Tips for preparing Thanksgiving Dinner (or any big dinner)

When you have a big family dinner there is a lot of meal planning and set-up that goes into it and it can get overwhelming.  Don’t let it.  This is such a great time to not only embrace your more creative side but also really take your time and enjoy the process of setting up your meal and preparing a great meal.  Your family gathering can encompass everything from a great table setting, a DIY centerpiece, fun recipes and even the family joining in to help if you so choose.  Here are a few tips to help you have a successful and enjoyable large family dinner/gathering.

  1. Excellent Time Management is Essential: The first thing to consider is your timing for the whole production from start to finish and begin planning from there. If you are considering a big meal and the date is tomorrow, than do not over indulge on the items you want to include on your event.  However, if you have a week or more to plan, than by all means, include a centerpiece and possibly three courses, etc.  The goal is always to enjoy the experience and NOT to stress yourself out in the process.  I suggest sitting down with pen and paper first.  Plan out what you would like to include from the recipe, to the décor, to the invited guests.  From there, plan out your itinerary for the big day and work backwards.  If you plan to have dinner at 2PM on a Saturday and serve appetizers, than examine your recipes and calculate cooking times then prep times.  From there, incorporate your mise en place. (To be explained further down in this blog).  Remember to figure in the arrival time of your guests, the table setting time frame, house cleaning, and any DIY centerpiece projects.  This should give you a full planning process.  Of course, there are more items to be added as you specialize your specific event. (i.e., grocery shopping, out of town guests, work days or travel, etc.)
  2. Plan your seating style and expect last minute changes – Flexibility is important, left overs are always awesome! (prepare for those with Tupperware and baggies for your guests to take home with them) Cleaning your home and planning your seating style will help with how you plan to serve your dinner.  Will it be family style (all dishes served on platters for guests to serve themselves), buffet style (all dishes available in one location for guests to serve themselves and then return to a general seating area together), or will guests be served individually?  My specific preference, especially for Thanksgiving dinner, is buffet style form the kitchen or sidebar area, then eating together at the family dinner table with a few staples on the table such as dinner rolls, cranberry sauce and of course condiments.  This leaves your table beautiful and clutter free.  Guests can get up for seconds as needed and no one is passing food rather than eating.  NOTE: Setting your table and serving dishes the night before is super helpful and a great time save on the day of your event.  Don’t forget to protect your table with a table cloth and folded napkins or napkins with napkin rings are always a nice touch of class.
  3. DIY Centerpiece(s): What will your theme be for your family gathering? Are you getting together for a holiday?  A birthday? No particular reason other than it’s been too long? (Great time to keep your centerpiece seasonal).  I cannot suggest enough using Pinterest or google images to find the best DIY project for your event.  The options are endless if you search long enough to find the right project for your event and your skillset.  Don’t pick something that seems like it is way over your level at the current time, you may be disappointed and that’s never any fun.  Also, remember your budget.  Trying a DIY that ends up costing $300 will also put a bit of a damper on your centerpiece ideas.  I will add some to my Instagram and Facebook pages specific to each holidays if you so choose to try those out.  NOTE: having children help with centerpieces is always a fantastic idea.  They love to help and the projects always turn out super cute and heartfelt!  It leaves the kids beaming with pride to see their hard work sitting in the middle of the table at dinner.  (Plus, it is a great way to have some fun family time).
  4. Mise en place: This is a French culinary term meaning “putting in place”.  This is key to great time management for a large meal.  In your planning process, figure out which parts of your cooking you can do (or should do) in advance.  This particular term refers to cutting meats, par-cooked items, chopping vegetables, etc.  Anything that will aid in coordinating the timeliness of your actual cooking event.  You can even whittle this process down to pre-measured spices if you have the time, space and motivation.  (I’ve never made it that far)
  5. Family Involvement: Assign tasks and ask for volunteers. This is great for the centerpieces, the mise en place section of your planning or even table setting.  You can even break out your meal planning and ask for guests to bring a portion of your meal (i.e., desserts, appetizers, bottles of wine).
  6. The big day: On the day of your event, enjoy yourself. It’s time to officially cook the rest of your meal and your house will smell amazing.  You’ve planned, you’ve prepped, and now it’s game time!  As your guests arrive, don’t worry about being busy in the kitchen or fusing with a few different things.  They are coming to enjoy a meal so they should already expect you to be a bit pre-occupied.  Pre-planning will help ease a bit of it, but some business is just unavoidable.  Use timers and accept help when offered, but remember to relax and enjoy yourself.

The most important term in large events is flexibility.  Understand that not every single item will be perfect and there is always room for an adjustment here or there.  It’s ok, never be too hard on yourself.  The most important thing to remember is to enjoy yourself from start to finish and not get too overwhelmed.  That takes the fun out of the whole process after all.  I hope your holidays are a great success, filled with giggles and great smells from the kitchen.  I hope these tips help you as you are planning for your festivities.  As always, have a happy day!

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