How to Host Thanksgiving Without Losing Your Mind

written by Nellie Lazar, CRS
Turlock, CA   
Nov 16, 2020

Food & Drink


How is it possible that in this year that has seemingly dragged on forever I’m finding myself right smack in the middle of November and asking, “How did we get here so quickly?” Yikes! Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and while I’m not hosting the usual crowd, I’m nonetheless maintaining the tradition even if it’s just for my immediate family. There’s only two weeks until the big day and my work schedule has not let up thanks to a thriving real estate market. Not to mention that there are three adults working from our home, and one attending college remotely. You would think I might be a little stressed, but thankfully, no!

The key to pulling off a big holiday meal is organization. I actually find Thanksgiving quite easy; what’s challenging is ensuring that everything is ready, warm, and fresh when you’re ready to serve. I have found that I work best when I have a time management calendar in place. I use two different calendars for my business, so I took this same approach several years ago and created a Holiday calendar. This means that I don’t need to stress weeks in advance because I have every detail already accounted for. I'll be sharing the portion of my Holiday calendar that relates to Thanksgiving specifically.

Two Weeks Away
Exactly 2 weeks prior to Turkey Day, I take a head count of who’s coming to dinner.  Once I have a solid number, I determine whether our dining room table is sufficient or whether we need to bring in extra folding tables. I make a note of what plates and serving pieces I will be using to accommodate our group. This also helps determine the quantify of each individual dish I will be serving. 

At this point, I devise my menu. This year I’m not having anyone outside my husband and kids other than my mother-in-law and single sister-in-law. When I do have all the extended family, I ask each household to bring one or two items including a bottle of wine or other beverages. This helps lighten the workload for certain, but I enjoy making the main sides myself.

Having this established, I move on to my shopping list. First, I place an order for the turkey to be picked up the Saturday or Sunday prior to Thanksgiving. I’ve found that if I order my favorite brand from my local grocer, I will always be assured of getting the right weight and quality. Secondly, I think it’s worthwhile to go through each recipe I’m using, and I cross reference what’s in my pantry. I won’t have to go on multiple trips to the store the day before Thanksgiving if I know what I need in advance.

I set out early with my coffee and shopping list in hand ready to buy my groceries. I purchase everything except the herbs and vegetables, which I save for Monday morning to ensure they are fresh. When I return home, I do a quick run through of the tools I’ll need for the following week, and I inspect and test everything to make sure everything is working. Even if I have an open house that afternoon, when I return, I start setting up my dining table(s). It might seem early to you, I know, but you’ll thank yourself later.  This helps break it all up, so I can work and not have everything pile up toward the middle of the week.

Once again, I set out early and tackle what’s left of my shopping list. When I return, I separate, wash, and prep each of the herbs for the side dishes. I separate everything into Ziplock bags and label them with the measurements within and their corresponding recipes. If you brine your turkey this would be the time to do it as well. I personally like to make my own broth for my gravy, so this is a task I complete on Monday in addition to air drying the bread for the stuffing. I also make time to clean the oven before using it later in the week.

On Tuesday, I cube the bread that’s been drying out, then finish it off for a few minutes in the oven to completely dry it out.  Next, I prepare, sort, package, and label the veggies like I did the herbs. I make my gravy base and store it in the fridge once it’s cooled (I like to use a make-ahead gravy recipe by Ina Garten… it’s delicious and a cinch if you follow her method.)

Wednesday is pretty light; I make all my side dishes, which can be kept in the refrigerator until ready to bake. Because I’ve prepped the veggies and herbs, it just requires some relaxed cooking and assembling. Assuming you serve cold drinks or cocktails, I would make sure you have what you need in the fridge and that the ice bin is full. Before you settle in for the night, create a timeline for the next day by determining what time you’re serving dinner and working backwards. I program my timeline into my phone with individual alarms for each task on Wednesday night, so that I don’t really have to think about any of it the next day.

Now what?! The first thing I do on Thursday morning is pre-heat the oven and take the turkey out of the fridge. I usually do anywhere between a 20- and 30-pound turkey, so if yours is smaller, you may not have to make this your first priority of the day. From there, I take out the ingredients I previously prepped, and I make my stuffing. It will be ready to go when it’s time for you to stuff your turkey, unless you prefer to bake it separately.  Next, I take out the side dishes which have been in the refrigerator and I finish them off with their necessary toppings, additions, etc. Usually, this is the time you want to get your turkey in the oven; I usually stuff, baste, and tent ours so this requires the most love and attention the day of. Once I have that going, I finish off my table by adding candles, fresh flowers, and pitchers with water. 

At this point, take a little breather and shower if you haven’t done so already and get dressed. I love being festive and dressing up to receive my guests for cocktails and photos prior to our big meal. So, after a little rejuvenation, I don my apron and set out any condiments or relish trays on the table, including the butter and cranberry sauce.  Next, it’s time to get beverages out and ready. Just before everyone arrives, I light the candles, throw on a little music, and pour myself a little bubbly!

Whether you are totally hands on and do everything yourself, or you delegate or order out, having a timeline is so helpful when you’re entertaining guests and still want to enjoy your own party. Whatever your menu, and mode of entertaining, you can utilize a calendar and/or timeline to help you feel in control and minimize your stress level while still maintaining the other aspects of not just the day to day life, but The Realtor® Life.