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Tips For Making Your First Thanksgiving Dinner

Updated on November 9, 2014

You're The One Cooking This Year?

Maybe your mother is sick, or your grandmother simply has decided she no longer wants to cook. Perhaps the entire family simply decided that congregating at your house for Thanksgiving dinner this year seemed like a great idea, and, being the great, family oriented person you are, you couldn't say no. Whatever the reason, you've suddenly been thrown into the task of getting your house ready for the overwhelming amount of visitors and whipping up a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner for everyone. It can seem like a lot to accomplish, but that's not a problem. I've got a lot of awesome tips for you this holiday season, and we're going to start with the dinner.

Consider Your Guests

Before you even begin planning your Thanksgiving dinner, take a moment (as far in advance as possible) and consider your guests. How many people will be coming? Are there any food allergies? I wouldn't exactly call every guest and ask them if they are allergic to peanuts, but if you already know that Aunt Elma can't have chocolate, it would be a nice idea to provide her with an alternative desert, such as banana pudding or peanut butter fudge. You also need to keep in mind everyone's favorite foods. You're not going to be planning a separate Thanksgiving dinner for every guest, but if you know a majority of people enjoy green bean casserole, it's a great idea to include that in the menu.

Main Dish Ideas

  • Roast Chicken
  • Lasagna
  • BBQ Ribs
  • Steak
  • Stuffed Cornish Game Hens
  • Stuffed Shells
  • Pork Loin

The Main Dish

Everyone makes turkey for Thanksgiving. Most people include ham as well. That seems pretty basic, but there is no rule for what you have to make for your main dish. I've seen people make everything from lasagna to BBQ ribs, from a second main dish of taco bake to a steak dinner. Think about what kind of Thanksgiving dinner you would like, and if you are going for the traditional dinner or would like something more outside of the box. First thing you need to do is pick your main dish.

Side Dishes

  • Roasted brussel sprouts with bacon
  • Roasted squash
  • Cranberry salad
  • Corn casserole
  • Broccoli casserole
  • Glazed pearl onions
  • Soup
  • Salad

Side Dishes

Now that you've picked the main course, you need to select your side dishes. How many sides you have will depend greatly on how many guests you have. For a small family gathering, one or two is perfect. For a larger family, a few more may be more appropriate. You can also have only a few and make larger portions as well. Take a moment, think about your holiday schedule and grocery budget, and then decide on how many you will be making before you decide what you will be making.

Once you've done that, then you can put some thought into what exactly you will be cooking. You want to include a mixture of foods. For example, you don't simply want three potato side dishes with no vegetables and vice versus. Traditional Thanksgiving sides for many families include: macaroni and cheese, potatoes (mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes or cheesy potatoes), green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, and stuffing.

Don't Forget the Bread

The perfect addition to any Thanksgiving dinner is bread. This is somewhat traditional, and can be as simply as buying already made rolls and microwaving them for twenty second or you can make them homemade.

Dessert Ideas

  • Pumpkin Pie
  • Pumpkin Roll
  • Banana Pudding
  • Cupcakes (you can make them look like turkeys)
  • Chocolate Caramel Trifle with Raspberry
  • Pumpkin Cheesecake
  • Cookies (Pilgrim Hat Cookies)


You always want to finish off the perfect Thanksgiving dinner with mouth watering desserts. Desserts can be anything from simple pumpkin pie to an elaborate dessert table with a large variety of options. The choice is up to you! I love doing desserts because 1) they're my favorite to eat and 2) they can be made a day before so you can relax and bake for a day before everyone arrives at your house. When deciding on deserts you have a lot of room to do whatever you want.


I put this last because it's the easiest to both decide on and to make. You can do a simple cheese ball with crackers, a meat, cheese and cracker tray, or make deviled eggs. You just want something that your guests can snack on before it's time to eat.

Get The Whole Menu Together

Now that you've decided exactly what you're cooking for Thanksgiving dinner, you need to make a list. A couple of lists actually. First you want to write down your menu (what you will be serving) and then you want to make your grocery list. If you're more of a table person, you can also make up a table in Excel similar to the one below. This ensures that you won't forget to make the pilgrim hat cookies in the middle of trying to get everything together with six baking dishes waiting to go in the oven.

Main Dish
Side Dishes
Green Bean Casserole
Banana Pudding
Deviled Eggs
Mashed Potatoes
Red Velvet Cake
Cheese Ball and Crackers
Cornish Game Hens
Sweet Potato Casserole
Chocolate Fudge


Now that you've gone to the store and have everything you need, it's time to cook! Or at least think about how you're going to cook up all of this food. If you're making a big meal for the first time, this can require some thought and preparation. You want to skim your menu, and anything that can be made the day before needs to be made the day before. If you need to write it all down before hand, go ahead. You can also write down cook times for everything so that you can ensure that your meal is ready on time and everything is still hot. Typically, most desserts and appetizers can be made the day before.

Everything Else

If you're excited at the opportunity to wow your family with your superior skills as a hostess, check out Pinterest for some great ideas on decorating for Thanksgiving, some cute kids crafts to keep the little ones occupied, and some awesome Thanksgiving recipes!


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    • Besarien profile image


      3 years ago

      Great tips! I remember the first year it was my turn. I was suitably terrified the bird was going to be dry and tasteless. It turned out much better than I expected. I cooked it upside down by accident. I always do that now since it seems like all the juices run into the breast meat which is never a bad thing.

    • sweetstickyrainbo profile image


      4 years ago

      Looks almost too good to eat!


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