I can’t believe that tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Did you know that because it’s celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November every year, the earliest date it can land on is November 22nd and the latest is the 28th? Since tomorrow is the 22nd, it’s no wonder we all feel a bit blindsided by Thanksgiving this year! It is early. (Next year, btw, we’ll celebrate on the 28th.)
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the Larkins got pretty worn out during the last holiday season due to non-stop traveling all over the country so we could make it to every family gathering. (Anyone else live far away from family and find it terribly unfair that Thanksgiving and Christmas are so close together?! Can’t we go ahead and spread them out a little more?! 😂) So this year, with baby #2 on the way, we’re scaling things back and staying in Chicago for Turkey Day for the first time. We are, though, going to have a celebration with friends who’ve become our local family! This’ll be our first time cooking and hosting, and we’re excited. Yes, it’ll be different, but I know it’s going to be wonderful–and new, special memories will undoubtedly be made.
Since this will be our first “go” of cooking and hosting Thanksgiving, Mitch and I did a little trial run last week. I know, I know. That sounds insane. But I knew that I was going to be teaming up with Keurig® to write this post, and I didn’t want to just shell out tips without having any real experience. And you know what? It wasn’t that difficult! (Which means that if Kelly Larkin can do it, you can too.) I called my mom (who’s very seasoned), asked her for her best tips for hosting Thanksgiving, and then followed them all to a T. And after we’d placed the last serving platter in the dishwasher and I was able to reflect on how it went, I added in a few of my own tips. ;)
Anyway, I think they’re really good! (Thanks, Mom, for all the help. Couldn’t have pulled this off without you.) And my hope is that even if you’re not hosting, they’re still worth reading–as we all want to be helpful guests. ☺️ But let’s get to it. Here are my…
10 Tips for Hosting Thanksgiving for the First Time
1. Create a timeline
I’m going to honest here and say that if I were a reader of this blog, my reaction to this tip would be something to the effect of “🙄.” I’m just so not the kind of person who would do something like this; I’m more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of gal. And while it pained me to write it, the timeline truly made the day easy and stress-free. We were on top of everything and never got frustrated, and all the food was warm and ready at the same time.
My one bit of advice would be to sit down a week before with whomever you’re cooking with and develop and discuss the timeline. I did this with Mitch (and my Mom, via FaceTime) and I gained a lot of perspective. I should note that we ended up adding an extra 15 minutes to each allotted window “just in case,” and that made a big difference in how the day went. We were never rushed! We also scheduled in quite a bit of family time, which I think made me enjoy everything more than I otherwise would have.
2. Ditch the apps and create a customizable coffee/drink bar
At this point, I think I’ve read at least 25 articles on how to have a stress-free Thanksgiving, and almost all of them recommend skipping most appetizers in favor of a coffee/drink bar. The idea is that you don’t want your guests filling up before the big meal, and everything tastes better when you’re a little hungry, right? ;)
We created our bar around the Keurig Special Edition K-Café™ Single Serve Coffee, Latte & Cappuccino Maker, which the company recently sent us. Guys, this brewer is amazing! First of all, it’s unbelievably affordable compared to other products out there right now (only $199.99!), and it’s so much easier to use. As you can see from the above photos, you really can’t mess up, whereas I usually just stand in front of more complicated brewers, dumbfounded. 😂
To make a latte or cappuccino with the Keurig® Special Edition K-Café™ brewer, you simply 1) brew a concentrated shot of coffee using any K-Cup® pod, 2) froth the milk and pour it into your cup, mug or glass, and 3) enjoy! Drinks can be made hot or cold, and you can make coffee in 6, 8, 10 and 12 oz. sizes. The water reservoir also holds 60 oz–which means that we don’t have to refill very often!
My favorite part of the brewer, though, is how many different drinks it makes. There’s really something for everyone–even those who prefer decaf at the moment (🙋) or those who don’t drink coffee. (Hot chocolate for the win!)
But the signature drink we’ll be serving is the Black & White Mocha! And here’s the recipe:
Black & White Mocha Recipe
- 1 Green Mountain Coffee Roasters® Dark Magic® K-Cup® pod (also available in Decaf for me)
- Fresh 2% Milk (or your milk of choice)
- 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- Chocolate Syrup, drizzled op top, to your liking
- Brew a concentrated shot of coffee using a Green Mountain Coffee Roasters® Dark Magic® K-Cup® pod by pressing the SHOT button.
- Fill frothing pitcher to the “LATTE” line with milk and 1 tsp vanilla extract.Fill frothing pitcher of the Keurig® Special Edition K-Café™ Single Serve Coffee, Latte & Cappuccino Maker to the “LATTE” line with fresh 2% milk.
