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Tips for a Successful Thanksgiving Meal

Updated on May 5, 2011
RGraf profile image

Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

The Thanksgiving meal is a big deal here in America.  So much goes into it.  So many people gather together to feast and enjoy a good time.  But the meal could be a huge success or it could be a very busy day for the local restaurants.  Here are some tips for a successful Thanksgiving meal.

Plan Ahead

The biggest factor in having a successful Thanksgiving meal is planning.

2 Weeks Ahead

If you do plan ahead for the Thanksgiving meal, you might as well case out which restaurants are open on this day. About two weeks in advance lay out your menu. List what you plan on serving and what groceries you will need. Check your cupboards to see which ingredients you already have on hand. Watch the local ads for sales. You might be able to stock up on some items in advance to help cut the cost down. Verify how many people will be attending. This can have a huge impact on your grocery shopping. Decide now if it is potluck. Your guests need advance warning, also.

3 Days Ahead

Pull out all your place setting items. Count your pieces. Make sure that you have enough for all that are coming plus a few extra. You never know when something gets broken or falls on the floor. Verify that you have enough tablecloths, tables, chairs, decorations, etc. Gather them altogether into one location for easy access.

The Day Before

There are some dishes that you can and should make ahead of time. The cranberry sauce can be cooked and chilled. The deserts can be made. Some recipes for dressing can be done ahead of time and just warmed up on that day. If you don’t want the traditional way of serving the turkey by carving it on the table, think of cooking it a day early and just re-heating it in a slow cooker on the day of the meal. My mother-in-law and mother both do this and it is so delicious and no one knows that it was cooked the day before. Anything that you can do ahead of time is a huge time saver and takes a lot of stress off each person. If you can set the table on this day, go for it.

Thanksgiving Day

If you are cooking the turkey on this day, verify the cooking time on the packaging of the turkey. If your turkey needs to cook 5 hours, put it in the oven at least 6 hours before you are to eat so that it has time to cook longer if needed and that it can cool slightly before serving. Making bread that needs to rise? Allow that time into your planning. Get the potatoes boiling early enough so that you are not still waiting on them as your guests are setting at the table. Keep instant potatoes on hand in case something goes wrong. I use it when it looks like I won’t have enough potatoes. No one notices it, and it tastes just as good. Do not turn down help. Let someone put the food onto the serving platters. Let them help wash dishes. Some of the most memorable events occur after the meal when everyone is cleaning.

Enjoy the Day

Enjoying yourself is the barometer on which to measure a successful event.  What is the point in having the gathering if you are so stressed out over it?  When you are stressed and temperamental, it rubs off on your guests.  Then everyone gets cranky.  Follow these tips on relaxing and enjoying yourself as you host the Thanksgiving event.

                Plan ahead

                As stated above, this can really take the pressure off of you.  You don’t want to be running around looking for a can opener or an extra can of beans on this day.  Be prepared

                Get help

                Have the meal as potluck.  Have a few friends over the day before and have a cleaning day with a cup of hot chocolate and a movie to end it.  Even chores can be turned into a girls/guys day.  You don’t have to do it all yourself.

                Treat yourself

                The night before take a long soak in a bubble bath.  Relax and spend the time letting all the stress go away.  This will get you into better spirits on the day of the meal.


                During the meal preparation, stop and take deep breaths.  Close your eyes and let your body relax.  Just a few minutes of this can make a huge difference on what happens next.

Share the Day

Thanksgiving is day to be thankful for all the things including the small things in your life. Don’t limit this day to just the ones who live in your house. Look around you and see how you can share this day. You’ll be amazed at how fulfilling this can be.


There are many around you who don’t have family. Invite them in and show how anyone can be family and share in a Thanksgiving meal. We host such a meal on Thanksgiving Day at our church in the late evening for people who don’t have family. The people who come are so thankful. Usually they spend the day depressed. The suicide rate during holiday seasons is very high. Give them a place to go instead of staying in depression.

Community Service

There are many community events going on at this time for those that are homeless or need help. Help serve at a meal or shelter. The first Thanksgiving after my father passed away, my mother decided to help serve a meal at a shelter. She felt so good to be helping others instead of thinking of the loss in her life on this holiday. There are so many who need a little kindness shown to them.  Make this a family event where the whole family serves the community.

Thanksgiving Day is a day of reflection and sharing.  Don’t let it became a day that is dreaded for all the stress and preparation.  Make a day to enjoy, make memories, and share with others the warmth that the day should bring to each and every heart.


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    • Sybil Marie profile image

      Sybil Marie 7 years ago

      thanks for some good ideas

    • profile image

      Duchess OBlunt 8 years ago

      Great tips and ideas!

    • Storytellersrus profile image

      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      I love the How I Met Your Mother episode where the gang wanted to be of service and went to a soup kitchen. The place was packed... with volunteers, lol. I guess it is the biggest volunteer day of the year or something.

      Anyway, great suggestions found here- especially BREATHE! Thanks. I will have to print it out and refer to it closer to the big day.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Great tips, RGraf. I wish I read this hub when I was 25 and newly a stepmother, making a big family dinner for the first time!

    • guidebaba profile image

      guidebaba 8 years ago from India

      I just hope somebody invites me for the Thanksgiving meal. These are surely some great tips.

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 8 years ago from France

      Very good tips for planning a thanksgiving meal, and of course even better that you can use them for planning any other special event like Christmas. I like the emphasis you put on sharing your meal, inviting other people -who might not be close family- but would be delighted to be invited and share such a special occasion.