhaps looking for some fresh ideas on how to host Thanksgiving?  Look no further as I share some of my tips and tricks for successfully hosting Thanksgiving!

Hi everyone!

Thanksgiving is almost here!   I can’t wait because it is one of my favorite holidays.   I’m all about holidays involving food and family.  From the pretty set tables, themed turkey stuff to the delicious overindulging meal… I adore it all.

While I’m taking a couple of year break from hosting Thanksgiving, I have now hosted it five times and have learned a lot from the process.  I’m hoping to start back up hosting my family next year when the boys are a little older.

Honestly, I had no idea what I was doing when I started.  I was no short of clueless and really could have used some guidance, so I thought I’d create a bit of a how-to post for anyone looking to host this year or any upcoming years.  I’ll warn you though… this is me showing my true Type-A crazies at their best!

If you’ve ever been curious how to host Thanksgiving… this is your post!


How to Host Thanksgiving

Two Months Ahead

Who is Coming?

If you haven’t already done this, confirm with your family and friends so you know who is coming.  Extend the invitation to your dinner as soon as possible, so guests know you are hosting and can plan to come if they want to especially if they have to travel.

If people are staying at your house, make sure you have enough space.  You can create extra sleeping areas in your house with air mattress and couches.  Just let people know ahead of time what their sleeping arrangements will be, so they can decide if they are comfortable with it.  I love the idea of having a house packed full of people for Thanksgiving, so in my opinion, the more the merrier.

Pinterest Board

Start a Pinterest board for inspiration.  Pin recipes, tablescapes and cute ideas that you would like to include.  Include practical ideas and dream ideas.  Don’t get overwhelmed and think your Thanksgiving needs to look like a magazine.  It doesn’t really have to be perfect, but Pinterest is a great place to start.

Check out my Thanksgiving board  or Fall Food board for some starter pins!  You can also pin from my 50 Healthy Vegetarian Dishes for Thanksgiving.  This post is THE GUIDE to the best Thanksgiving recipes on Running in a Skirt.  Most of the recipes work wonderfully along with a turkey.


If you want to do anything crafty for the event, start doing that now.  You don’t want to be gluing a centerpiece together the night before the event instead of cutting onions!  I created a Thankful tree a few years ago and continue the tradition each year.

Everyone writes what they are thankful for each year on a leaf.  It’s fun to pull them out and see how we’ve all evolved over time.


One Month Ahead

Develop the Menu

Take into consideration family traditions by asking friends and relatives for tried and true recipes.  You can also search online for recipes.   However, If you are trying something completely new, make it ahead of time once so you know it tastes good.  Use that Pinterest board and sites like this one for reference.

Decide whether you want others to bring dishes and confirm what they are going to make.

Figure out how many sides and turkeys you will need to feed everyone.  I always go overboard with too much food, but this is the perfect holiday to go overboard with food.

Pick recipes that are within your realistic cooking skills.  Don’t decide to make all gourmet recipes if you hardly ever cook dinner at home.  Simple Thanksgiving recipes can be just as memorable.  There is also no shame in cutting corners by buying something pre-made as well.  Store bought mashed potatoes will also work.  Be honest with what you can do successfully because just getting all that food on the table can be overwhelming.

Consider how you are going to cook each dish and vary the preparation styles.  You don’t want everything you make to have to go into the oven or be prepared on the stove top at the last minute.  Even consider making a crock pot recipe to keep your oven open for the turkey.

Thanksgiving 2015

We have a big crowd and need two turkeys, so we fry one.  A fried turkey is a crowd pleaser and keeps the oven less crowded.



Decorate & Tablescape

Decide on your tablescape and any decorations you want for the event.  As long as you are not using anything perishable (like fresh flowers,)  put out as many of the decorations as you can.  It’s best to get all of the non-food tasks done ahead of time.

Thanksgiving Tablescape


Pots, Pans & Serving Dishes

Hosting Thanksgiving requires a lot of kitchen stuff.  Make a list of all your dishes and mentally go though what you will need to prepare the dishes.  Do you have enough pots and pans?  Do you have a giant turkey pan and turkey knife?  Do you have big enough casserole dishes?  Decide whether you want to serve the dinner as a buffet or on the table as a sit down meal.  Do you have serving dishes and utensils?

Either borrow or buy the items that you don’t have.

Two Weeks Ahead

Start Shopping

Make a grocery list a couple of weeks ahead of time.  Divide the grocery list into items that are perishable and non-perishable.  Buy your can goods and anything that will keep in the weeks leading up to the big day.  Keep the items in a box separate from your regular pantry so someone does not accidentally eat them.

Remember if you are having overnight guests you will need food for more than just the Thanksgiving meal.  I like to plan on easy food like sandwiches, pastries and bagels.

Clear the Fridge

Start clearing out as much space as you can in the fridge.  You will need it!

