How to Host a Thanksgiving Dinner

Ah, Thanksgiving – a time for gratitude, delicious food (hello, pumpkin pie!), and time with friends and family.

But as much as I love it, I know how stressful it can be to host.

There’s so much to consider, after all. From the decorations and drinks to the appetizers, dinner, and dessert, it can get overwhelming.

So, if you’re nervous and wondering how to host a thanksgiving dinner, check out my tips below.

Thanksgiving Table

Setting the Scene: Decorations

You don’t need to decorate for Thanksgiving. Your friends and family will be grateful and happy to simply eat good food in good company. 

But if you want to decorate, I do have a few simple ideas.

For example, you could pick a color scheme and make sure everything matches. That includes the blankets, lights, table cloths, and napkins.

I also recommend keeping things simple. You don’t want too much, and there are some simple and festive things you can add to your house to make it more festive.

Think pumpkins and fall fruits. Instead of a vase full of lemons, you could have mini pumpkins or oranges.

Want some more ideas? Keep reading!

Tea candle holders

(DARJEN Gold Votive Candle Holders Set)

Candles and Lights

If you’re not hosting kids (or young kids, at least), you can’t go wrong with candles.

  • Tea Lights and Holders - I love tea lights and you’ll find them in big packs in a bunch of different colors. Some are even fragrant!

Check the dollar store or amazon and there are some super pretty candle holders, too.

I love the ones above because they’re colorful, on theme, and just super pretty. Here’s a link to them on amazon. They’re under around $40 for a set of 36, which I think is awesome.

But if you want something cheaper, these super simple glass holders are under $20 for 30 pieces.

  • LED Lights - Don’t want an open flame? Try battery LED candles or fairy lights, instead! It’s a terrific way to use those Christmas lights.

Just lay them on tables or drape them over the curtain rods. Easy peasy.

House Decor

As well as candles, there are a number of adorable and easy ways to make your house festive for Thanksgiving day.

  • Apples and Cinnamon Sticks - the adorable design by Frugal Coupon Living would make an adorable centerpiece. But you could also place it on the fireplace or coffee table.

It does look extra effective set out in a line. But you could try it on a round plate or even a square plate. And it doesn’t even need to be that big.

Maybe make a few smaller plates and set them around the living room. How easy would that be?

  • Pine Cones in Wood - One Kind Design has some really awesome ideas for Thanksgiving decor. But I just love the rustic look of the pine cones in the hollowed out wood

If you wanted to, you could spray the pine cones gold or orange. But really, they look super cute as they are.

  • Pumpkin Vase - how have I never thought about using a pumkin as a vase? I mean, look at that thing!

It might not be the best long-term idea. But for one day, I think it’s as cute as it gets. My Mommy Style used a big pumpkin, and it’s beyond stunning.

But you could easily make something similar with smaller pumpkins. How sweet would they look with succulents?

Thanksgiving decor ideas

Table Decor

With a simple white table cloth and festive napkins, your table will look great. But it’s also a terrific place to set the scene.

You could go for a Thanksgiving table cloth and maybe even fancy plates for the occasion. Add one of those decor ideas above and you’re all set.

Or, try one of these budget-friendly table decoration ideas:

  • Brown Paper and Leaves - It might sound odd, but the kitchn’s idea of using brown paper as a table runner in genius.

It’s rustic and simple. Plus, it doubles as something for the kids to draw on!

  • Pine Cone Place Holders - if you have a crowd coming and want assigned seating, the pine cones below with name tags is probably the easiest way to do it.

You can even get the kids involved! Have them collect the cones and then all you need is a few paper tags. Simple but effective.

Thanksgiving Table Decor

Kickstarters: Appetizers & Starters

Once you have the house ready, it’s time to think about the food!

And as important as the main event is, you can’t host Thanksgiving without appetizers and bite-sized snacks.

When curating a selection of starters, there are several things to keep in mind. 

Think about the flavors and textures, and the balance between light and rich. 

And, of course, consider the ease of preparation and serving. After all, you want to enjoy the celebration as much as your guests! 

