I cooked a Thanksgiving dinner for 12 and didn't lose my cool – here's how

Monday, November 13, 2017
This year, I had the (maybe crazy) idea to host a Friendsgiving at our house for our friends. We invited about 15 of our friends – and 10 were able to make it! – to join us for a Friendsgiving event at our apartment and I set to menu planning. Cooking has become a really fun hobby for me lately, and I always love any chance to hit the grocery store.

But I knew that this would be a next-level experience than my usual dinners or the appetizers I've made for football viewing parties. I started prepping more than a week in advance, and I want to share what I learned / what worked best for me to keep things organized and in good shape in case you, too, are hosting a Friendsgiving or even Thanksgiving in your home this year. It is not easy but I do think it can be low stress and totally worth it.

Shoutout, by the way, to my boyfriend Patrick's mom, Andrea! Her Thanksgiving dinners are seriously amazing (and always huge!) and I always wondered how she kept things so organized and made sure everything made it into the oven on time. But I used her technique – spreadsheets! – and totally get it now.

Make a meal plan ahead of time.

God help you, don't wing it. Don't.

I used Google Sheets to meal plan. I split up what I was making and then linked to the recipes I planned to use so I wasn't scrambling through Pinterest at the last minute. This way I could read off to Patrick what I was planning to make and he could let me know what he thought, and I was ready to tell our friends what I was making too so they knew what gaps to fill in with whatever they were bringing.

(Because, yes, this was a potluck Friendsgiving. I'm just a control freak.)

Make sacrifices. You don't need to make everything from scratch.

I made three sacrifices for Friendsgiving, and one of them really hurt my soul, but I am really thankful that I did what I did for all three.

1) I was not going to make a turkey from scratch or dare to mess with a full turkey. 

Instead, we ordered a turkey breast from Honey Baked Ham and picked it up on the day of Friendsgiving. It was stress free and delicious. And I was not ready to learn how to make a turkey. I also don't have enough oven space!

2) I had planned to make stuffing from scratch. But then I saw that Trader Joe's had a stuffing mix in the store.

Sold! I do not like stuffing so I wasn't going to have it on the table, but Patrick does like stuffing so I didn't want to leave it out. I used the box mix and wasn't thrilled with how it turned out, but it was eaten and satisfied anyone's craving for stuffing, but I didn't have to kill myself prepping all of the fresh herbs and produce to get it ready. I also didn't have to make breadcrumbs from scratch, which I almost did. No thank you.

3) I did not make any desserts and instead bought some cookies from Trader Joe's.

And then, because I didn't make any desserts, our friends filled in my gaps and brought pies! It all worked out and the pies were, of course, delicious. I love making pumpkin pie but hey – it was one less thing for me to do.

Make your grocery list in a spreadsheet.

I knew I was going to have to go to at least three grocery stores (I ended up at four – damn you, Fresh Market, for your lack of asiago cheddar!) This was one of the best event management things I picked up from Andrea, who does make this intense of a grocery list when she's making a huge meal like Thanksgiving – it is so useful.

This was especially useful if you know you're going to have to hit multiple stores to get what you need. I couldn't make a specific list for each store because you never know when Fresh Market isn't going to have the cheese you need, so I organized it by category – basically organized by how stores are laid out! – and went from there. 

We also did our regular grocery shopping, so the list was super helpful to not miss a thing, and I had plenty of room to add things when I thought about it. Which was constant. I looked like a total dweeb with my clipboard and markers in the grocery aisle but hey. It worked.

Print your recipes out.

*clapping emoji x 100*

This was helpful for about 20 reasons, but here are a few: 

1) I like to annotate things and cross things off as I complete them.
2) I doubled a lot of recipes and therefore needed to adjust the totals.
3) I was making multiple things at once, and it would've been impossible to be switching back and forth between things on my laptop.
4) I also just didn't have the counter space for a laptop.
5) My hands were always covered in something gross, so not phone or iPad friendly, either.
6) I recruited a few of our guests at the end to help with some things and was able to just hand them a sheet of paper and let them go. 

Make a schedule in Google Sheets and print that out, too.

Jokes were made about my schedule, but damn if I didn't get dinner on the table by 3:40 p.m., only 10 minutes past my scheduled time – and my first Thanksgiving dinner ever, too. I am nothing if not hyper organized. 

On the morning of, I added a few more things to my schedule – that I needed to boil macaroni for the mac and cheese at 2 p.m., that Theo needed to go out at 2:15 p.m., etc. The schedule was pretty much mandatory to make sure I was on track. 

Do all the prep you can the night before, or earlier if possible.

With my printed out recipes, I was able to identify all of the produce that I needed to wash and cut the night before. I also am a big fan of recipes that can be made ahead of time, so I made both appetizers – the salsa and the pepperoni pinwheels – the night before so they were ready to go at 2:30 p.m. I could not have served hot appetizers! It wouldn't have worked. So I guess that was a "sacrifice" too, but the salsa and the pinwheels are my go-tos.

All of the produce was washed and ready for me to start cooking on Sunday morning. I also made sure all of my ingredients were laid out – measured out, too, if I could – and that my toppings for the baked potatoes were chopped up and ready.

The recipes I used:

Macaroni and cheese bites (PSA: these did not turn out well for us. tasted great, did not retain their cup shape!)


Have you ever hosted Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving at your house? How did it go?


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