27 Simple Thanksgiving Hosting Hacks To Help Ease the Holiday Stress

Pumpkin Pan Pie
Photo: Blaine Moats

Count your blessings rather than your to-do list tasks! Hosting Thanksgiving may seem like an overwhelming task, but it doesn't have to be. We're giving you our best hosting tips, tricks, and hacks for a stress-free holiday, complete with Thanksgiving menus and recipes that boast an easy cleanup. No matter who you host for the holiday, you'll be able to actually enjoy time outside the kitchen with these quick-and-easy Thanksgiving ideas.

01 of 27

Rely on Pre-Planned Thanksgiving Menus

Hasselback Potatoes with Seasoned Breadcrumbs
Jason Donnelly

If you're hosting Thanksgiving and have guests who have dietary restrictions, don't stress about reinventing the meal. Our vegetarian Thanksgiving menu, low-calorie Thanksgiving menu, and gluten-free Thanksgiving menu offer straightforward recipes (like these Hasselback Potatoes) to cater to every allergy and food preference. If you need only small substitutions, just pick-and-choose the Thanksgiving dishes that best fit your holiday celebration.

02 of 27

Put Out a Veggie Platter for Kids

Hummus Veggies Turkey Face
Hannah Bigot

Piling healthy vegetables into a turkey-shaped assortment will delight young guests who are sure to gobble up this nutritious hummus appetizer spread. Start your Thanksgiving meal with our colorful recipe by layering celery, sweet peppers, cucumbers, radishes, carrots, and grape tomatoes in the shape of a turkey. Top off the appetizer tray with piped hummus in the center of the veggies, and you won't have a single person asking when dinner will be ready.

03 of 27

Make a Giant Pumpkin Pan Pie

Pumpkin Pan Pie
Blaine Moats

Don't stress yourself by making multiple pumpkin pies this year. Instead, make your traditional pumpkin pie go even further by baking one extra-large version with double the portions. Your Thanksgiving guests won't mind the rectangular pumpkin pie slices if it means there's enough for seconds (or thirds!) this year.

04 of 27

Prep Overnight Refrigerator Rolls

Overnight Refrigerator Rolls
Jason Donnelly

The best tip for creating a delicious Thanksgiving feast, sans-excess stress? Rely on make-ahead options for the big day! If you're used to homemade Thanksgiving rolls, try our Test Kitchen's easy-prep trick to save time during the holiday. The dough for our soft, buttery dinner rolls can be mixed together the night before Thanksgiving so all that's left to do the day of is shape and bake. For a special touch, customize your carbs with whole wheat, Parmesan-herb, and salt and pepper varieties.

05 of 27

Stick to White Plates

diy fall rustic table gold silverware greenery
Adam Albright

Crisp white plates ($5, Target) are our entertaining secret. Food looks its best on white plates, and the neutral color is easy to mix and match with your favorite holiday table settings. No matter the dish, your Thanksgiving feast will shine on simple dishes.

06 of 27

Embrace a Store-Bought Shortcut

Cinnamon Roll Sweet Potato Pie
Blaine Moats

Our favorite store-bought shortcut? Store-bought pie crust. Simply unwrap and fill—no one has to know you didn't make the base of this spiral-topped sweet potato pie yourself!

07 of 27

Prepare Your Pans

assortment of baking pans
Scott Little

Ensure you've got all the essential kitchen tools, including pans, utensils, and measuring sets, you need before you start baking. We like to set them out and label each one by dish with a sticky note. Or, to make clean-up even easier, you can purchase one-time-use pans at the grocery store.

08 of 27

Cover Your Turkey in Bacon

Bacon Onion Turkey
Andy Lyons

Worried about a dry turkey ruining your holiday meal? Cover your Thanksgiving bird in bacon and relax. The flavorful bacon will baste the meat and crisp the outside to succulent perfection. This easy twist on your holiday main course will delight guests, and may even become the newest tradition for your family feast.

