Hosting Thanksgiving dinner always sounds like a great idea in theory. But when the morning comes, you usually spiral into a pumpkin pie induced panic! Before you start dialing a caterer, check out these tips for a stress-free Turkey Day from Celebrity Party Planner Linnea Johansson.

Simple Ways to Plan Ahead

1) As an event planner I always make a schedule or “service chart” (as they call it in the business) for events I am planning that sums up the whole day, and what to do when. I have noticed this works well even for smaller at-home parties. So take a tip from the pros and do the same. Set a serving time and then count backwards on when to start prepping.

2) Plan your menu and don’t hesitate to ask guests to bring certain items such as Aunt Lydia’s apple pie.

3) When you go grocery shopping, make a list based on the menu. To save time, divide up the list based on the store layout so you don’t find yourself running back and forth. Put all dairy items in one section, all produce in another, etc.

4) Set your table and bar area the night before so you make sure it’s looking good and everything fits. If something’s missing you will have time to pick it up or ask someone to bring it.

Easy, Inexpensive Decorating Tips

1) Use potted plants that you already have, and tie a bow around the pot to spruce it up.

2) Another money saving idea is to simply create your own vase or votive candle holder by wrapping water glasses in decorative paper. Voila! You have a new vase and/or votive holder every time.

Use Extra Hands

1) Have a different task that you ask each guest to help with. This will make them feel involved and help you out as well. For example, someone can take care of the drinks before dinner, while another fills the water glasses/light candles on the table, and another takes care of coats as guest arrive.

2) If kids are at the party, have a task for them to keep them occupied while you’re cooking and ask one guest to oversee it.

Make a Smart Schedule

It’s always great to prep as many sides and desserts as possible the day before. But if you don’t have time for that, don’t sweat it and just divide it up to steps.

1) In the morning or night before, make any desserts and pie crust and bake them.

2) In the morning, prep your turkey and put it in the oven (count back time from serving, and add 30 minutes of resting time, then pop it in the oven.)

3) Prep and set out any before dinner snacks.

4) Prepare the stuffing and have it ready for the oven.

5) Start working on sides, such as sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and Brussels sprouts. Have them ready to put in the oven one hour beforehand.

6) 30 minutes before, make the gravy.

7) Finally, warm up bread and rolls.

Buy a Mix or Make it Homemade?

1) Do buy stuffing! But don’t bake it in the turkey. It just makes it take longer in the oven. Today you can buy great stuffing mixes and just bake in the oven.

2) Do buy cranberry sauce. You don’t have to make this from scratch, but don’t go for the regular can. Buy a nice organic or high quality cranberry sauce and then no one will notice the difference. A tip is to add a little fresh orange peel to spruce it up as well.

3) Don’t buy cool whip for the pies, whip you own cream. It’s easy and so good.

4) Do buy easy snacks such as cheese, spreads, and crackers or microwave popcorn. Flavor it with truffle oil and parmesan cheese for a great snack. Or try ginger snaps with gorgonzola. I know it sounds weird but it’s great, I promise!

5) Do make your own mashed potatoes. It tastes so much better and is really easy to make. Simply boil potatoes very soft, then add cream, butter, salt and pepper. Then mash with a whisk.

6) Do buy fresh herbs such as sage and parsley to flavor your turkey and add a little to the stuffing. They are the easier way to add great flavor to your dishes.

7) Do buy corn bread mix, or pre made corn bread/breads.

Tip: Make some coffee right after dinner so guests don’t dose off on you after the big meal.

Tips for a Quick Clean Up

1) Another tip that caterers usually do and I like to do as well, is set up an area for dirty dishes, so get them out of the kitchen and can deal with them later. This is especially nice if you have a big crowd over.

2) When the meal is finished, first take away all the leftovers and put them away in the fridge. Fill the dish washer with those big dishes from serving the food.

3) Have an area set up in the garage or mud room out of the way, with a bucket with soapy water for knives and forks and one larger bin with soapy water for plates. Then simply wash off the plates and utensils quickly under running water and place the utensils in the bucket and the plates in the bin. You get it out of the kitchen and can deal with it later that evening or next day and enjoy the rest of your evening.

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