Thanksgiving Day is right around the corner, bringing with it the mother of all dinner parties—and, likely, some stress, too, if you’re the one hosting.

How many years have you been vowing NOT to let the big meal stress you out? And yet, a feeling of calm and Thanksgiving can’t seem to coexist.

As leaders in event planning services in the DC area, we know that a big holiday party is a lot of work, but we have some tips to relieve stress so that even the host can enjoy the festivities and not feel too overwhelmed.

The key is to plan ahead of time. Prepare in advance and give yourself deadlines. Everything that can be done ahead of time definitely should be done instead of waiting until the day of your event and feeling your blood pressure skyrocket. It is impossible to get all of it done in one day before the guests arrive.

Don’t forget about these seven things when preparing for your Thanksgiving party.

1. Buy Your Turkey Weeks in Advance

If you wait until the day before Thanksgiving to pick up your turkey, it’s going to be slim pickings, so do not procrastinate. You don’t want to be stuck with the reject turkeys or, worse, no turkey at all. Write it on your calendar, put a reminder on your phone: DO NOT FORGET TO GET A TURKEY EARLY!

2. Thaw That Turkey!

This is something people often forget to do, which causes stress on a whole new level. How can you have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner without a turkey? You were so diligent in getting your turkey in advance, don’t negate that by forgetting to take it out of the freezer.

It usually takes about 24 hours of fridge thawing for every 5 pounds of frozen turkey. For example, plan on four full days of thawing in the refrigerator for a 20-pound turkey. Keep the turkey wrapped and in a baking dish or roasting pan, which should be checked and drained daily.

3. Prepare Some Dishes Ahead of Time

Some things can be made ahead of time without compromising the quality and freshness of the food such as cakes, pies and casseroles. All three of these can be frozen and thawed without anyone noticing a significant difference in quality.

4. Give Each Guest an Assignment

Just because you’re hosting, does not mean you have to cook ALL the food. Doing it all is way too overwhelming. Utilize your friends and family as much as possible. Give your most reliable guests the more important dishes and the less reliable guests things you already have but just needs extras of such as wine, sparkling cider, plates, utensils, or a side dish.

Here’s a list of things to assign:

  • Wine, sparkling cider, cocktails, juice
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Bread and butter/rolls
  • Pie, ice cream, cobbler
  • Salad
  • Fruit dish
  • Steamed veggies
  • Casseroles
  • Cranberries

Keep Track of the Food Assignments

Keep track of who will bring what so you know exactly what to cook and what to remind everyone to bring. Someone will inevitably forget what they were assigned, and you’ll be able to remind them because of the very organized list you made. You don’t want five people showing up with the same side. Send a text to everyone a few days before your event to remind them of what they agreed to bring. If someone suddenly says they cannot bring their item, at least now you have a little time to get it yourself or ask someone else.

Get a Headcount

Get your RSVPs ahead of time so you know how many kids and adults will be attending your dinner. This will allow you to properly plan seating arrangements. How many tables and chairs are needed? How much food will you need to prepare? Are there enough kids to have a separate kids table? Make sure everyone has a seat and provide some extras in case someone shows up unexpectedly. Decorate the tables ahead of time and decide if you want to have name tags to place everyone in a specific spot. Maybe you want to keep certain family members as far away from each other as possible.

Keep the House Clean

Clean your house in the days leading up to your event so you’re not scrambling to get everything clean while worrying about cooking. It’s also a good idea to clean the kitchen as you cook instead of piling up dishes and being stuck washing and cleaning as your guests are trickling in. Accept help from those who offer to help clean up after dinner. It’s their way of contributing and pitching in. They wouldn’t ask if they didn’t mean it.

Thanksgiving is meant to be an enjoyable holiday filled with friends, family and food. It is not meant to be a stressful occasion. Make sure to plan ahead of time, be organized and take it step by step so you’re not scrambling to figure out the arrangements the day of your event.

We love Thanksgiving and would be happy to offer our event planning services if you want us to shoulder the stress and plan a wonderful event for you. Whether it be for a large family gathering, community social, or pre-Thanksgiving corporate event, we’re here to offer our expertise. And remember: calories don’t count on Thanksgiving!