Entertaining with Emily: How to host a Thanksgiving dinner without losing your mind

If I had to choose just one holiday to host all year, it would be Thanksgiving.

Not only is it a chance to throw a big dinner party at which it would be a sin to do all the cooking yourself, but there are no religious rituals or obligatory gifts, and unless you have a creepy uncle with a drinking problem, the wine generally flows pretty freely. Plus, if you’re playing host, you get to avoid holiday travel, and you still have three more days to clean the house and relax before you have to go back to work.

All of that said, hosting Thanksgiving dinner can still be super stressful — especially considering it’s just one friggin’ meal. Luckily, there are a few things you can do in advance of any big dinner party to ensure you get to enjoy the day as much as (or even more than) everybody else.

Prep Like Crazy

A few weeks out, you should confirm your guest list, then plan your menu — which means figuring out who’s bringing what. Order your turkey while you’re at it, unless you want to end up with a sad frozen one from a factory farm.

A week out, check back in with your guests to make sure they’re still coming (and bringing wine, dessert, extra chairs, whatever), and jot down your own shopping list. Start stocking up on non-perishables, too, and be sure to get your produce Monday or Tuesday so you don’t turn into The Incredible Hulk at the grocery store on Wednesday afternoon when you realize there’s no fresh sage left in the entire metro area.

Do as much food prep as you can the day before Thanksgiving, and if you’re feeling extra Type A, draft an oven schedule and post it somewhere in the kitchen.

Ask for Help

People love contributing to Thanksgiving dinner. Whether it’s a sacred family green bean casserole (which is really the recipe from the back of the Durkee onion can, but don’t tell them that), showing off their sommelier skills, or being on call to make last-minute ice runs, everyone brings something to the table. And it’s because they truly want to! So, designate a door person, and another to help clear plates before dessert. You can even ask your best friend or favorite sibling to come early and help you keep everything moving smoothly while keeping you company in the kitchen — they’ll feel like a VIP.

If it’s in the budget, hire a housecleaner to give everything a once-over a few days beforehand, too. Hosting is so much more fun when you’re not worried about dust bunnies, and with everything else you have to do, cleaning is the last thing you want to worry about.

Design a DIY Drink Station

Speaking of help, let friends and family help themselves to one of your fabulous cocktails at a DIY drink station strategically placed somewhere outside of the kitchen. You can mix up a big batch of something ahead of time and put it in a dispenser or a punch bowl, or leave out ingredients and instructions. Either way, you won’t feel the need to greet and entertain each guest as they arrive, and everyone will have something to do, as well as a place to mingle. Put one of your trusty helpers in charge of refreshing supplies, too.

Treat Yourself

Don’t forget to eat sometime before you sit down to dinner (and tasting the gravy doesn’t count!). As you wrap up the cooking, enjoy a glass of wine (or two). After all that hard work, you deserve it, and it might even make your conspiracy theorist brother-in-law slightly more tolerable.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Thanksgiving is all about excess — too much food, too much wine, and probably too much family time. So when you’re planning your big dinner, think about what you’ll spend on your turkey or a case of wine. Even just a portion of that can make a big difference to a food bank like Harvesters or a soup kitchen like the Kansas City Community Kitchen.

And as much as I love the rituals I’ve managed to create around Thanksgiving, it’s impossible to ignore the holiday’s origins. While a donation to a Native American cause won’t undo centuries of genocide and oppression, supporting a group such as the Intertribal Agriculture Council or the Native American Rights Fund can make that green bean casserole a little easier to swallow.

For more holiday hosting tips all season long, follow Emily on Instagram @theboozybungalow or visit her blog, theboozybungalow.com. Her dress is from COCO Brookside.