Planning Your First Thanksgiving Dinner [25 Delicious Recipes!]

by Maris Callahan on November 19, 2010

First Thanksgiving Dinner
So, you’re planning your first Thanksgiving. The meal of all meals, the marathon of holiday dinners. If you’re a beginner cook or if you don’t have a lot of experience cooking large meals, preparing a Thanksgiving dinner is no doubt, a daunting task.

Thanksgiving might fall on November 25 this year, but the holiday starts well before the fourth Thursday of every month. If you’re new to the game of cooking for crowds in the double-digits (and aren’t we all at some point?) follow some simple planning tips and look to the menu ideas below to dazzle your dinner guests and welcome the holiday season with gusto.

Prep Ahead:

  • Plan your menu at least 5 days before Thanksgiving. Once you know what you’re going to serve, pull all your recipes together in one place – either an Excel spreadsheet or print them out. From there, you can identify what else you need and fill in menu gaps accordingly.
  • Make a shopping list of everything you need to minimize trips to the store for “one more thing.”
  • Stock your pantry with essentials – you won’t want to run out of chicken stock, butter, olive oil, salt or pepper on the big day and most stores close early, if they’re open at all.
  • Plan to serve a combination of classic family favorites (I always make some form of cranberry bread) and new recipes – last year I made a butternut squash gratin that was so rich and heavy that it probably won’t make the table every year, but your guests will appreciate new flavors.
  • Buy your wine, beer or liquor several days in advance. The stores will be packed the days before Thanksgiving and that’s one thing that won’t spoil.
  • If you’re making stuffing from scratch (it’s easy!) toast your bread cubes 4-5 days before the big meal. Since the base of stuffing is, traditionally, stale bread, you can cut and toast your bread cubes up to 5 days in advance - just store them in an airtight container until you’re ready to use.

Setting the Table

  • Take stock of your plates, napkins, glasses, silverware and chairs – yes, chairs. If you’re running low on essential items, ask your guests to contribute. If you are just starting out, no one will expect you to have a fully stocked kitchen.
  • If your guests are traveling from afar or you don’t want to institute a BYO-Plate policy, look to your local yellow pages for affordable party rental companies that can provide you with everything you need to serve your meal.
  • Instead of buying a fancy centerpiece, look to you local craft store for simple candles – pillar or tapers – and spray paint them in a festive gold or silver. Arange them on a simple tray and decorate with pinecones. Alternatively, you can do the same with seasonal gourds or pumpkins.

Menu Ideas


Turkey/Poultry: (TIP: If you’re cooking for 2-4 people, don’t feel like you have to make a whole bird!)

Starchy Side Dishes:

Fruit & Veggie Based Side Dishes:


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

daryl November 19, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Fantastic post!!!


chez November 19, 2010 at 5:55 pm

You are ROCKING with these posts. Love them!!! Thanks for the apple crisp love – it was pretty amazing!


Lael Hazan @educatedpalate November 21, 2010 at 6:28 pm

What a great post! Brilliant organization, I’m very impressed. Of course, I could never be so organized, but I can dream…….


Melissa@IWasBornToCook November 23, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Great post! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, Maris!


Cecile November 24, 2011 at 10:54 am

No need to search the Web. It’s all here. Thanks! Happy Thanksgiving!


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