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Beginner’s Guide to Hosting Thanksgiving

November 17, 2022
10 min. read

Thanksgiving Plate with Green Bean Casserole, Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, Dinner Roll, Roasted Carrots, Cranberry Sauce

Written by: Stephanie Lehman, Marketing Coordinator

I am a firm believer in holding off on all things Christmas until Thanksgiving has been celebrated to the fullest. I know, it’s not necessarily a popular opinion. In fact, at this point, I think I am the last of my friends to put up my Christmas decorations. But, it’s not that I dislike Christmas or want to make its celebratory season shorter. It’s that I absolutely love Thanksgiving.

For years, my very large extended family gathered at a cabin in the woods around three carefully organized tables – one for the adults and two for the kids. We’d finish up the holiday lunch and spend the rest of the day in a turkey coma, poring over Black Friday fliers or tuned into the football games.

But the holiday looks a bit different these days. Now, I’m married and juggling two sets of family gatherings. Many of my cousins have started families of their own and cannot make it to the extended family gathering anymore. And, most interestingly, someone decided that I am responsible enough to host holiday gatherings of my own.

This year my husband’s entire family will gather in my dining room. The nieces and nephews will be gathered around their own kids table, making Thanksgiving memories of their own. And hopefully, we’ll all be relishing in some delicious food.

There’s just one problem: I am a complete beginner at hosting Thanksgiving.

If that’s you, too, come along on this journey with me as I navigate making classic holiday dishes for the first time, preparing my house for numerous guests, and ultimately (hopefully) hosting a great Thanksgiving meal.

Thanksgiving Hosting Checklist

First things first, I want to look at this event from a bird’s eye view—what are the key things I need to buy/make/organize before everyone gathers at my house? What do I envision that people will do when they arrive and will need at the table while they’re eating? What does the event as a whole look and feel like?

Note: A printable checklist can be found at the bottom of this blog.


Even if you are not hosting a large or formal gathering, it is important to make sure everyone is on the same page about when they are expected to arrive and when the meal will be served. The invitation can be in the form of physical mailed cards, a Facebook event page, or just a group text message.

Since my gathering is less than 15 people and we have an existing Facebook group, I posted the details of my event in the existing page. Be sure to include date, time, location, RSVP date (optional), and anything the guests are expected to bring.


If you’re like the majority of my friends, you may already have your home decorated for the holidays in full force. If that’s the case, you may not need any additional decorations (although a fresh bouquet of flowers can be a nice touch!).

However, if your house isn’t fully decorated, or you are having the event at a location outside your home, here are a few low-maintenance decorations I would suggest. I will likely be incorporating all of these elements myself. Keep in mind you can also use seasonal versions of the essential elements (like napkins) to make things more decorative.

  • Fresh bouquet of flowers
  • One or two pumpkins (real or fake)
  • Seasonal candle(s)
  • A seasonal wreath on the front door

Table Setting

Once you are satisfied with your decorative elements, it’s time to think through what guests will need for the meal itself. Think through the following questions:

  • Do you have special occasion dishes you want to use and are they in storage?

If so, I recommend taking them out and giving them a proper wash at least a few days in advance.

  • Will you be serving buffet-style or passing the dishes around the table?

Consider if you will want duplicate serving dishes to accommodate multiple tables.

  • Do you have or want multiple types of plates for salad, dessert, and dinner?
  • Will you have small children at the gathering?

If so, don’t forget to provide high chairs or make sure parents are bringing them.

Tip: Check out our table setting and etiquette blog here for more helpful information.

Table Setting Essentials:

  • Plates
  • Napkins
  • Silverware
  • Serving Dishes
    • Casserole dishes
    • Large plate for turkey
    • Gravy boat
    • Salad bowl
    • Dinner roll bowl
    • Hot pads/plates or trivets
  • Serving Utensils
  • Tablecloth(s)
  • Table runner(s)
  • Seating
    • If you don’t own enough seating, see if your relatives have folding chairs you could borrow. Or, contact event rental companies in your area.


Thanksgiving Plate with Green Bean Casserole, Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, Dinner Roll, Roasted Carrots, Cranberry Sauce

In my humble opinion, Thanksgiving is, by far, when the best holiday food is served. Plus, not only is the food delicious (I could eat stuffing all year round), but there is also something so special about gathering with your family for the first time since Easter. Something about the cozy environment of being together cushions the blow of cold winter weather settling in.

Okay, enough about how much I love Thanksgiving and its accompanying food. What essential dishes should you plan for at your Thanksgiving gathering? I’ve listed my essentials below, but you can feel free to add your own or take away those that are not your favorite. Keep in mind that at small gatherings, it’s probably best to narrow down to around five total dishes.

Tip: I highly recommend having other family members make and bring one dish to the meal.

