Hosting a Thanksgiving meal at your home can be a daunting challenge, no matter how many times you’ve done it. How will you cook the turkey? What else will you serve? How will you fit it all in the oven?
And cooking concerns are just the beginning. Hosting can be costly, both in time and money. But don’t let these challenges scare you away. There are many ways to ensure that hosting dinner for the first time is memorable and stress-free. The key is to plan early, shop smart, and get thrifty.
Don’t wait until the last minute
As a first-time host, you’re probably nervous—and for good reason. Take the time to plan your Thanksgiving meal ahead. Start by getting an accurate headcount: invite your guests, set an RSVP date, and follow up with anyone who doesn’t respond.
Use this headcount to estimate how much food you need to prepare—this is especially important when trying to buy the right size of turkey as you don’t want to go over (or under) in size.
If you want a locally sourced turkey, sometimes you need to place your order a few weeks in advance. Most butchers start taking reservations for regular and organic turkeys on November 1. If you are running short on time, there is nothing wrong with buying a frozen bird from the grocery store.
Use coupons and shop early
There is a surprising number of deals and savings for Thanksgiving, so be sure to collect the coupons that will help you save on Thanksgiving-specific items. When you go grocery shopping earlier in the month, save some money by using coupons for non-perishable items such as canned cranberry sauce, bags of stuffing, or any other items that don’t go bad when left unopened.
Also, check if any dry or canned ingredients are on sale leading up to the big day. This gives you a chance to pay the best price for your groceries, rather than shopping last minute and having to buy items regardless of their price.
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Go potluck style
Hosting your first Thanksgiving can be stressful because you’re taking on the majority of the work and paying for the meal. If this isn’t going to work for your schedule (or wallet), ask guests to bring their favorite side dish or dessert. Most people don’t like to show up empty-handed anyway, so don’t feel bad requesting help ahead of time.
Consider assigning each guest a side dish or dessert to avoid multiples of the same dish. Asking for contributions from your guests allows you to focus your attention on the big things—like the turkey!
Borrow before you buy
Your first Thanksgiving as host isn’t the time to re-outfit your kitchen. It can be tempting to buy brand new china or the newest mixer to impress your guests, but these items are expensive and sometimes never used again.
Instead, remember that this event is for one day only. If you don’t have a roasting pan or gravy boat, ask to borrow one from someone who isn’t hosting. Likely, you can collect all the items you need from just a few people and still prepare a top-notch dinner.
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Don’t feel obligated to stock the bar
When entertaining over the holidays, you may feel obliged to accommodate everyone’s drink preferences. However, a bar stocked with nice bourbon, craft beers, and world-renowned wines can get pricey. Not to mention the cost of glassware, bar tools, and mixers you’ll want to have available.
To save money, but still create a memorable experience for your guests, buy affordable beer and wine and serve one crowd-pleasing signature drink. If someone doesn’t like beer or wine, they will have a second option. By paring back your drink menu, you won’t have to break the bank.
You can also host a bottle-sharing dinner—everyone brings their favorite bottle but doesn’t share which one they brought. At the end of dinner, have everyone guess who brought which bottle. This takes the stress off your shoulders and makes dinner even more fun.
Use your leftovers
Did you know that consumers waste nearly 35 percent of turkey meat each year? Rather than wasting perfectly good food, save your leftover turkey for sandwiches, homemade soup, and turkey pot-pie. You can even use the bones to make your own stock.
Use leftover mashed potatoes to make shepherd’s pie and extra vegetables to make casseroles. If you don’t want to cook immediately after Thanksgiving, make sure that you store your leftovers correctly.
Plan your meal as best you can and be prepared for unexpected challenges. Cooking is unpredictable! Don’t let the stress of first-time hosting make you lose sight of the most important aspects of the holiday. Ultimately, Thanksgiving is about being thankful and spending time with your family and friends.