9 Easy Tips for Hosting an Epic Thanksgiving

This post is sponsored by Ocean Spray. All opinions are very obviously my own.

A couple weeks ago, I got to eat a Thanksgiving feast IN a cranberry bog in Rockefeller Center®, and I can honestly say that it was two of the happiest hours of my adult life. Please see above for photographic evidence of my extreme joy.

As a longtime fan of Ocean Spray’s commercials—you know, the ones with their farmers spouting witticisms while knee-deep in cranberries?—I’ve always thought it would be deeply satisfying to wade through a cranberry bog. Then last year, I saw some pics on Instagram of bloggers doing just that in the middle of NYC. I remember saying to my roommate, “How does one snag an invite to this glorious event??! I have to do this!! DO WE HAVE ANY CRANBERRY HOOKUPS?!”

Despite our lack of cranberry connections, the universe must have registered my enthusiasm because a few weeks ago the coveted invitation magically appeared in my inbox. My response? A thousand times, yes.

I arrived at the cranberry bog prepared to don waders and fulfill my fruity ball pit fantasies, but what I did not anticipate was how much fabulous T-Day knowledge I would leave with. Pre-feasting in the bog, I was put through my hosting paces by the Ocean Spray CranMas—an elite group of multi-generation cranberry farmer grandmas with decades of hosting experience under their belts—who passed on a number of new tips and reinforced the importance of some simple ones that I already swear by. (Having grown up without grandmothers, it was especially fun for me to spend time with these awesome ladies and be privy to their time-tested advice.)

Since a recent survey conducted by Ocean Spray shows that there will be 20 MILLION Americans hosting Thanksgiving for the very first-time this year, and that nine out of ten first-time hosts have a hosting fear hanging over their heads, I thought I’d share some of the aforementioned CranMa wisdom with all of you. Let’s get started, shall we?

Tips for Hosting a Fabulous (and Low-Stress) Thanksgiving:

1. Start early. This festive meal isn’t quite as easy as pulling off a weeknight dinner, peeps. From sourcing recipes to decorating your table, there’s a lot of planning to be done, so take some time at least several days in advance to sit down and make a plan. It’s super helpful to make lists of the following:

  • Attendees (Make sure to note any dietary restrictions—there are a LOT these days…)
  • Recipes you plan to make or have people bring
  • Groceries
  • Dishes required (Don’t have enough plates/glasses/serving ware/etc.? Make note of what you need and ask a guest to help you supplement your collection!)

2. Make time for the turkey. There are endless ways to cook your bird, but like I said above, you need to plan ahead. First, figure out where and when you’re going to get the turkey, and be sure to reserve or order it if your market tends to sell out. If you’re going the frozen route, you’ll need to allow 1 day of defrosting time in the fridge for every 5 pounds of turkey, so be sure to give the thing plenty of time to thaw. Familiarize yourself with whatever recipe/cooking technique you’ve chosen, and leave yourself at least 30 minutes for the turkey to rest before carving. (The resting is no joke, people. The juices need to redistribute to for the meat to be juicy and not sad and dry.)

3. Prep sides in advance. If possible, partially or fully prep your side dishes the day before. This requires a little forethought, sure, but it’s a lifesaver. With most of the side work done, you can devote your time to turkey, fresh sides that need to be made day of (like green veggies), and spending QT with your guests. You’ll have plenty of time to warm your pre-prepped sides in the oven while your turkey is resting!

4. Set the table the day before. The last thing you’re going to want to be doing right before people arrive is hustling to set the table. (Pre-arrival hustling should be reserved for loving on your turkey. Or doing your hair.) And keep it simple. No need to send yourself into a fit of panic hand-painting pumpkins and place cards, people. Simple flowers or a fun centerpiece will do the trick. And if you plan to serve the meal family style, makes sure there will be space on the table for all the dishes.

5. Set up a separate area for “entertaining.” This was a great one of my favorite CranMa tips. Dedicate an area outside the kitchen with a bar or signature cocktail and self-serve appetizers. This will ease congestion in the kitchen so you have a little more space and freedom to do your thang.

6. Don’t be afraid to outsource. Ain’t no shame in having family members or professionals contribute to your meal! For example, if you’re not a natural born baker (samesies), pick up dessert from your favorite local spot or ask a family member with more baking prowess to bring something delicious. Appetizers and booze are also great things to outsource.

7. Get kids involved. I personally don’t have any small children attending my T-Day celebration, but if you do, see if they’d like to bring artwork for the table. Not only does it lighten your décor load, but it will also make them feel included and helpful. Not gonna lie, I think this is a pretty great idea for adults too. (I shall enlist Logan to draw a turkey centerpiece! My mother shall make napkin origami!)

8. CHILLAX. One of my favorite CranMas, Mary Ann Lee, reminded me of something that is ridiculously easy to forget when hosting Thanksgiving: Focus on your family and friends because that’s what the holiday is about. As long as you put time and love into your feast, does it really matter if one of the sides is too salty or your decorative gourd display looks a little more Amanda Bynes than Martha Stewart? Nope. (Duh.) People will just be grateful that you took the bullet and offered to host the holiday, so please don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Mishaps are par for the Thanksgiving course, and really good ones make for excellent stories at future holiday dinners. I know from experience!

9. Ask for help!! First-time Thanksgiving host? Or just have questions on how to make your dinner great? Chat with CranMa anytime! As you know, this weird blog lady is always ready and willing to field your holiday questions, but this year, Ocean Spray is one-upping my efforts in the best possible way. From now through Thanksgiving Day, you can get time-tested advice to ease your meal planning anxiety courtesy of Ocean Spray’s virtual CranMa, who is available to “chat” on Facebook Messenger 24/7. CranMa can help with everything from tackling the turkey to mastering fancy sides and T-Day accoutrements like cranberry sauce and stuffing. Her no-nonsense advice and tips are sourced straight from Ocean Spray’s own farmer CranMas. (Believe me when I say you can trust CranMa. Plus, she never sleeps…)

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Ocean Spray®. The opinions and text are all mine.

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