How to Host Thanksgiving: Do’s and Don’ts

Here in the beautiful North, Thanksgiving is just three short weeks away.

In our home, this fall has been our absolute busiest ever (watch this space for a huge announcement coming soon) and there are just not enough hours in the day. Every day.

I know you’re also in the thick of the autumn hustle and bustle, which is why we need to start organizing ourselves for Thanksgiving sooner, rather than later.

Thanksgiving has been one of my favourite subjects to write about from the moment I began blogging. True fact: this fruit and herb stuffing recipe from nearly a decade ago is still my favourite accompaniment to roast turkey. And since we’re deep diving into the archives, I think it is time to bring back this apple pie. Oh and the pumpkin bread pudding, too.

How to Host Thanksgiving: Do’s and Don’ts

Since those early blogging days, I’ve featured all sorts of Thanksgiving content from leftover ideas to tips for hosting the event outdoors. Today’s post is a little different: it is a list of Do’s and Don’ts for the big day.

This isn’t etiquette advice! Instead you’ll find it’s extremely practical tips based on my experience of feeding a crowd on Thanksgiving Day for many years now.

Ready? Let’s do this.

Thanksgiving fridge

DO clean the fridge in advance. You will make space for all those BIG items: a turkey, a casserole of stuffing, pumpkin cheesecake, etc.  8 ways to maximize refrigerator storage capacity when entertaining is the post you need to help your fridge reach its true potential.

A thrifty Thanksgiving tablescape | Simple Bites #decorating #thanksgving #holiday #harvest

DON’T overdo the table. I’ve always set a minimalist table, white dishes punctuated by gorgeous fall produce and  simple stemware. Here’s my tutorial, if you can even call it that >> My thrifty Thanksgiving tablescape.


DO celebrate seasonal produce. Let it drive your menu and adorn your table. In doing so, you are supporting local farmers and enjoying the most healthy, flavourful foods of the season.

Sparkling Vanilla-Scented Apple Cider Punch | Simple Bites

DON’T offer a full bar. Instead stick to one seasonal punch for all, served with light appetizers and dessert, and a bottle or two of wine with dinner. This Sparking Vanilla-Scented Apple Cider Party Punch is my autumn go-to punch from September through New Year’s Eve.

Pumpkin tea light holders

DO get crafty – but only if it makes you happy. Fall crafts are almost a cliché, but if you enjoy carving pumpkins and turning leaves into garlands, Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday to embrace your creative side. Last year I turned these small white gourds into holders for tea lights and they were gorgeous on my minimalist dinner table.

Stuffing ingredients Thanksgiving

DO cook traditional family favourites, but make space to try new recipes, too. Normally I don’t encourage experimenting with new recipes when entertaining guests, but I think it’s okay to work a new side dish into the menu. In fact, I think you should! Try Honey Pomegranate Glazed Brussels Sprouts or Butternut Squash Gratin – and watch your kids embrace a new family favourite dish for fall.

DON’T go overboard on appetizers. Save room for the main event. And I’m talking about the side dishes, of course. A modest pickle and cheese plate with a few homemade crackers is simple and delicious.

Pumpkin pies

DON’T sweat the small stuff. Like the cracks in maple pumpkin pie in the photo above (trust me, they were just as delicious as without) or lumps in the gravy. Pulling a feast like this together is no small feat, so focus on everything that succeeded instead of the one thing that didn’t.

Squash soup tureen

DO start with a seasonal soup, served in a homemade squash tureen. Try Butternut Squash and Apple soup, which is always a crowd pleaser and can be made in advance and frozen. And here’s how to hollow out a big winter squash and turn in into a serving dish for your soup: How to make a soup tureen from a squash.

Smoked Thanksgiving turkey

DON’T worry about cooking the turkey. By following my foolproof, simple tutorial, you’ll be all set to tackle Thanksgiving’s main act. Hundreds of readers come back year after year to follow my method, with fantastic results (just read the comments!). Here’s the original tutorial; and here’s the printable version.

For something different, try a herb-brined barbecue smoked turkey.

walking in fall

DO take a walk before dessert. Get up, get outside and move around before you serve up those pies. Gather the kids, throw on rubber boots and enjoy the fresh autumn air.


DO shoot a family photo (but only if people want to). It takes a bit of planning, a LOT of wrangling, a little bossing and a tripod, but it’s all worth it in the end. Those kids grow up so fast. And who knows, we may not be all together next year…


DO delegate dessert. If family and friends want to contribute something to the Thanksgiving table, dessert is the best option. As the host, you should take on the main event: turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing and sides, so they stay hot without getting overcooked. Desserts are easily transportable, and your guests can prepare them in advance.

DON’T despair over leftovers. They are a gift! In fact, gifting leftovers is one of my favourite things to do with them. Here are a few more ideas for leftovers. Be sure to bookmark this one >> How to reheat turkey leftovers and keep them moist. And did you know? Croutons from leftover stuffing are one of the best things ever.

White pumpkin as a planter

DO turn that soup tureen into a planter. When the soup is eaten and dinner is over, fill that winter squash with dirt and plant some leafy fall foliage in there for seasonal decoration. It makes a great planter for the front stoop.

Anything I am missing? What are your strong Do’s and Don’t for this holiday?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. I know you’ve been told this before, but your fridge is a thing of beauty. Also I love the squash planter at the end. Amazing! Beautiful photos!

  2. These are great! Thank you! Actually, I’m trying to think of all the dishes I want to include at Thanksgiving this year. Maybe write up a grocery list……

  3. Shawnna Griffin says

    hey girl- great tips!

  4. Take the picture! My brother-in-law was taken from us in a car accident a few years ago. The giant group family photos from Thanksgiving dinners prior to his death are a treat to review. We used to all complain about having to stand in a line and wait for someone to take the picture. The amount of griping about having our picture taken is almost non-existent now.
    Just take the darn picture! 🙂

  5. Great article, I enjoyed it! One thing puzzles me: in the first photo, why is an antler on the table?

    • Hey Jan! You ask a good question. Those are called ‘sheds’ and they are used decoratively, much like leaves, pinecones or wildflowers. I love bringing pieces of nature indoors for a (free) rustic decoration.

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