- When coffee has finished brewing, press the “LATTE” button to froth.When coffee has finished brewing, press the “LATTE” button to froth.
- While the milk is frothing add 1 tsp of vanilla extract to the concentrated coffee shot.
- Pour frothed milk over coffee to combine, and top with a drizzle of chocolate syrup.
So quick and easy! (And amazingly good.)
Also, I need to note that since having received the brewer, Mitch has become coffee-obsessed. He researches techniques and the history behind drinks, and he’s constantly trying out new “recipes.” It’s adorable! Seeing his reaction makes me think what an awesome holiday gift the coffee maker would be. Hopefully my mother-in-law doesn’t see this blog post 😂, but I’m definitely thinking it would be perfect for her!
3. Make and prep as much as you can beforehand
I am one of those people who thinks she can get “x, y and z” done in a day, only to ever get half of “x” done. It is what it is! I’m just a girl with unrealistic expectations who overestimates what she’s capable of. :)
My mother is a bit more pragmatic, and she knows what she can accomplish in a given day. Here are a few tasks that you can cross off the list ahead of time:
If you have guests who will be spending the night, get their rooms ready the week before.
Make sure there are clean sheets and towels, that the wifi password is on their dresser, and that the bathroom is stocked with essentials that they could potentially forget. (Shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc.)
Clean the house and kid-proof.
None of this should be done the day of; it’ll ruin the day for you, and frankly, it’s impossible unless you get up at 2 a.m. or something. Clear the clutter, wipe down all surfaces, vacuum, and clean the bathrooms a day or two in advance. If you have kids, you’ll probably to do it one day before, as they’re usually walking tornados and will destroy your hard work. ;)
Make dishes that can be refrigerated or frozen.
I had no idea that there were so many dishes that could be prepared well in advance. We made the cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and even the gravy (!) a couple days before because we found this recent article that includes 80 “make-ahead” recipes. But really: after you decide on the menu, scroll through the piece or do a quick Google search and see what your options are. It will make for such an easier holiday.
Order/purchase the turkey!
This is actually a must, and I’d recommend doing it at least a few couple of days in advance. I mean, you can run out and grab one the day of, but everyone knows that family who ended up at a restaurant because all the stores were fresh out or they didn’t realize that frozen turkeys take a while to defrost. (Anyone else’s mind immediately go to “A Christmas Story”? I guess dogs technically ruined that Thanksgiving, but similar, haha!) If you’re buying fresh, turkeys normally keep for three to five days in the fridge, depending on whether they’re vacuumed-sealed. If you’re going with a frozen bird, you can get it WAY in advance, but keep in mind that it takes up to 24 hours to thaw five pounds of turkey. Note: If you plan on purchasing rolls, pies or other ready-made food, be sure to place your order one to weeks in advance. I highly recommend doing this to lighten the load!
Set the table and decorate.
Mitch, Emma and I went out to eat the night before so we wouldn’t have to sit at the table, which I’d set earlier that day. Can’t recommend doing this more! The sheer act of folding napkins took me 15 minutes, and let’s be serious: nobody has time for that on Thanksgiving day. As for decor, you don’t need to go overboard. Remember that you’re going to need enough space for the food! I recommend keeping it simple using decor that you already have in your home. Think wood, woven baskets, and fall colors like red, yellow, orange and brown. Anything with natural elements work; I simply used pinecones and some leftover pumpkins from Halloween!
4. Label your serving platters, and put a printed recipe in each
I borrowed this idea from a college friend. She did this at a Friendsgiving years ago, and I remember how awesome it was when I was helping her in the kitchen. It also ensures that you use the correct serving platters, which is so important when you’re making so many different dishes. Bonus points for putting the ingredients inside so helpers can quickly prepare recipes without rummaging around.
5. Accept help and delegate
I’ve struggled with this in so many different areas of my life for the longest time. (Case in point: it took me five years to start outsourcing some of my blogging “responsibilities” so I could start getting more than five hours of sleep every night!) I’ve learned, though, that I simply can’t do everything on my own, and I shouldn’t. It’s important to step back and assess what I can feasibly accomplish while still enjoying whatever it is I’m doing. And when someone offers to help, to accept that help.
When we originally came up with the idea of doing a Thanksgiving together, my friend Kira immediately asked what she could bring and do to help, to which I responded. “Nothing! Just bring yourself!” But then she was like, “Kelllllllyyyy.” Because she knows about my tendencies to take on too much. (She does the same, haha.) So I told her to bring the green beans and some dessert. And guess what? I’m so much less stressed about our celebration because that’s covered!