From one first-time host to another, this is one tip I can’t recommend enough. It can be tempting to prove that you can handle making the meal yourself, but having a few less dishes to worry about can make a huge difference and make time management much easier.

My brother- and sister-in-law are coming from out of town, so they likely won’t be able to bring the turkey or stuffing, for example. So, I asked them to just bring a salad of their choice, and I think having just one less dish to make will make a huge difference. I’ve also asked my mother-in-law to make mashed potatoes (I can never get the consistency right) and my other brother- and sister-in-law to bring baked corn and dessert. That just leaves me with the turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, and rolls.

Featured Recipe: Green Bean Casserole

Green Bean Casserole

One of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes (and an easy one to delegate to another guest) is green bean casserole. This year, we’ve crafted up our own Martin-ized version that features a French onion breadcrumb topping made with Martin’s Potatobred Stuffing. I’ll be preparing this for a few different gatherings this year, and I can’t wait to hear what my family thinks.

Get the full recipe here:

Tip: Want to save time? Try replacing homemade mushroom sauce (steps 2-7) with a can of cream of mushroom soup and a dash of Worcestershire sauce!

Featured Recipe: Mini Pumpkin Pies

Mini Pumpkin Pies

Something I learned this holiday season: our new Sweet Party Potato Rolls can make a delicious bread crumb crust! This mini version of the Thanksgiving classic dessert is sure to please a crowd and can easily be doubled or halved to fit the size of your dinner party.

Get the full recipe here:

Thanksgiving Meal Essentials:

Tip: Unsure how much to prepare? Check out this quantity guide.


As I worked through the check list of items needed above, I also tried to think of the areas of the house I’d like to clean, the groceries I’d need to buy, etc. With big events like these, I really try to get things accomplished as far ahead of time as I can. So, I created an approximate timeline for myself, but also included some overall helpful items (like steps for making mashed potatoes) even though I won’t personally be doing that for my gathering this year. That way, you can personalize this timeline to whatever specific things need done for your holiday meal.

Let me offer a disclaimer—I know this blog is being posted less than a week before the Thanksgiving holiday this year (2022). But it’s not too late to catch up on the to-dos originally written for 2-3 weeks out. You still have time. Plus, be sure to save this guide, so it can be a helpful resource for the years to come!

Note: A printable timeline can be found at the bottom of this blog.

Three Weeks Before

  • Determine the menu
  • Assign some menu items to guests (optional)
  • Send invitations

Two Weeks Before

  • Take inventory of your available serving dishes and utensils
  • Purchase decorations (see suggestions above) and any serving items you will need
  • Clean common areas of your home—bathroom, living room, dining room
  • Clean guest rooms (if you are hosting guests overnight)
  • Create a grocery shopping list for food items you are preparing
  • Take inventory of your seating and call to rent if necessary

One Week Before

  • (If applicable) remove nice dishes from storage and clean
  • Clean out your refrigerator to make extra room

Five Days Before

  • Start thawing turkey (if 20lbs); plan one day of thawing for every four pounds
  • Go grocery shopping

One Day Before

  • Prepare and refrigerate casseroles (if making Martin’s Green Bean Casserole, do not use breadcrumbs until right before baking)
  • Chop and refrigerate vegetables needed for stuffing, salads, or other dishes
  • Peel potatoes and cover in cold water; refrigerate
  • Buy or prepare dessert and store in the fridge
  • Double check common areas and tidy again where needed
  • Set up tables, chairs, and place settings (if you have curious pets, it may be better to wait until the next day to set out glasses and plates)

Day of the Event

  • Roast turkey (be sure to start this early to ensure plenty of time for fully cooking)
  • Prepare Martin’s Famous Stuffing
  • Heat sides/casseroles
  • Boil and mash potatoes
  • Prepare gravy
  • Set out desserts

Conclusion – You can do it!

Thanksgiving Turkey with Filling and Gravy

If you’re nervous or unsure about hosting as a beginner, remember that the real reason we gather together at the holidays is just to spend time enjoying each other’s company. That’s the overall goal for you as a host: to provide a space for quality time and fellowship. Everything else is secondary.

Not able to finish the dinner on time? You’re just building anticipation for when it’s all on the table.

Accidentally burn the pies? Now everyone can look back and laugh at the year the smoke detector went off at Thanksgiving.

Completely ruin the turkey? There’s nothing wrong with a pizza-themed holiday.

You get the idea. No matter what happens, just keep going and take it as a lesson for the next time. But, as a first-time host myself, I can tell you that you are fully capable of hosting a successful Thanksgiving gathering at your own home (especially if you use this helpful guide)!

Have your own hosting tips? Share them with us on social media!

P.S. Don’t forget to check out our video tutorial (below) for roasting a Thanksgiving turkey!



Printable Resources:


Click above images to print.


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