Recruit Help

Recruit someone (or many people) to help you.  Preparing a big dinner like Thanksgiving can be a daunting task for one person.  Let them know you are just learning how to host Thanksgiving. Ask others to help you with specific tasks like cleaning dishes while you cook, chopping vegetables or pouring drinks.  Is your significant other good at cooking something in particular?  Give them that entire task.  My husband is in charge of turkeys and I am in charge of sides.  My amazing Dad comes early and helps me chop all my veggies.

Wunder Family

Schedule Cooking

Decide what you are going to cook when.  Depending on how much food you are preparing, you will need to start doing some of the kitchen prep work early in the week.  Plan to as much ahead of Thanksgiving day as you can, without sacrificing the freshness of your meal.  For example, my vegetarian stuffing recipe requires a ton of chopped up vegetables.  I will cut all of that up on Tuesday and put it in marked ziplock bags ready to go.

Decide what time you are having the meal and back time the entire day so you know what needs to go in the oven when.  Make sure you have enough space in the oven and a way to keep the dishes warm.

Make sure you schedule enough time to take a shower and get yourself ready. <—- Tip from experience 🙂


One Week Ahead

Finish Shopping

Pick up all the perishable items from the store.  Try to go on an off time of day to avoid the big Thanksgiving crowds.

Start Cooking and Prep Work

Start executing your cooking schedule and do any prep work you can ahead of time.   Pies keep great and are often better on the second day!


Thanksgiving Day

Follow the Plan & Enjoy

Don’t panic or actually expect perfection.  Something will go wrong.  Go with the flow and figure out your best solution to anything that happens.

Thanksgiving Turkey Veggie Tray

At the end of the day just being with family and friends is what is really important.   Even if you mess something up, they’ll still love you!

Thanksgiving 2015

Don’t forget that you are supposed to have fun and actually enjoy the day too.


Keep the Plan

All of those recipes, grocery lists and timetables you made?  Keep them!  You can use them again if you ever host again and it will make the second time around so much easier.  Trust me on that one!

I hope these tips will help you if you were wondering how to host Thanksgiving!  It can seem like a daunting task, but with a little planning you can pull it off!



Looking for Thanksgiving recipes?  Check out my 50 Delicious and Mainly Healthy Thanksgiving Dishes.


Thinking about how to host Thanksgiving?  Pin this to your favorite Pinterest Board!


Your turn!

Have you ever hosted Thanksgiving?

Do you have any tips or tricks to add?

By | 2020-05-28T22:24:25-04:00 November 22nd, 2019|Fun, Holidays / Decor|38 Comments


  1. Maureen @ Maureen Gets Real November 22, 2019 at 8:29 am - Reply

    I’m not hosting, a one bedroom condo in the middle of a city wouldn’t be a great spot haha. But whenever we do host something small, I always go overboard on food! My mom once told me you never want people to leave hungry since that’s what they’ll remember.

  2. […] Since I’m the only one at our Thanksgiving who doesn’t eat turkey, our meal is not entirely vegetarian.  The Hubs does cook two turkeys for everyone; one smoked and one fried.  But since I’m in charge of the rest of the meal I make sure the sides are the star of the show, are all meat-free and give me plenty to eat!  I’ve never once felt like I was missing out on anything with my vegetarian dishes for Thanksgiving.  Need some tips on hosting?  Make sure to check out my How to Host Thanksgiving Guide! […]

  3. […] lots of butter and lots of brown sugar.  There is a time and place for butter and sugar (hello Thanksgiving!) but for my day to day meals I prefer something a little […]

  4. Bento Momentos November 2, 2017 at 2:00 pm - Reply

    Nice tips! It’ll be our first year hosting and we usually don’t cook soo I really appreciate your bit about being realistic. 🙂 thanks for sharing!

  5. Emily @ Pizza & Pull-Ups November 2, 2017 at 8:28 am - Reply

    Awesome tips, I love the timeline. We are taking a break from hosting this year, but I will definitely come back to this for next year.

  6. Maureen @ Maureen Gets Real November 2, 2017 at 7:59 am - Reply

    I’ve never hosted Thanksgiving but I can’t wait to host in a few years when I have a house. Cooking all of the food for friends and family to enjoy is right up my alley. These are great tips that I’m going to keep for when I do host 🙂

    • JulieWunder November 4, 2017 at 9:49 am - Reply

      Thanks Maureen! I’m sure you wills someday soon!

  7. Katie @ Hungry Runner November 2, 2017 at 7:03 am - Reply

    We won’t be hosting Thanksgiving until we get a house in a few years, but it’s definitely my favorite holiday and I can’t wait to do it 🙂 I love the “thankful tree” idea!