Mitch also volunteered to pick up the turkey and cook it, and he attempted to set the table the day before which was both adorable and hilarious. (The man put napkins under both the forks and the spoons because he wanted things to be symmetrical and “Thanksgiving can get messy.” DYING. So cute.) Oh, and I can’t forget that he vacuumed the whole house, ran a couple of last-minute errands for me, and cut turkey parts out of construction paper for an hour. (More on that below.)
6. Don’t be afraid to purchase ready-made parts of the meal
There is nothing wrong with this. (Honestly, I’d say to purchase the whole thing if you think it’ll help you actually enjoy the holiday!)
For as long as I can remember, my family has purchased our pies and rolls from the local bakery, and canned cranberry sauce from the food store. (Which apparently everyone outside of the New York Tri-State Area calls “grocery store.” Who knew?!) It’s a tradition for us! A few years ago, my Grammie made cranberry sauce from scratch, and people were legitimately upset, haha. Mitch’s family, however, was shocked when I told them that the Sheehans prefer the jelly stuff. But they also serve pretzels, jello, orange juice, lemon pudding, mandarin oranges and whipped cream all mixed together as one of their main dishes, so yeah. 😂
My point, though, is that purchasing ready-made stuff won’t make your Thanksgiving any less Thanksgiving-y. No one really cares. And frankly, our local bakery makes a way better pie than we do!
Side note: For these photos, we actually ordered a turkey that was 90-percent cooked. All we had to do was pop it in the oven for an hour and brown it. We’re going to be cooking a bird completely on our own tomorrow just because we never have and kind of want to see if we can do it without screwing it up, but in the future, I think we’ll probably go for the turkey that only takes an hour. ;) So easy!
7. Give the microwave some love
First of all, did you know that microwaves are insulated?! It totally makes sense now that I think about it, but I only recently learned this and my mind was blown. Because making sure that everything is hot and ready to serve at the same time can be extraordinarily difficult (especially when you’re cooking in a tiny city kitchen!), utilize that microwave and use it to store dishes that you want to stay warm.
There are also a ton of recipes that you can prepare using the microwave. (This article and this article are both great resources.) And no: it’s not cheating! These days, the machines are becoming more and more sophisticated, and food no longer comes out rubbery. For example, our microwave has convection oven functionality, which is SO handy. (We literally use it to cook entire pizzas and they come out perfectly crispy.)
And don’t forget that the microwave is excellent at defrosting!
8. Provide kids with table activities
I love this idea. If you have young kids, you probably know first hand how difficult it is to get them to sit at the table for longer than 10 to 15 minutes. And then once they leave, they kind of need constant supervision, which takes you away from your guests… and your dinner!
A great way to keep their attention is to provide them with activities and games. Because we were short on space, my mom always set up a little card table for us, and made sure we were occupied. No, she didn’t do this on a daily basis, as she placed importance on sitting down together and actually talking to each other. (Which I love!) But this was a special treat, and it really helped the parents relax.
For this dinner, we made turkeys! We simply cut the parts out of construction paper, and supplied glue sticks. But really: anything works. Coloring books, stickers, stamps–whatever you can find!
9. Have cleaning supplies at the ready, and a cleanup plan in place
Inevitably, things are spilled and dropped. It’s great to have supplies–especially carpet cleaner, paper towels and extra trash bags–in one spot so everyone knows where to find what they need.
Similarly, it’s nice to have a plan of attack for cleaning up after dinner. My parents always man the sink, with Mom rinsing the dishes and cutlery and Dad stacking everything in the dishwasher. It’s an effective and speedy process! Everyone else helps to clear the table and set it for dessert.
10. Offer to-go boxes to guests
When guests start gearing up to leave, set out the food again and hand out to-go boxes! It’s such a nice little sendoff, and let’s be serious: very few of us want to eat Thanksgiving leftovers for a week straight, anyway. ;)
Most importantly: Be okay with imperfection, and enjoy yourself!
At the end of the day, Thanksgiving isn’t about beautiful tablescapes, cute outfits or even turkeys. If you’re an hour behind schedule, it’s okay. Or, if you burn the casseroles, it’s okay. If you forget to turn the oven on (so something I’d do!), it’s okay. With how much the day entails, a few things are bound to go awry. What Thanksgiving is truly about, though, is gratitude and love. And it’s pretty hard to mess those things up. Have a good attitude about it, roll with the punches, and remember to not let the stress overcome you. Have fun!
Do you have any tips for hosting a stress-free Thanksgiving? I’d love to hear!
This post was sponsored by Keurig® to introduce the new Special Edition K-Café™ Coffeehouse Brewer. All opinions are my own. As always, thank you so much for supporting the partnerships that keep Kelly in the City up and running!