So, here are a few options. Make one or make them all! No matter what, I know you’ll love them.

  1. Mini Stuffed Mushrooms: Hollow out button mushrooms and stuff with a mixture of cream cheese, garlic, breadcrumbs, and finely chopped spinach. Bake until golden.
  2. Cranberry Brie Bites: Cut ready made puff pastry into squares and gently press them into greased muffins tins. Add a small piece of brie cheese and a dollop of cranberry sauce, then bake until the cheese is melted.
  3. Pumpkin Hummus: Blend classic hummus with pumpkin puree and a pinch of cinnamon for a festive twist. Serve with pita chips or veggie sticks.
  4. Cheesy Spinach and Artichoke Dip: Mix together cooked spinach, chopped artichoke hearts, cream cheese, mayonnaise, grated parmesan, garlic, salt, and pepper. Bake until bubbly and golden. Serve with tortilla chips.
  5. Pumpkin Ricotta Crostinis: Spread ricotta cheese over toasted baguette slices, top with a dollop of pumpkin puree, and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and honey.
  6. Bacon-Wrapped Dates: Stuff pitted dates with blue cheese, then wrap each one with half a slice of bacon. Secure with a toothpick and bake until bacon is crispy.
Whipped Goat Cheese Dip with bacon

Whipped Goat Cheese Dip

Dip is always a crowd-pleaser. And this whipped goat cheese dip is tangy, salty, meaty, and loaded with sweet caramelized onions.

Here’s what you need to make it:

For the Goat Cheese Dip

  • 8 oz goat cheese, at room temperature
  • 4 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the Toppings

  • 4 strips of bacon
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • Extra thyme leaves for garnish

Follow this link for the whole dip recipe and method.

Cranberry Mule Cocktails on a tray

Sip & Savor: Drinks

We can’t have appetizers and a full feast without drinks!

After all, what’s a festive table without an array of drinks to raise a toast to gratitude, love, and togetherness? 

Whether you’re catering to kids, searching for a perfect communal punch, or looking to warm up, I’ve got you covered. 

Just keep in mind, if you make alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink, you’ll need to keep them separate. 

For the Kids:

Apple-Cranberry Fizz

  • Ingredients: Apple juice, cranberry juice, sparkling water, and apple slices for garnish.
  • Instructions: Mix equal parts apple and cranberry juice in a glass. Top off with sparkling water and garnish with apple slices.

Pumpkin Pie Milkshake

  • Ingredients: Heavy cream, powdered sugar, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla ice cream, milk, pumpkin puree, maple syrup, ice, and caramel sauce.
  • Instructions: Follow this link for the full ingredient list and method.


Autumn Harvest Punch

  • Ingredients: Apple cider, cranberry juice, ginger ale, orange slices, cranberries, and a splash of lemon juice.
  • Instructions: In a large bowl, mix together the apple cider, cranberry juice, and a splash of lemon juice. Just before serving, add ginger ale, orange slices, and cranberries for garnish.

Something Hot:

Spiced Hot Chocolate

  • Ingredients: Milk, unsweetened cocoa powder, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and whipped cream for topping.
  • Instructions: Heat the milk in a saucepan without letting it boil. Whisk in cocoa powder, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Serve hot with whipped cream on top.

Warm Apple Cider

  • Ingredients: Apple cider, cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, and orange slices.
  • Instructions: Simmer apple cider with spices and orange slices for about 10 minutes. Strain and serve warm.


Cranberry Mule

  • Ingredients: Vodka, cranberry juice, lime juice, ginger beer, and fresh cranberries for garnish.
  • Instructions: In a copper mug, combine vodka, cranberry juice, and lime juice. Fill the mug with ice and top off with ginger beer. Garnish with lime wedges and fresh cranberries.

Pumpkin Spice Martini

  • Ingredients: Vanilla vodka, pumpkin spice creamer, pumpkin puree, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
  • Instructions: Shake all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a sprinkle of nutmeg.
Bourbon Maple Apple Cider Cocktail

Bourbon Maple Apple Cider

One of my go-to drinks for Thanksgiving is this sweet bourbon and apple cider cocktail. It’s smooth, warming, and incredibly easy to make.

