Secrets to a Successful Thanksgiving, According to Taste of Home Staffers

Take it from our culinary crew and experienced editors: There are ways to make prepping and hosting Thanksgiving easier than ever. Learn holiday tips right from the pros.

1 / 19
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Plan Early

“Text your family early in the month to see if they want to contribute and what they like best to eat. It’s good to have a sense of who is coming and what they’d like to bring as early as possible. And don’t feel bad about asking others to bring cheese plates, wine or dessert! You don’t have to do it all alone.”

Maggie Knoebel, Culinary Assistant

2 / 19
Taste of Home

Use Your Freezer

“I like to make and freeze dishes that can be prepared ahead of time. I make dressing in advance, place it in a zip-top bag and freeze. I write the instructions on the outside of the bag, so I know what steps to take before I put the thawed mixture in the oven.”

Rashanda Cobbins, Food Editor

Want to make the best gravy? Learn how to make gravy from pan drippings.

3 / 19
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Turn Tukey Day Prep into a Party

“Don’t do Thanksgiving prep alone! Enlist your friends and family to help you the evening before. Every year, I get together the evening before Thanksgiving with my mom, sisters and aunts. We bake all the pies, prep the sides and set the table—essentially we do as much work as we possibly can. With six of us, the work goes quickly and we treat ourselves to pizza after. It feels a lot like a party, especially with the exclusive guest list.”

Lisa Kaminski, Associate Editor

4 / 19
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Create a Timeline to Stay on Track

“Planning Thanksgiving dinner can be intimidating, especially with the pressure to have all the food done at the same time! Even though I’ve been hosting 25-30 people at this special dinner for some 20 years, I still create a timeline, determining when I want dinner to be served and then planning backwards for when the different dishes need to go into the oven, started on the stovetop or tossed together. Having the checklist lets me spend time with guests while still keeping things on track. Here’s a great guide to help get new Thanksgiving hosts started.”

Julie Schnittka, Senior Editor

5 / 19
Taste of Home

Give Non-Cooks a Way to Contribute

“Not everyone is skilled enough in the kitchen to bring a dish to pass. That doesn’t mean they want to come empty-handed. Your guests would love to bring a special Thanksgiving drink, flowers for the table or a store-bought dish to pass.”

Lara Eucalano, Senior Editor

6 / 19

Make Breakfast Festive

Thanksgiving isn’t just dinner! My family loves to kick back and watch the Macy’s Parade on Thanksgiving morning. We make cinnamon roll turkeys with canned cinnamon rolls (these overnight cinnamon rolls work, too), candy corn, candy eyes and bacon tailfeathers. For vegetarians like me, sub in Morningstar veggie bacon strips. It’s a simple, delicious and festive way to start the day.”

Katie Bandurski, Associate Editor

7 / 19
Taste of Home

Always Give Yourself More Time Than You Think You Need

“Overestimate how long it will take you to do everything. Chances are, there will be some sort of monkey wrench that will throw off your timing, whether it’s a missing ingredient and a trip to the grocery store or a broken folding chair that needs to be fixed before the company arrives!”

Peggy Woodward, Senior Food Editor

8 / 19
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Don’t Skip Breakfast (or a Snack)

“Because Thanksgiving is the biggest meal of the year, it’s really tempting to wait to eat until the turkey is on the table. Trust me, though, Thanksgiving dinner is no fun if you’re over-hungry or hangry. Eat a light breakfast and have a snack or two. You need the energy if you’re hosting!”

Lisa Kaminski, Associate Editor

9 / 19
Taste of Home

Set Out Serving Dishes in Advance

“One year, we forgot all about the dinner rolls. Now, to make sure all of the foods make it to the feast, we set the table with empty serving dishes labeled with the recipes they’ll eventually contain. When it’s about time to eat, we fill the serving dishes and put them back in their spot on the table. (And as for those dinner rolls, they made awesome sliders the next day.)”
10 / 19
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Get Comfortable

“We embrace comfy clothes instead of getting dressed up so it feels cozier and more relaxed. Plus, when it comes time for cleanup, you really don’t want to be in your fanciest getup while scrubbing dishes.”

Shannon Norris, Senior Food Stylist

11 / 19
Taste of Home

Stick with Cold Apps

“I typically do only room temperature or cold appetizers, so I don’t have to worry about giving up oven space for an app or keeping the apps warm as company trickles in. That also means most of them can be made in advance.”

Peggy Woodward, Senior Food Editor

12 / 19
Taste of Home

Set Up a Self-Serve Beverage Station

“If you’re hosting, the last thing you need to be doing is opening bottles of wine or mixing drinks—you’ve got enough to do! Instead, stock a self-serve beverage station and let it be known that guests are welcome to it. Be sure to have plenty of ice, bottle openers, corkscrews, cups and all the refreshments you need.”

Lisa Kaminski, Associate Editor

13 / 19

Don’t Forget About Your Guests

“Hosting Thanksgiving dinner is a lot of work, and you could easily spend all your time in the kitchen prepping the feast. But your guests came over to see you! Don’t make dinner so complicated that you are too stressed to step out of the kitchen and enjoy everyone’s company. Prep as much as you can ahead of time, and don’t be shy about asking for help. As much as I love cooking, I always have a better time hosting when I can join in on the fun outside of the kitchen.”

Emily Racette Parulski, Senior Editor

14 / 19
Taste of Home

Don’t Carve the Turkey at the Table

“As impressive as bringing a whole turkey to the table for guests to ooh and ahh over, it’s a huge pain to carve a large turkey at a cramped dining room table. It’s way easier to carve the turkey in the kitchen where you have some space to work (and make a mess). If you want your guests to see your masterpiece, invite them to take a peek as it rests. And don’t forget you can still make a pretty presentation on a gorgeous serving platter.”

Lisa Kaminski, Associate Editor

15 / 19
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Prepare for Good Conversation

“Worried about the dinner conversation derailing before the mashed potatoes have even been served? Write down a handful of fun conversation starters to pull out through the meal. My husband and I have some in a jar on our kitchen table and enjoy pulling them out from time to time. If you don’t feel like writing your own, you can buy some, like Table Topics: Family Gathering Edition. Everyone can have a chance to speak, and you just might learn something new about your family members!”

Emily Racette Parulski, Senior Editor

16 / 19
Taste of Home

Opt for Slow Cooker Sides

“Oven space is at a premium on Thanksgiving so I always include at least one slow-cooker side dish that I can prep the night before and then just switch on the day of the feast. I often turn to this Creamy Corn recipe.”

Mark Hagen, Executive Editor, Books

17 / 19
Taste of Home

Serve a Light Side or Two

“Thanksgiving dinner can be heavy. I like to serve a salad, something bright, crunchy and light to contrast the heavy, rich meal. I like a fennel salad—it helps with digestion.”

Shannon Norris, Senior Food Stylist

18 / 19
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Keep Notes

“I keep an entertaining journal. I write down the menu—including quantities, who attended and who brought what dish. I make notes of how new foods were received (and whether I should make them again) and what I should make more of the next year. I rely on the journal so I don’t have to reinvent the wheel every year and so that I don’t make the same menu mistakes again!”

Julie Schnittka, Senior Editor

19 / 19
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Accept Help

“When a guest volunteers to do the dishes, always say YES!”

Lara Eucalano, Senior Editor

Make sure to also check out our ultimate guide to hosting Thanksgiving.

Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is a former Taste of Home editor and passionate baker. During her tenure, she poured her love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. Lisa also dedicated her career here to finding and testing the best ingredients, kitchen gear and home products for our Test Kitchen-Preferred program. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.