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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