  8. […] Since I’m the only one at our Thanksgiving who doesn’t eat turkey, our meal is not entirely vegetarian.  The Hubs does cook two turkeys for everyone; one smoked and one fried.  But since I’m in charge of the rest of the meal I make sure the sides are the star of the show, are all meat free and give me plenty to eat!  I’ve never once felt like I was missing out on anything with my vegetarian dishes for Thanksgiving.  Need some tips on hosting?  Make sure to check out my How to Host Thanksgiving Guide! […]

  9. Sharon November 2, 2014 at 9:15 pm - Reply

    i am the only vegetarian in my family. I’m getting tired of sides and would like to fix something special any tips? Thanks

  10. […] How to Host Thanksgiving via – Running in a Skirt – If you’re entertaining a large group, this post is made for you! […]

  11. Joanna @Makingmine October 27, 2014 at 9:36 pm - Reply

    This post is perfect – you’ve literally thought of everything! I have kept my notes from the past which will be a lifesaver, but a lot of these ideas I’m going to be saving and using this year! Thanks for posting!

  12. Mary Beth Jackson October 27, 2014 at 8:34 pm - Reply

    great plan! You have got it down to a science! I gotta get moving!

    • JulieWunder October 28, 2014 at 1:09 pm - Reply

      haha! I know have to go start working on Thanksgiving instead of just posting about it.

  13. Hannah @ CleanEatingVeggieGirl October 27, 2014 at 4:57 pm - Reply

    This is a seriously awesome breakdown! I am a very Type-A person, so I am sure that the first time I host Thanksgiving I will be super organized about it. Your tutorial will DEFINITELY come in handy!

    • JulieWunder October 28, 2014 at 1:09 pm - Reply

      Yeah, this post probably screams TYPE AAAAAA!!! 🙂

  14. Cailee October 27, 2014 at 12:01 pm - Reply

    AWWW!! This is so cute! Looks like such a fun time! You are so organized! …one Thanksgiving my Aunt and Uncle hosted it and we all ate outside at a beautifully arranged table! Considering it was in New England, it was kinda chilly (but thankfully they had an out door heater and fire going!) …it was such a blast! Traditional Thanksgiving style! …it looked like something out of a Martha Stuart magazine! haha, can’t wait for Thanksgiving this year as well!!

    • JulieWunder October 28, 2014 at 1:08 pm - Reply

      Wow! That sounds like so much fun. I’m not sure mine looks like Martha, but I try to make it nice 🙂

  15. Ann P. Clark October 27, 2014 at 11:05 am - Reply

    enjoyed reading……

  16. We are hosting T-day this year too.Wow you are organized. I just followed your board for more tips thanks!

  17. Blane Sherer October 27, 2014 at 10:26 am - Reply

    I know just one month to Thanksgiving.
    I have never hosted a Thanksgiving meal, but I have certainly enjoyed many of them. I always help with the clean up afterwards and I always express my appreciation for how great the meal was.

  18. Susie @ SuzLyfe October 27, 2014 at 10:24 am - Reply

    My husband and I hosted Thanksgiving last year (granted it was just us and my mom and brother, but still), and it was so much fun–planning the menu, cooking, cleaning up and even the day of, sitting with my mom while we pulled the stickers off the fine china! So much fun.

    • JulieWunder October 28, 2014 at 1:07 pm - Reply

      How much fun! There are always those great family moments during the holidays. Hope you have fun going back to Georgia this year.

  19. Heather @Fit n Cookies October 27, 2014 at 10:19 am - Reply

    FANTASTIC ideas!!! I do not host Thanksgiving, but the Type A person in me loves this. I love lists and having lots of food and family is just the best. I saw you had Mac and Cheese and now I’m thinking I might make that this year. I don’t like the normal Thanksgiving food, ha, so I usually have just rolls!

    • JulieWunder October 28, 2014 at 1:06 pm - Reply

      I don’t eat turkey, so I load up on sides! Mac and cheese is a staple!

  20. Linda Extine October 27, 2014 at 7:47 am - Reply

    Great tips I have a small family and host thanksgiving each year. I start about three weeks ahead of thanksgiving to getting my plan together.

  21. Stacie @ SimplySouthernStacie October 27, 2014 at 7:33 am - Reply

    I’ve never hosted Thanksgiving, but it’s always my dream to one day! I’ll need to save this post for in a few years : )

    • JulieWunder October 27, 2014 at 8:18 am - Reply

      My first year was daunting, but one of my friends came in and REALLY helped me. I hope you get to host soon!

  22. Jessie October 27, 2014 at 7:18 am - Reply

    Fantastic tips!! It’s just Joshua and I, but I’m always making sure to plan out our little menu a month or so in advance as well. Just makes everything go smoothly.

    • JulieWunder October 27, 2014 at 8:18 am - Reply

      Thanks Jessie! Sometimes a small celebration is nice too.

  23. Walter Wright October 27, 2014 at 6:44 am - Reply

    Love the tips =)

  24. Jenny October 27, 2014 at 5:55 am - Reply

    Fantastic tips! Plan, plan, plan, and make lists. It’s so worth it!

    • JulieWunder October 27, 2014 at 8:17 am - Reply

      Thanks Jenny! I need to go get started on my own lists now. haha!

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