Major holidays, such as Thanksgiving, can present a challenge for military families who may be separated from each other or their loved ones, who have an upcoming PCS, who just moved to a new installation, or who have to plan everything around a hectic work schedule. 

Over the course of your spouse’s career, you’ll likely experience a wide variety of Thanksgivings, some which won’t even resemble the traditional family feast you may have grown up with — but, one year, the stars may align to give your MilFam a wonderful traditional holiday with friends and/or family.

If you find yourself hosting a traditional Thanksgiving Day meal this year, here are 11 tips that can help:

1. Make a Plan

Planning a Thanksgiving gathering can be overwhelming, especially when you’re busy juggling so many other things! That’s why it’s so important to make a plan early and work ahead as much as you can, so that when Thanksgiving Day comes around, you’re able to enjoy the holiday as well!

This Thanksgiving countdown planner from The Food Network starts with all of the things you can accomplish up to one-month out and can keep your day-of prep list totally manageable!

Most importantly, you’ll want to:

  • Select a day and time for your gathering. If you prefer to wait until your family can be together again, for whatever reason, there’s nothing wrong with celebrating Thanksgiving in March! The important part is that your family is all together.
  • Get a guest count and list of allergies/food preferences
  • Create a Thanksgiving budget
  • Plan your menu
  • Create a shopping list
  • Decide on décor
  • Prepare a cooking schedule
  • Set up the table and chairs
  • Clean house

2. Accept (and Recruit) Help

If you are hosting Thanksgiving dinner for friends or family, don’t be afraid to ask your guests to bring a side dish. Think of it like this — the less you have to prepare, the less you’re spending and the more variety you will have at the dinner table. And guests are often happy to be able to prepare a favorite family dish of their own to share and enjoy.

If you want more control over the main food items, other items that are great to “assign” out are DIY decorations, paper products (plates, cups, napkins, and cutlery), store-bought rolls, desserts, bags of ice, drinks, and kids activities.

3. Stick to the Basics

If you’re in charge of making a full Thanksgiving menu, it can be intimidating — but have no fear, SpouseLink is here to help! 

A solid, traditional Thanksgiving menu includes:

If you’re looking to add more options, consider these Thanksgiving classics: Green Bean Casserole, Deviled Eggs, Cranberry Sauce or Jelly, Sweet Potato Casserole, Candied Yams, Roasted Vegetables, Roasted Brussel Sprouts, Corn Casserole, Apple Pie, and more.

4. Always Plan to Make Extra

Besides counting your blessings while you’re surrounded by loved ones, one of the best parts of Thanksgiving is the leftovers! Thankfully, many recipe websites will offer an option to increase serving portions to match the number of guests you’re hosting. 

If you aren’t sure where to start with converting portion sizes of your recipes, here’s a good guideline for how much food to make per person:

  • Turkey: 1-1/2 lbs. per person
  • Stuffing: 3/4-cup cooked per person
  • Potatoes: 1-2 potatoes per person
  • Gravy: 1/3 cup per person
  • Veggie Sides: 3-4 oz. per person
  • Cranberry Sauce: 1/4-cup per person
  • Pie: 1-2 slices per person (one pie feeds 6-8)
  • Rolls: 2 per person

That being said, Thanksgiving is a holiday where leftovers are always welcome, so when in doubt, make a feast! Once everyone’s had their fill, simply use clean takeout containers to pack individual meals for those who couldn’t make it or for yourself and guests to eat later on. Plus, you can always make some Turkey Pot Pie with any leftovers you keep!

5. Don’t Experiment with New Recipes on the Day-Of

We’re not saying that you can’t get creative in the kitchen, but if you’d like to add something new to your Thanksgiving menu, just be sure to give it a test-run first! You don’t want to be the one who ruins the mac and cheese for everybody! 

6. Don’t Overthink the Turkey

When it comes to the “main event” (a.k.a. the Turkey), you’re going to want something juicy and flavorful, but also fool-proof. So, with the right ingredients and some planning, you’ll be carving into a beautiful bird on Thanksgiving that will have everyone coming back for seconds (and thirds)!

Try out this No-Fuss Thanksgiving Turkey recipe from Tastes Better from Scratch which only has 11 simple ingredients and step-by-step instructions for even the most inexperienced cook to follow.

7. Start Early on Your Prep

If you’re working with limited space and appliances, you’ll want to avoid a mid-day meltdown by planning ahead and prepping dishes long before it’s time to eat. For instance, potatoes can be peeled the day before and stored in the fridge so that all that’s left the day-of is to boil and mash them.

Check out Delish’s Ultimate Thanksgiving Prep Timeline for more helpful hints!

8. Don’t Forget Beverages (and Ice!)

Mix up a batch of this perfect holiday sangria and set out options for everyone: beer, wine, iced tea, juices, soft drinks, and water. If alcoholic beverages aren’t within your budget, adding a BYOB (bring-your-own-beverage) announcement will give your guests enough heads-up so that they can purchase their own.

As for the ice, a good rule of thumb is to have at least one pound of ice per person. This covers the ice you’ll be serving in drinks and what you may need to keep beverages cold. 

9. Set Out Some Activities for Your Littlest Guests

While the turkey is in the oven and the pies are cooling, don’t let boredom become the main dish for the kids at your Thanksgiving feast. Here are 5 ways to make Thanksgiving fun for kids.

10. Ask Your Guests About the Food

Don’t be afraid to ask your guests what they thought about the spread after they’re done eating. Maybe the mashed potatoes had too much garlic in them, or perhaps your brother likes the cranberry sauce better than the jelly you put out. But, you won’t always know unless you ask!

This can be super helpful if you plan to cook for future events, so that you can continue to adapt your menu according to what your guests like or don’t like.

11. Remember to Enjoy Yourself and Your Company

Lastly (and most importantly), Thanksgiving is a time to enjoy the company of your loved ones. Enjoy the day and relax a little, knowing that you’ve prepared as much as you can and if disaster strikes, at least you’ll have a good story to tell around the table for years to come!

Have any Thanksgiving tips of your own? Share them in the comments below.

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