Holiday Hosting Plan of Attack!

Hey sweet readers . . . are you hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year?  Feeling overwhelmed, perhaps, just thinking of all you have to do to get ready?  This post from last year might help start your engine!

plan of attack cartoon soldier

Go get-'em!  I get energized by battle metaphors – it’s not very Martha Stewart, but I gotta be me.

A few of you have asked for ways to deal with hosting, so below is my 12-step program for handling a holiday.  The goal of this is to minimize stress leading up to Thanksgiving, so please, tweak and tailor it to your needs.

  1. Get yourself a folder with pockets.  You’re going to keep all your Thanksgiving-related stuff in here (recipes, guest lists, shopping lists, time-lines etc.).
  2. Plan your guest list.  I do all my lists on the computer so that I can easily edit them.  Divide up your list into adults and kids – if the kids are small, they’ll eat less – a big factor in deciding what size turkey to buy.
  3. Order a turkey, if you’re going to order one.  Here's a good turkey-guide from Reader's Digest - it gives you guidance as to how much to allow per person.
  4. Plan your menu.  List all the dishes you’re going to serve, and gather up all your recipes – whether from your own collection or clipped from magazines – and put these in your folder.  Don’t forget cocktails, if you’re interested in those – you might need special ingredients. If your recipes come from cookbooks, note the cookbook name and page number next to the item on your menu.
  5. Make assignments.  If your guests are local, most would love to bring something to contribute to the meal.  Don’t be a hero – let them!  Note who’s responsible for what next to each item on your menu list. 
  6. Make a shopping list.  Go through all your recipes and figure out what you need to buy.  Note that there are probably a lot of items that you can get far ahead of time (even fresh cranberries keep very well in the freezer) . . . so buy them weeks early and save yourself hassle as Thanksgiving approaches.  This includes booze and wine.  They’ll keep, and the stores are just going to get nuttier and nuttier.  Trust me.
  7. Make a “big picture” timeline.  Start working backwards from the holiday.  For instance, the day before Thanksgiving, I plan on picking up my turkey and any other super-perishables and last-minute items).  My advice here is to do all that you can as far in advance as you can.  For instance – do you have an hour while your kid is napping or in the evening after work?  Make some pie crusts and throw them in the freezer – you could do this today!  Make-ahead white mashed potatoes can be done as far as 3 days in advance, wrapped well, and stored in the fridge.  I do my sweet potatoes (keep any toppings in a separate zip-top bag and top immediately before baking) and stuffing the day before.
  8. Make a “day of” timeline.  Mine from last year says “Dinner at 4, Guests Arrive at 2” at the top – then I work my way from 6:30 a.m. (frozen apple pie in the oven) all the way down to 3:55 (dress salad and eat!), taking into account cooking times and when the guests are going to arrive (for example, I started prepping appetizers and getting the bar ready at 1:00 p.m.).  Include lead-time to remove things you’ve been storing in the fridge (like your turkey, or potatoes and stuffing) in advance of heating them – room-temp stuff will cook more true-to-time.
  9. Figure out seating.  Can everyone be at one table?  Fab!  If you’re dividing folks up, decide who’s going where.  You might want to edit your guest list with this information.
  10. Deal with serveware issues.  Take out what you’ve got and use a sticky-note to label what you're serving in each one.  Note if you’re missing any necessary pieces and borrow or buy them.  Are you using silver?  Shine it up one night while you watch television or something.  This can be done weeks in advance – it’ll still look great.  What about glassware and crystal?  It gets dusty in the cabinet after some time – assess your situation and start washing (and drying, ugh) soon.
  11. Deal with seating and table-top issues.  If you’re having multiple tables, do you have what you need in terms of extra tables and chairs?  Linens?  What’re you going to do for a centerpiece?  Make a list and procure that wicker cornucopia before they’re sold out!  Do you have candles on hand?  Are you using fresh fruits and/or flowers?  Include buying those in your big-picture timeline.
  12. Set your table the night before.  Don’t forget that you might have to iron linens . . . factor that into your big-picture timeline!

I hope I didn’t leave anything out, and I hope this helps you – I know it provides me with a good sense of security and control!  And remember, something will always go awry last-minute (turkey takes longer/shorter time, you forgot whipped cream for pies and have to go to the convenience store) – don’t freak!  Instead, breathe deeply, edit your “day of” timeline accordingly, pour yourself a drink, enjoy your company and consider all that you have to be thankful for.