A First Timer’s Thanksgiving

Entertaining, Featured Article, How-To
on October 26, 2011
Mark Boughton/ styling: Teresa Blackburn

Entertaining a slew of family and friends can be a daunting task on Thanksgiving. Keep the following in mind during the weeks leading up to the big day to ensure you’re a calm (and thankful!) kitchenista once it arrives:

  • Be sure to use some of your trusted family recipes that have been passed down in your family. Family and traditions are what Thanksgiving is all about!
  • If you have never made some of the recipes that you want to serve, make sure that you try out some of the dishes in the months or weeks ahead of time—you don’t want to wind up panicked or disappointed with what you make on a such a food-centric holiday!
  • Make a detailed prep and shopping list at last a week ahead of time. If you are well organized, it will save you a ton of time and confusion the day of. And speaking of shopping: please don’t save it until the day of, if possible! The crowds and potential slim selection will only add unnecessary stress.
  • Do as much prep work as possible early in the day and even the day before. I will chop vegetables for stuffing and store them in airtight containers, make salad dressings and parts of desserts—anything I can get done ahead helps tremendously!


  • Try not to do too much! The first time I ever hosted Thanksgiving I tried to make two turkeys and about 12 side dishes! Even as a professional, I was completely stressed out and totally over-extended. You want to be able to enjoy your family not spend the entire time in the kitchen.
  • On that note! Don’t be afraid to delegate some of the work. Let friends or family bring a side dish, an appetizer, or a pie. Also—don’t be afraid to let people come in the kitchen and help get dinner on. You always need someone to toss the salad or bring the green beans to the table. Accepting help will make things easier on you and make your guests feel helpful and included.
  • Set the table a couple days ahead of time so that you don’t have to worry about it the day of. You can do everything from the flatware to the glasses and napkins. You can even do the flowers a day ahead and just keep them in a cool place.


  • This is also a great time of year to use seasonal and natural items to decorate with. I love to let my little girls collect pretty leaves which we press. Then we will use them as name cards or spray paint them gold or copper and use them at the base of candles and in floral arrangements. There are also great alternatives to traditional flowers: rose hips, eucalyptus, and apples or using a variety of squashes and gourds to make a really beautiful centerpiece.
  • Start a new family tradition. Especially if you are throwing Thanksgiving for the first time, don’t be afraid to put your spin on it. I know one large family that organizes a flag football game at the local park early in the day. Another family requests each guest bring food or clothes for those less fortunate and they go drop it off before they even eat dinner. Whatever it is that makes your friends and family feel good and allows for you to spend great time together—go for it!

—By Heather Christo, Heatherchristo.com