How to host a Stress-Free Thanksgiving Gathering

thanksgiving dinner

"If you really are thankful, what do you do? You share." — W. Clement Stone

Sharing, gratitude and feasting with family and friends - a perfect Thanksgiving! While the holiday may fill your guests with fond anticipation it can be a bit more challenging if you're the one entertaining!

If you've ever felt overwhelmed or worried about hosting a Thanksgiving gathering, you're not alone. We asked Caroline, the executive chef and owner of the Pot Pie Bar for advice on delivering a memorable, stress-free holiday. She offered the following gold; gleaned from her many years of catering and entertaining.

The first thing to do is to just breathe and know you've got this! How do you know? Because you're going to plan your holiday well in advance. The work is going to be organized and unrushed. There will be be very little pressure at the last minute.

Ask yourself the following:

  • How many people am I inviting?
  • What are the dishes I'd like to serve?
  • Am I planning a formal or informal dinner?
  • What will I need besides food?

Once you have thought it out, you can begin to plan the specifics. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time and organize your "breakout" (your tasks) day by day. Caroline suggests that you make lists and keep a calendar. This minimizes stress and the potential for last-minute disasters.

Broad Strokes

When you have a general idea about the main and sides you'd like to serve and factored in the approximate amount of food you'll need, ask yourself: how much of this am I willing to do? Is there anything I've chosen that I feel is beyond my scope? (Bear in mind that recipe prep times are often longer than stated.) Which dishes will be the most time consuming?

A simple way to take some of the pressure off is to order anything too labor intensive or beyond your level of expertise from a reputable caterer or local prepared foods store. For instance, many people opt to order The Pot Pie Bar's (delicious) family size pot pies as a main or our individual pot pies as sides during the holidays to reduce their workload. Another example: if your plans call for garlic mashed potatoes for twelve you might consider outsourcing all that peeling, cooking and mashing. If you'd like to serve strawberry rhubarb pie but aren't confident in your pastry skills, it's probably safer to order it from your favorite bakery. Once you know what you're making yourself and what you're outsourcing, you can place your orders well in advance and plan your pick-up times.

In Advance

Good news! You can stagger your prep so that very little is left to do the day of. Salad dressings, gravies and sauces can be made up to 3 days ahead of time. You can assemble and refrigerate a lasagna up to 2 days beforehand and bake it on the day of your event. Poultry may be rubbed or marinated 24-48 hours in advance. Pork, lamb or beef are best when marinated or rubbed overnight (about 12 hours.) Fish should be marinated a maximum of 15 mins or less if the marinade is acid-based (i.e. citrus, vinegar or wine.) Fish flesh is delicate and will break down or "cook" if you over-marinate. You can make and keep your brine in the fridge 2 to 3 days in advance and add your meat or poultry 24 hours before serving. You can make your salads a day in advance as long as you store your dressing and croutons separately. Even your condiments can be dished and refrigerated ahead of time.

Are you using a tablecloth and napkins? You can iron your linens and set your table at your leisure. (You could also rent them!) It's a good idea to know exactly what you'll be serving and locate the platters, bowls and utensils for each dish to avoid last minute scrambling. You can even label each vessel. If you're envisioning a table-scape or floral arrangement, you can order them in advance. Make sure you have enough seating to accommodate everyone. (There may be a time and place for a rousing game of "musical chairs" but it's probably not at Thanksgiving!) Wine, liquor, mixers and soft drinks are shelf stable and can be stocked weeks before your event.

The Day Of

So, your table is set. Your beverages are ready. Your flowers look beautiful! You have already picked up anything you have "outsourced" and your main is ready to go into the oven. The only thing you really have to prepare on the actual day are hot vegetable sides like roasted brussels sprouts, root vegetables or green beans. You might have to reheat your gravy, mashed potatoes or the odd pie but we hope you'll suddenly find yourself with nothing left to do but sit back, enjoy the company and compose your gratitude list!

With a little bit of advance planning and preparation, hosting a holiday event can go from stressful to rewarding and – dare we say – even relaxing. Outsourcing some of the more difficult or time-consuming dishes allows you more time to enjoy your event and your guests.

Happy holidays from our table to yours!