12 Secrets to Hosting a Great Thanksgiving Meal

Real Simple readers share their best tips for hosting a great Thanksgiving meal.

1

turkey-magic-hat
Photo by Dan Page

“Give each guest a small, simple job. Have children make and decorate place cards; have cousins set the table; have aunts/uncles open wine bottles, etc. None of the jobs should be difficult, time-consuming, or centered in the kitchen. Doing this allows guests to feel satisfied that they helped, and you’ll gain some precious space to prep.”
Gretchen Needham, North Oaks, Minnesota

2

“I kick off Thanksgiving morning by watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and drinking (spiked!) coffee.”
@slbear

3

“A spin on the ‘kids’ table.’ We have the kids eat their meal first, and afterward they head off for movie time while the grown-ups enjoy their meal together.”
Mary Beth Myers, Santa Barbara, California



4

“Clean as you go. Washing dishes and emptying trash and recycling throughout the day means no big pile at the end of the evening. And you can enjoy that food coma guilt-free.”
Nikki Judge, San Francisco, California

5

“Strong garbage bags. And disposable napkins, plates, cutlery, and cups.”
Tiffany Mueller, Grayslake, Illinois

6

“Be flexible with your traditions. Don’t be afraid to give up the ones you don’t love and create others. Each year, I add a side to the menu, and if my family doesn’t like it, I don’t make it the next year.”
Lori Goetz, Round Rock, Texas



7

“A meaningful quotation or poem. In addition to advance preparation and a thoughtful menu, I always choose something to say before the start of the meal. Also: Use an ice chest to stash all the cleared dishes so there’s not a mountain waiting to go in the dishwasher.”
Annie Dowling, Fayetteville, Arkansas

8

“Take a moment to read the recipe correctly. Brining in apple cider vinegar is not the same as brining in apple cider. We had a sort of turkey ceviche one year that I will never live down.”
Caren O’Hara Gillespie, Seattle, Washington

9

“Know your audience. I tried making some new dishes for a few years, but my family finally admitted they just wanted the basic feast. So no more brussels sprouts chips (which are too labor-intensive anyway).”
Debbi Abrams, Hopatcong, New Jersey



10

“Relax! Remember—you’re not hosting the White House. When people offer help, take it.”
@helensquinn

11

“We encourage everyone to wear comfy elastic-waist pants.”
Aleisa Marie, Shekou, China

12

“I include guests in the cleanup. It might sound like a drag, but when everyone is in the kitchen together laughing and talking, it becomes a happy part of the meal.”
Juliet Nielsen, Provo, Utah