Hosting Your First Thanksgiving Dinner

Maybe you volunteered to host a Thanksgiving dinner during the afterglow of someone else’s successful holiday dinner. Maybe you moved into a new house and had pictures of hosting fabulous dinners complete with a perfectly browned turkey. Now you’ve realized that
A) you are the hostess and Thanksgiving Day will be here soon.
B) you have no idea where to begin.

Here’s help from experts and hostesses who have been there, too.


Pamela Braun, recipe developer and the voice behind the blog, offers a simple squash side dish that nearly doubles as a flower arrangement and only looks as if it took hours to make.

Don’t try to do everything yourself, says Pamela Braun, recipe developer and the voice behind the blog According to Braun, “If you’re a non-cook, don’t try and take on too much cooking. Order a pre-roasted turkey from your local store. Lots of stores offer this and all you need to do is re-heat it before serving.” Instead, she suggests concentrating on the side dishes, which are what most people like best anyway.

Andrea Berkman-Donlon, founder of The Constant Professional and also allowed someone else to prepare the main dish the first time she hosted dinner, with brilliant results: “My husband’s mother offered to make our turkey and I accepted. She liked doing it and I didn’t have to worry. Also, the bird was cooked and then put into the car so the ‘rest time’ for the bird was a non-issue. Finally, it freed up our oven for other dishes to be made and/or kept warm.”

Think the process through ahead of time. “It’s all about preparation,” says Sandy Arons, MBA, “Because everything will take longer than you think. Plus, you don’t want a kitchen full of pots and pans when the guests arrive.” To combat that, she suggests following a checklist:

  • Decide on the menu two weeks in advance.
  • Buy nonperishable groceries.
  • Ensure you have enough plates, glasses and silverware. If not, buy or rent some.
  • Do you have enough chairs? What about a tablecloth and napkins?
  • Start cooking a couple days before the day (cook onions, make the cranberry mold).
  • Clean your house a couple days in advance.
  • The day before, cook more things that can stay overnight in the fridge (potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole).
  • Buy flowers for the table
  • The day of, cook the turkey, make gravy etc.

Appetizers can be quick and easy, and they give everyone something to do when they first arrive. It keeps well-meaning but nerve-wracking relatives out of the kitchen. “Meat and cheese plates, crudités (and) dips. Set this out before people come over and people will go nuts. It looks great, helps fill people up before the big show and can be decadent,” recommends Berkman-Donlon.

The most important thing to keep in mind about hosting, according to Rachel Sherwood, a culinary strategist, food stylist and author of “The Pretty Plate:” “Make it memorable. Remember we entertain and have the family over not only for food but to have conversation and create lasting memories. To create lasting memories, choose one thing to create a ‘wow factor.’” If you’re a great baker, make your signature dessert. If decorating is your forte, go to town. She reminds us that “No one will remember if they drank out of plastic cups or normal glassware, but they will remember how much fun they had.” Sherwood’s website is

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About Drema Drudge

Drema Drudge received her MFA in Creative Writing at Spalding University and has had her fiction most recently published in The Louisville Review, Mused, ATG, Mother Earth News, and Penumbra. She is a frequent contributor to the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Drema is married to musician Barry Drudge. They have two grown children, Mia and Zack. Feel free to visit Drema's website where she explores her passion for writing about art at

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