How to Avoid a Thanksgiving Meal Fiasco

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Hosting a Thanksgiving meal for a large group is no small undertaking.

avoid a thanksgiving fiasco

There are a lot of moving parts that each need a fair amount of attention.

The turkey, the fixings, the dessert, drinks, appetizers, decor, seating, and entertainment.

For the dinner to go smoothly, it all comes down to one thing – TIMING.

Where To Start

The best place to start organizing and planning your Thanksgiving dinner is with the number of people that will be attending.

The most important element of your meal revolve around this one factor:
• how much food to buy, prepare, and request

Defined Roles

Next you want to figure out who will bring what. If you get this out of the way first, you can then focus on your own responsibilities.

If you are having your Thanksgiving meal catered, it’s easy – one phone call does it all.

Just make sure to make that phone call well in advance – like right now.

If you are asking your guests to each bring a dish, make a list of the things you need and who have assigned to bring them.

One week before the big day – send them an email or give them a call to confirm their assigned item.

Also let them know how many people will be attending so they can be sure to bring enough food.

It is also a good idea to have a backup plan, in case someone falls through or forgets at the last minute.

For example, buy a few boxes of stuffing mix if someone else is assigned to stuffing.

You can always use them during the December holidays or donate them to a food pantry if you don’t need them.

Food is not the only part of the meal that can be delegated. Consider some of the roles on this great list that Seana at The Seana Method put together.

Designate those people now, and let them know ahead of time or when they arrive. By passing off these tasks you will have less to focus on and more time to enjoy the get together.

The Turkey

For many families the turkey rules the day.

A little planning can help you regain control from that pesky bird.

Size Matters

This is where we head back to the starting point – how many people will be attending your Thanksgiving dinner?

Make sure to buy the right size bird. You don’t want hungry guests. But you also don’t want to be eating turkey all the way through to the New Year.

The typical recommendation is to buy 1 pound of turkey per person. So, for 10 people you could purchase a 10 to 14 pound bird. But there is room for variation.

Adults eat more than children. Some people eat more turkey others fill up on mashed potatoes, stuffing, and sides.

It comes down to a judgment call – but this fun turkey calculator (who knew there was such a thing?) on the Butterball website is a good starting point.

Fresh or Frozen

Nothing is worse than a still frozen turkey on Thanksgiving morning.

If you plan to buy a frozen turkey and thaw it in the refrigerator, you will need about 1 day of thaw time for every four pounds of turkey.

But instead of guessing – on the same page that I linked to above – Butterball also has a turkey thawing calculator. Just type in the pounds and it will calculate your thaw time.

A fresh turkey, obviously, needs no thawing time. But you will need to buy it somewhat last minute so it doesn’t go bad.

When choosing a fresh or frozen turkey, consider your space limitations.

If you have a small refrigerator, you may not want to have all your space taken up by a thawing turkey for several days.

Turkey Cooking Time

Despite all your planning your perfect Thanksgiving dinner can still be derailed if the turkey is not cooked on time or done too early.

Butterball also has a turkey cooking calculator so you know exactly when to put the bird in the oven.

Don’t Leave the Rest to Chance

Now that you have the turkey under control, you need to time the preparation and storage of your side dishes, appetizers, and desserts.

Remember that your resources are limited. You likely have one oven, possibly a double. And a finite amount of refrigerator space.

Given these restrictions – decide what you will make in advance, what you will assign to others to bring, and what you will prepare while the turkey is cooking.

And most importantly – write it all down.

Use your notes as your cheat sheet as you sail seamlessly through your Thanksgiving holiday.


  1. I can sure use all the help I can get. Each year, my dad hosts his family for Thanksgiving and Christmas – we have seen as many as 60 people pile into his house. I’m usually in charge of the turkey and mashed potatoes – plus a dessert. It’s a lot of work, but when it’s all said and done, it’s well worth it. 🙂

    1. Hi Gayla –
      Wow – 60 people is a tall order! But it sounds like a lot of fun. It’s great when everybody brings something so the burden of the meal does not fall on any one person.
      This year I am outsourcing pies. The benefits of giving that one responsibility away are already apparent.
      Have a great Thanksgiving – and thanks for stopping by!

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