09 of 27

Welcome Guests with a Cozy Mug of Mulled Wine

Danish-Style Mulled Wine
Rebekah Molloy

Nothing says, "Welcome in from the cold!" better than a big hug—and a big mug of a warm drink. We're wild about this customizable mulled wine because it can stay warm all day in your slow cooker ($20, Target), and since it can be dressed up with your favorite (or leftover!) wine, spices, fruit, liquor, and fruit juice. Just follow our ratios for a ridiculously tasty punch recipe for the 21+ crowd.

10 of 27

Make Your Stuffing in a Muffin Tin

Rosemary, Cherry, and Ham Stuffing Cups
Andy Lyons

Make individual Thanksgiving stuffing portions and bake them up in an easy-to-clean muffin tin ($10, Walmart). With this method, everyone will get the perfect combination of crispy edges and a creamy center. If your guests favor a savory Thanksgiving stuffing, try our apple, bacon, and onion recipe. If you prefer a sweet kick, we recommend the rosemary, ham, and cherry-based cups.

11 of 27

Let Guests Play Mixologist

gin limes decorated bar cart
Peter Krumhardt

There's no need to play bartender at Thanksgiving. Set up a well-stocked bar cart and let your friends and family do the rest. If they need a nudge in the right direction, our popular pumpkin pie nog is always a hit during holiday parties, or print out instructions for these 10 cocktails that pair well with Thanksgiving and let your guests shake up their favorite. Stock up on these essentials for your bar cart:

  • Liquors like vodka, tequila, whiskey, gin, and rum.
  • Fun mixers like club soda, tonic water, fruit juice, and simple syrups.
  • Garnishes like olives and fresh fruit.
  • Basics including ice, cocktail napkins, and straws!
12 of 27

Assemble the Appetizer

almonds and strawberries and more on charcuterie plate
Carson Downing

Skip the fancy Thanksgiving appetizers and assemble a crowd-pleasing charcuterie tray. Everything comes from the grocery store, so you can unwrap and assemble in minutes. We like to include a few cured meats, two or three cheeses, crackers, marinated olives, and mustard. To elevate this concept slightly and with just a little extra prep, warm up ooey-gooey raclette cheese in a cast-iron skillet ($9, Walmart) and serve with some steamed veggies.

13 of 27

Keep Your Centerpieces Simple

Rose Candleholders Fall Centerpiece
Blaine Moats

A simple platter filled with seasonal gourds gives the table a festive feel without breaking the bank. Assemble these Thanksgiving centerpieces lightening-fast with just a few sprigs of grass, autumn gourds, and pillar candles.

14 of 27

Give the Kids Something to Do

Thanksgiving placemats
Kathryn Gamble Lozier

Keep the kids entertained on Thanksgiving Day with our free printable holiday place mats. All you need are pencils and crayons, and kids can amuse themselves filling out silly puzzles and drawing a turkey feast of their own!

15 of 27

Make Individual Mason Jar Pies

Mason Jar Lid Pie
Matthew Clark

With the help store-bought pie crust and Mason jar lids, every Thanksgiving host can whip together miniature pies in just 15 minutes. Fill your individual pies with an apple or pumpkin filling, then stick them into your convection oven (saving the larger oven for the turkey). This easy dessert recipe will quickly fill your home with the sweet smell of traditional Thanksgiving desserts.

16 of 27

Or Try a Make-Ahead Trifle

Pumpkin Bread Trifle
Carson Downing

Can't decide between a cake or a creamy custard? Combine both into one simple yet showy trifle that brings the best of pumpkin bread and (bourbon-spiked!) cream to the table. Build it up to eight hours ahead, then refrigerate until it's time to serve the sweets.

17 of 27

Say Yes to Your Microwave

Gingerbread Mug Cake
Con Poulos

Short on oven space? Turn to your trusty microwave for Thanksgiving dessert. These quick gingerbread mug cakes steam while they cook, so they're extra moist and delicious.