Ingredients (for 2):

  • 4 oz bourbon
  • 8 oz apple cider (preferably fresh and unfiltered)
  • 2 oz pure maple syrup
  • 1 oz fresh lemon juice
  • Ice cubes
  • 2 cinnamon sticks (for garnish, optional)
  • 2 orange slices (for garnish, optional)


  1. In a cocktail shaker, combine the bourbon, apple cider, maple syrup, and lemon juice. Fill the shaker halfway with ice cubes.
  2. Shake the mixture well until the outside of the shaker feels cold (about 15-20 seconds).
  3. Strain the cocktail into two glasses filled with ice.
  4. Garnish each drink with a cinnamon stick and an apple slice.
  5. Serve immediately and enjoy!
Thanksgiving turkey, rack of lamb, salmon

The Feast 

Now is the fun part!

No matter what you choose to serve for Thanksgiving, your guests will love it. That includes pizza, ordering Chinese, or a platter of grilled cheese sandwiches. 

But let’s be honest, we want a feast. So here are some of my favorite recipes.

Main Dishes

The Thanksgiving Day feast is known for its rich, flavorful dishes. And turkey is almost always at the center. 

But there’s no law that says you can’t make ham, beef, or even salmon if you want!

So, here are a few of my favorite main courses for Thanksgiving day.

  1. Thanksgiving Turkey - If you want a traditional meal, try this herb and butter roasted turkey with white wine pan gravy. It’s big, juicy, and quite the show stopper.
  2. Rosemary-Rubbed Prime Rib - In the mood for red meat? Then how about this stunning prime rib? 
  3. Maple Walnut Crusted Salmon - Salmon is a wonderful Thanksgiving alternative for when you want something light. And it cooks in a fraction of the time of a turkey!
  4. Pistachios and Pesto Crusted Rack of Lamb - This is for anyone that wants to show off a little. I mean come one, it out-shines any old turkey!


Potatoes, veggies, and cranberry sauce, oh my!

The sides are just as important as the big bird. And it’s important to have a variety. That might include:

  • Gravy
  • Green beans
  • Corn
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Sweet potato casserole
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Cornbread
  • Rolls

Need some more inspiration? Check out these delicious Thanksgiving side dishes:

  1. Classic Turkey Stuffing - Made with stale bread, onions, herbs, broth, and eggs, stuffing is a must at any holiday dinner.
  2. Pumpkin Mac and Cheese with Sage and Smoked Gruyere - Sure, you could make regular mac and cheese. But once you try this, you’ll never look back.
  3. Roasted Carrots - Sweet, tender carrots with pecans and goat cheese is a lovely compliment to any main course.
  4. Cheesy Root Vegetable Gratin - It’s so simple, but the colors in this dish will make any holiday table pop.
Sticky toffee pudding


Okay, so pumpkin pie and pecan pie are the most common desserts you’ll see at Thanksgiving. And for good reason! They’re super delish.

But if you want something a bit different, try one of these sweet treats instead.

  1. Sticky Toffee Pudding - This looks lovely in single portions, but you could just as easily make a bigger cake and drown it in toffee sauce!
  2. Pumpkin Brownies - Here’s an excellent option if you have kids, or want something people can grab after they’ve let their dinner settle.
  3. Baked Cheesecake - The beauty of this simple vanilla bean cheesecake is how easy it is to jazz up. Make it as is, then top it with spiced apples, cranberry sauce, Nutella, or a salted caramel drizzle. 
  4. Coffee Mousse - Want a make ahead Thanksgiving dessert? Try this smooth and sweet coffee mouse. You can easily prep it the day before and keep it in the fridge until after dinner.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re feeding a few or a few dozen, Thanksgiving is about getting together with good food. 

And really, your family and friends will likely just be more than grateful they don’t have to cook!

So any extras you do, be it signature drinks or decor, will be the cherry on the cake. 

Remember, perfection isn’t the goal; it’s the laughter, shared stories, and the cherished moments that make this holiday unforgettable. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

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