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Tips for Hosting Your First Thanksgiving Dinner

Follow these Tips and Thanksgiving Dinner Won't Be As Tough as You Think

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You've spent years looking forward to the overstuffed Thanksgiving feast each November. Your mom, your aunt, or even your sister really seems to pull it off without a hitch. You can almost taste your favorite dishes as you show up on their doorstep. But now you have your own home, and you've been picking up some subtle vibes that maybe, just maybe, could you host this year? Maybe it's because you've moved to a new city and you're the best cook among your friends. Or, perhaps, you haven't gone anywhere but your sister would like to take off this year. Well, don't start breaking out into a sweat. You can do it, we all have at one time or other. And if you follow this advice, your guests will be drooling at the thought of your menu when they ring your doorbell next year.

1. Plan and Organize

Donna Pilato
Any time you host a party, it's going to be much better if you have a real, written plan of action. With Thanksgiving, planning and organizing isn't just nice, it's imperative to make sure you don't find yourself missing ingredients, with the house a mess, and still facing three hours of cooking when your guests arrive on your doorstep. That means making lists of everything you need to do for your dinner, preparing a schedule for the weeks leading up to the big dinner, and writing shopping lists before you head to the store for ingredients and supplies.

2. Confirm Your Guests

When you invite your guests remember to give them a date to RSVP (respond to your invitation) that allows you enough time to plan. You'll want to have a reliable head count as you plan your menu to be sure you have enough food. You also need to know how many places to set at the table and how many chairs you will need. If you don't have enough chairs, you can borrow from a neighbor, rent them, or ask your guests to bring their own. That's not a lot to ask considering the special meal you've planned for them!

3. Shop Early, Don't Be Tidy

You probably won't want to purchase all of your ingredients weeks in advance, especially the fresh produce you'll need for your recipes. On the other hand, there are many non perishables you can stock up on in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving as you see sales for those items. Once you bring home your groceries, don't put them away. Leave them in the grocery bags in a room in your home where it won't bother you, and once you're ready to cook you won't need to dig through your pantry and cabinets to retrieve them.

4. Keep Your Menu Simple and Don't Cook Something for the First Time

You may not have much experience as a cook if this is your first home and first Thanksgiving. That's why you'll want to plan a menu that doesn't include too many dishes because the coordination of the timing takes experience. And you should practice each recipe at least once before the holiday so that you understand what it takes to prepare the dish.

5. Traditional Recipes Will Make Your Guests Happy

You may be taking gourmet cooking classes in the latest fad cuisine, but Thanksgiving is not the day to show off your new, non-traditional recipes. Guests arrive on Thanksgiving with their appetites primed for particular, traditional dishes. If you can meet most of those expectations, you'll be the hero of the day. Toss in one or two of your new dishes for fun and excitement, but don't reinvent the entire menu just to show off.

6. Accept Help and Consider Making it a Potluck

Just because you've volunteered to host Thanksgiving this year, it doesn't mean that your guests won't offer to help. In fact, they'll probably feel so grateful that you've opened up your home for the big gathering that they'll be delighted to pay you back with assistance. Assign tasks to willing guests when they arrive at your home, such as pouring cocktails or passing hors d'oeuvres. You might also decide to turn the meal into a potluck, as many families do. You prepare the turkey, the dressing, and the gravy. You set the table and make everyone feel comfortable. Then assign the other courses to your guests.

7. Set Your Table in Advance

As long as you don't have to worry about pets or small children destroying your beautifully set dining room table, do it several days before the holiday. That way you won't be scrambling to open your wedding china that's been sitting, still boxed, in the basement; cleaning the dust off your wine glasses that were on that high shelf in the kitchen; and counting your flatware only to discover you don't have enough right before the first guest rings the bell. An even more important reason to set your table ahead of time is that this will be one less thing to worry about while you're checking the turkey and tending the food cooking on your stove.

8. Add a Few No Cook Dishes to Your Menu

There are a few ways to add no-cook dishes to your menu. First, you can prepare easy appetizers that require very little cooking for your guests to snack on as you wrap up the cooking. The other way to reduce your cooking, which many first time hosts don't feel comfortable doing, is to purchase some of the food. First time hosts often feel obliged to cook it all themselves. However, why should you bake three pies, when you have a fabulous farmer's market close to home where you can pre-order the pies for pick-up the day before? Your guests will just be just as happy to eat a pumpkin pie picked up from a good bakery as they will knowing you stayed up until two in the morning baking it yourself.

9. Take Into Account Your Cooking Appliances

When you are deciding which recipes to include in your meal, make choices with your appliances in mind. Remember that your turkey will be hogging up the oven for many hours, so you'll want to include a few dishes that can be cooked on top of your stove or in your microwave. If you plan to cook some of your side dishes in advance, think about what your space limitations are for reheating. If you'll need to put a few dishes in the microwave oven to reheat, cook them in a microwave safe baking dish so they won't need to be transferred to another dish, thereby creating more clean-up.

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