18 of 27

Love Your Slow Cooker

Slow Cooker Chestnut-Bacon Stuffing
Jason Donnelly

Free up stove and oven space with our Thanksgiving entertaining secret—the slow cooker ($16, Target)! We especially love it for hands-off dishes like mashed potatoes. Luckily, our popular stuffing recipe is slow-cooker friendly, which makes it a no-brainer pick for your Thanksgiving feast.

19 of 27

And Your Pressure Cooker

Pressure Cooker Maple-Bacon Brussels Sprouts
Jason Donnelly

Hello, Brussels sprouts with just 3 minutes of cook time! And with zero requirements on oven space. We're obsessed with these sweet and savory honey-mustard and bacon sprouts so much that we'll be serving them year round—and at every Thanksgiving dinner.

20 of 27

Cover the Table in Kraft Paper

coloring table paper kids
Lucy Schaeffer

This shortcut Thanksgiving tablecloth is perfect for hosting the holidays. Set out crayons and let your guests color all over it, or encourage them to color something they are thankful for this holiday season. When it comes time to clean up after Thanksgiving dinner, simply remove and toss it away!

21 of 27

Skip Fancy Silverware

forks silverware
Greg Scheidemann

Keep the silver stored until you're hosting a small holiday gathering. It will save you time handwashing and polishing the silver—and keeps the vibe casual yet chic. We like to mix and match everyday utensils for the Thanksgiving feast to meet the needs of a crowd.

22 of 27

Use Mason Jar Glasses

Tres Leches Hot Chocolate in mason jar
Jason Donnelly

Move over, fancy stemware—we're serving up Thanksgiving drinks in Mason jars ($5, Michaels) this year. The jars are inexpensive and easy to clean, and can be used year-round! Fill them with perked-up water, hot chocolate, or punch; you can't go wrong.

23 of 27

Forget a Fancy Roasting Rack

turkey thanksgiving vegetables
Amy Allen

There's no need to buy a special roasting pan just for Thanksgiving. For a perfectly cooked bird, layer a large pan with cut vegetables like celery, carrots, onion, and garlic. Place your turkey on top, and you've got our favorite way to roast.

24 of 27

One-Pan Good Gravy

turkey fat
Andy Lyons

Don't even think about dirtying another dish. Just make your gravy recipe right in the roasting pan! Simply skim off the turkey fat using a spoon, and add any flavorings you like.

25 of 27

Finally Use That Poultry Seasoning For More Than the Bird

Spoon Bread Dressing
Blaine Moats

Cookbook author, TV host, and chef Carla Hall is a master at utilizing ingredients in multiple ways so you don't stock up and only use 'em once. (We're looking at you, tahini!) Rather than calling for a handful of different spices to season her corn-studded spoon bread, she asks you to dig out the poultry seasoning and salt. That's it! Finally, a reason to use the savory seasoning blend for more than the bird alone.

26 of 27

Dress Up Frozen Cranberries

Cranberry Sauce Quince Pear
Blaine Moats

Can the can this year. But instead of worrying about if your fresh cranberries are, well, actually fresh, opt for frozen. That way you can stock up months in advance, keep the berries on ice, then boil them up beautifully in this fresh, fruit-infused sauce.

Test Kitchen Tip: Feel free to craft this cranberry sauce up to two weeks in advance and chill, covered, in the refrigerator until the holiday meal.

27 of 27

Send Overnight Guests Off in Sweet Style with a Pressure Cooker Brunch

portioned blueberry-french toast casserole ishes
Andy Lyons

Why play short-order cook on Black Friday morning when you can employ your trusty pressure cooker ($50, Walmart) or Instant Pot instead? Wake up overnight guests with the enticing scent of French toast—minus the dipping and flipping. This cozy and warm recipe cooks in just 25 minutes and will fuel everyone up for a day of travel or shopping.

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