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Thanksgiving table

Thanksgiving tables made easy! Add a burlap runner, a few silk leaves, and pumpkins to tablecloth and napkins, candlesticks, and votive holders that you already have — or get it all delivered in one box!

‘Twas the weekend before Thanksgiving and all through the house,” how are you preparing for the Big Day?

Well, I guess the obvious answer is I’m avoiding the issue and blogging!

Joking aside, I love hosting Thanksgiving, I think even more than hosting Christmas. I love cooking Thanksgiving dinner in all its glory, the russet-hued decorations, and the football games afterward. But I’m a working mom and though I manage to keep our home uncluttered and tidy, if I put a “Martha” eye to it, I’m sure there would be a lengthy list of home keeping wrongs.

Happily, I learned years ago that my guests were not concerned about dust bunnies under the sofa, as long as the turkey was succulent. Here’s how I’ve managed to host Thanksgivings for more than 15 people on a working mom’s schedule.

Step One – The Weekend Before Thanksgiving: Organize your kitchen and get your shopping list together

A cluttered, disorganized kitchen can become a Thanksgiving horror story. The weekend before, determine if you need to spend a few hours tidying and organizing the pantry and fridge. If that seems overwhelming, just assemble your Thanksgiving essentials in a handy place so you know what you have, where it is, and what you’ll need to shop for. Also, make sure you have enough dinnerware, flatware, napkins and placemats for all guests; enough serving bowls, casseroles and platters for the dishes you’re preparing; plus enough serving utensils for contributions from guests. This sounds like a lot of work, but really, it takes about an hour or two at most.

Once you’ve made your shopping list, make space in the pantry, fridge and freezer for what you’re buying. If your kitchen is storage-starved like mine, just store dry goods in an out-of-the-way spot (like the dining room) until Thanksgiving morning. You’ll need to keep your turkey frozen (depending on size) or refrigerated, but you can slowly defrost your turkey safely in a cooler if fridge space is maxed out – just follow the defrosting instructions.

Now is also the time to consider oven space. I have small ovens to go with my small kitchen, so to manage Thanksgiving day cooking, I use a turkey roaster on our covered patio to free oven and counter space. I have even used roasters in the garage and while camping! Sometimes an unconventional answer is just what’s needed when hosting large dinners.

Speaking of unconventional, I roast my turkey upside-down. The dark meat juices cook down into the white meat so it’s never, ever dry! This was a great joke on my first hosted Thanksgiving dinner as I heard my new father-in-law ask my mother-in-law if they should mention that the turkey was upside down. They did not want me to feel bad, so said nothing – other than how juicy the turkey was during dinner! Guess who else cooks turkeys upside-down now?

Step Two – Shopping for the Meal: Pick your day and stick to the list

I shop no later than the Monday before Thanksgiving. I made the mistake once, for my first hosted Thanksgiving, to shop on Wednesday after I left work at noon. Woopsie! Thankfully, my mother then lived in town and her well-stocked pantry saved the day. So I recommend a relaxed shopping experience. Get your list, check it twice, maybe grab a Starbucks and give yourself time to shop for the big day. Most stores make it easy by assembling popular ingredients on islands or endcaps. If you’re combining shopping with a longer outing, just stow a cooler in the trunk for the turkey. He’ll keep other perishables cool, too.

A few things you might include on your list are, plug-in air fresheners for living areas and bathrooms, toilet paper, paper towels, carpet stain remover (for before and during!), and some holiday coloring books and crayons for any young kids that are coming. See our Video DIY: Thanksgiving Kids’ Tables Made Easy  for more kids’ table ideas.

Step Three – House Prep on Tuesday and Wednesday: Clean, Prep and Decorate

How clean is clean? I follow the old adage, dust, mop and vacuum any surfaces that can be seen. I do include in that a quick dusting of baseboards, blinds, lampshades, windowsills and picture frames. Plus I hit any unsightly carpet stains that I have until now ignored. It can take a while, but if completed on Tuesday or Wednesday, your house will still look great on Thursday and you can concentrate on dinner and your guests.

Don’t forget these few amenities to make guests feel spoiled – and to keep you from leaving cooking to fix problems… In bathrooms, add extra hand towels (roll a few up in a cute basket), make extra toilet paper rolls handy, check the hand soap (liquid is best, and maybe add a hand lotion dispenser), and pop in an air freshener. For overnight guests, have beds made up (or have bedding together for fold-outs), make hanging space and hangers available in closets, and have fresh bath towels and bath soap.

Decorating certainly adds flair to any occasion, but if you’re not decor-inclined or do not have a ready stash of seasonal accents to pull from, you can still easily add Thanksgiving charm to your day. Just pick up a few handfuls of fall-hued artificial florals and a roll or two of coordinating wired ribbon. Leaf and floral picks can be wound onto light fixtures, around candlesticks on tables, or hot-glued to wreath forms for quick and easy Thanksgiving style.

Step Four – Start Meal Prep on Wednesday: Baking!!!

Everyone who hosts Thanksgiving has their own cooking schedule, but if you have not yet developed one, I heartily recommend baking pies and cornbread for stuffing the day before. From a cook’s perspective, the holiday basics such as sweet potatoes, green bean or corn casseroles, and stuffing really aren’t difficult to pull together as the turkey roasts, but if you add baking chores and clean-up that morning, the day can be busy indeed. So I do my baking on Wednesday evening. Also – pop any white wines into the fridge now to be sure they’re not forgotten on Thanksgiving morning.

Step Five – Thursday: Enjoy Your Thanksgiving Day!

If you’ve prepared, Thursday should be relatively low-stress. You’re prepped, guests are comfy and all you need to do is enjoy preparing and sharing you meal. Now, for doing the dishes — I leave that assignment up to you!