Hosting Thanksgiving dinner can feel like a big chore. With a bit of planning and some creativity, you can feed a crowd of a dozen or more with these tips for hosting a big Thanksgiving dinner.
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I was invited to the new At Home store in Fort Worth and received some complimentary products to facilitate this post in 2015.
Thanksgiving is a holiday that is all about food and family. It’s my favorite – and not just because it often coincides with my birthday. I love fall food and being a hostess. Don’t get me wrong. Planning a big get-together always stresses me out majorly, but the result is worth it.
To me, the best way to show how much I care about all those people is to cook them up a big, delicious meal. We hang out and eat and laugh. We reminisce about all of the good times and forget about the bad ones.
Lest you think that Thanksgiving at my house is a Norman Rockwell painting, stress is a big problem sometimes. I like to be organized and I like to be in charge. I also like to shop, so I headed to At Home to do some dinner party planning.
Keep the kids busy while you cook or entertain everyone at the kids’ table with the Printable Thanksgiving Coloring & Activity Book. It includes 12 pages of puzzles, games, and fun!
Shopping At Home
I picked up some yellow melamine bowls and a serving tray. I also found these gorgeous leaf plates. They are the perfect size for shared items, like bread, although I think they are supposed to be salad plates.
Emily Post would hate me. Not only do I not know what items are used for what type of foods, but I also don’t really care. But I think that’s the great thing about hosting: You can be as formal or casual as you like. You make the rules at your own home.
To tie it all together, I picked up a pretty green pumpkin.
At Home’s Thanksgiving and Fall Headquarters online has more than just products for hosting a big Thanksgiving. It shows ways that you can incorporate those goodies into your holiday celebration. I found pretty pumpkins in dozens of styles and colors, so if my style doesn’t match yours, there are plenty of others to choose from.
Hosting a big Thanksgiving dinner
So how did I make it all come together for hosting a big Thanksgiving dinner? Here are my tips.
1. Start with a big table.
If you have a formal dining room, you may already have this one covered. If not, no worries. Our kitchen table seats 4-6 and we don’t have a separate dining room. There isn’t room for a party of 12+ to comfortably gather around our small kitchen table, but spreading out across the house isn’t great for conversation either.
We have two 8-foot folding tables that we use for craft shows and yard sales. End-to-end, that’s plenty of room. You could also push together a few card tables or divide your party into a kids’ table and adults’ table.
2. Get outside.
If your big tables don’t fit indoors, set up in the backyard or on the patio. Here in Texas, the temperature around the end of November is usually in the 60s or 70s. That’s not too chilly, but an outdoor space heater or a fire pit would warm things up if you need it.
If you live somewhere that’s colder, outdoors might still work but check with your guests on their comfort level. Again, a patio space heater might do the trick.
If you are planning to eat al fresco, be sure to let your guests know in advance so they can dress for the weather.
3. Use fabric for a tablecloth.
Finding a nice tablecloth that fits a 16-foot table isn’t going to be easy or cheap. Instead, purchase fabric by the yard and look for a coupon or sale.
If you have a gorgeous tablecloth you’re dying to use, it can still be layered over the fabric and centered like a runner. Alternatively, layer and overlap several matching tablecloths for a boho vibe.
4. Mix and match dishes and linens.
Unless you have Martha Stewart’s basement, you probably don’t have a matching dinner service for 12-16 (or more). Mix and match your everyday dishes, your favorite plastic, and a few pretty new pieces, like these yellow bowls I got from At Home. The same goes for flatware and napkins.
Aim for a color scheme or at least pick the main color and it will all look intentional. I love the way my table incorporates fall colors while still standing out against the natural backdrop. Everything is also neutral enough that it can be used year-round (except the leaf plates, of course).
5. Style a great centerpiece.
For my centerpiece, I used an owl I already had and picked up this green pumpkin from At Home. I love how it matches my dishes! The big, yellow serving tray matches the bowls from At Home too. I grabbed some silk flowers for my photoshoot, but I think fresh mums would be gorgeous.
6. Add some warmth.
They won’t keep you warm, but a few tea lights and candles are festive. The flickering lights really set the mood when the sky is a little gray. It can give your table a cozy, homey feeling.
Avoid using scented candles. They might attract bugs outdoors and overpower the smell of your meal.
7. Incorporate natural elements.
Thanksgiving is a celebration of the harvest, so natural elements seem… natural. I added a few real mini-pumpkins to the table. The natural wood bowls that Hubby made are on either end. You could also fill a clear vase with popcorn, acorns, or other found objects.
8. Use that slow cooker.
I don’t know why, but everything I make for Thanksgiving cooks for a different amount of time at a different temperature. You can either pre-cook things and keep them warm in the slow cooker or find recipes that can be made entirely in a Crock-Pot.
I have a triple slow cooker that’s fantastic for keeping a variety of side dishes warm.
9. Say yes to a potluck.
If like me, you prefer to be the boss, delegating responsibilities to other people can sound like a terrible idea. (Nothing personal, y’all.) Believe me, I’ve tried cooking for 12+ all by myself and it usually involves tears. Make your favorite recipes yourself, but let guests bring something too.
Your guests will feel good about contributing. You won’t have as much to schedule in the oven. Everyone will be happy.
10. BYOC: Bring your own chair.
If you don’t have a table that seats 12, you probably don’t have enough matching chairs for your party either. I rounded up all the odd pieces from around my house for a quirky-fun look. I also usually ask guests to bring a few chairs too so that I’m sure we have enough.
While you’re gathering chairs, give each one a test sit. Nobody wants to sit at an odd chair that sits low at the table. If you have the space to store them, stock up on metal folding chairs. Since I first wrote this post, I’ve got a few of these folding chairs from Target.
11. Don’t be too formal.
I’m always tempted to print cute name cards, make a menu, and set up an elaborate buffet. It’s all just for fun for me, but I don’t want my guests to think I’m throwing a formal party. The eclectic mix of everything definitely goes a long way towards saying “just relax and have fun.”
12. Start a few traditions.
Hubby and I both grew up in families that welcomed anyone and everyone to dinner. If you didn’t have somewhere else to be for Thanksgiving dinner you were welcome at our house. We keep that tradition going by inviting friends of friends or students at the nearby grad school who can’t fly home. It makes for excellent conversations and has led to new friendships.
This year I am starting a new tradition. I’m getting a white fabric tablecloth. I’ll have the kids put their hands in paint and leave handprints on the fabric. Every year, we’ll add a few more and it will become a beautiful reminder as the kids grow.
Update: I shared a DIY tutorial for my Kids’ Handprint DIY Tablecloth as a guest at Ideas for the Home by Kenarry.
Check out some other fun and creative ideas on One Mama’s Daily Drama: