Hosting the huge meal can sound like a great idea in early November when you send out the invites. No maneuvering through traffic! Guaranteeing your favorite dishes on the table! Complete control over the TV! All the leftovers!

But then reality sets in … YOU INVITED ALL THOSE PEOPLE TO YOUR HOUSE. Are you nuts?! Well, maybe, but we’ll let you be the judge of that. What we can do is give you the 7 best Thanksgiving hosting hacks. So take a deep breath. You’ve got this.

1. Let everyone contribute

So this can go either way if you’re a control freak. Some people prefer having tight reign on the menu, in which case you can assign dishes to people. Or if you’re a real control freak (hand raised), then you can decide that it’s worth it to you to make all the main dishes (because no one else’s dressing is as good) and assign the pesky extras that A.) don’t really matter and B.) end up being a huge headache at the last minute. I’m looking at you appetizers, salad, dessert, and beverages.

And to make things even easier, it’s perfectly OK to request that the dishes be brought ready to be served. That’ll help ensure no one’s going to start scrounging around in your cabinets for a serving tray. Or, GASP, need to reheat something in your oven that’s already spoken for.

2. Prep in advance

You can be sure that your day’s going to get hectic, so one of the best Thanksgiving hosting hacks is to prep what you can a few nights in advance. Dishes that you can get out of the way include mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, salad (but don’t dress it!), and dessert. You also can prep all the side ingredients, like chopping the onions and celery and browning the sausage for stuffing.

If you’re trying a new spotlight recipe, this is the time to give it a go. You might find that you’re missing a key ingredient or that keeping a soufflé from falling is a lot harder than it looks. And head’s up: gravy can be trickier that you might think. Try it ahead of time, but have a jar on hand just in case.

3. Don’t make everything from scratch

Well, we already gave you the tip on the gravy above, but turns out there are other shortcuts you can take that no one will know. Our faves include store-bought pie crust and stuffing from a box (just add some sausage … shhhh … don’t tell!).

4. Make a list of jobs that people can do

We get it: sometimes it’s as much work to explain a task to someone as to do it yourself. The key is to “pre-think” of things that someone else can do. Think passing appetizers, refilling drinks, entertaining kids, walking the dog.

5. Set your table ahead of time

This is a task that can take place up to a week ahead of time — depending, of course, on whether you have an extra table that doesn’t also need to be used for craft projects or homework all week long. If you have the capacity, spread out the job and do it on your own sweet time. Alternately, this is an easy task to add to your delegation list. Just set out the correct number of plates, glasses, and flatware, and let someone else determine whether forks go on the left or right.

Another option is to serve dinner buffet style. It not only eliminates the whole “table-setting” task, but it also means you won’t have to use — and by that we mean, WASH—serving dishes in addition to everything else.

6. Get the kids out of the kitchen

Having kids underfoot in the kitchen is dangerous, what with hot stoves and ovens. Check out these hacks to keep them busy AND happy.

7. Order it

Seriously, no one is thankful for a stressed-out host. So if you find that cooking Thanksgiving dinner ranks up there with Black Friday sales in terms of holiday madness, just keep it simple. Preorder the entire meal from a restaurant or local supermarket. We won’t tell.

DIY hacks | Safe and smart


about Cathie

Cathie Ericson writes about personal finance, real estate, health, lifestyle, and business topics. When she's not writing she loves to read, hike, and run. Find her @CathieEricson.