Frugal Foodie Mama: Lessons Learned From Hosting My First Holiday Family Dinner

Friday, December 7, 2012

Lessons Learned From Hosting My First Holiday Family Dinner

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I hosted my family's Thanksgiving dinner this year.  I didn't host an entire crowd for dinner. Just my parents, my sister, and my family.  I had planned out the menu and table setting for weeks.  I was pretty excited to be the Thanksgiving hostess for the first time in years.  My mother always hosts Thanksgiving dinner, and it has always been a pretty small affair for us- just our immediate family.  Not that there isn't a ton of family near us, but we have made Thanksgiving dinner something more intimate for our family over the years.  I learned a few things from this year's hosting experience...

Keep it simple.  My table setting was beautiful, but practically effortless.  A Mason jar filled with popping corn and branches of leaves (these ones are actually fake!) and real branches cut from a tree on my in-laws' farm.  Autumn inspired tin votives I have had for years- I didn't even put candles in them.  Maybe if we would have had an evening dinner, I would have.  But we had an early afternoon dinner, as is our tradition.  I didn't have a fancy table runner- just a large cloth napkin I picked up at Jo-Ann's for 60% off after Halloween.

Get creative and resourceful.  Not stressed out! I fretted for a bit about the size of our dining room table.  We would just be able to fit the 6 dinner guests at the table.  But turkey and all the sides??  No way!   At first, I thought everyone would have to load up their plates in the kitchen and then sit back down in the dining room.  But then I remembered we have a coffee cart!  I cleared everything off the cart and set it up as a mini buffet table in our dining room.  People didn't have to go far to get seconds! 
What I learned about the menu...
Next year, just get a large turkey breast instead of a whole turkey.  None of my family even ate the dark meat at dinner.  Well, except for my son who ate one of the giant drumsticks, but that was more for effect. ;)  Another bonus of just doing a breast?  I can brine it next year no matter what kind of refrigerator space I have then.

You have can never really have too many sides... or pies for that matter. ;)  Oh, and a green side is NOT mandatory like I thought.  I did make some green beans sauteed in garlic and olive oil and butter, but they went mostly untouched.  And I only made them because I realized I had nothing green on the menu plan.  (Want to take a peek at what we had for Thanksgiving dinner?  CLICK HERE to see my entire menu plan, complete with links to the recipes.)

It is okay to make something from a box.  Like the Stove Top stuffing.  Yes, the foodie in me wanted to cut up onions, and celery, and cube cornbread, but my son and husband begged me to just make some good old-fashioned Stove Top from the box.  I conceded, and you know what?  It was great.  My son was so thrilled.  Stove Top is his absolute favorite Thanksgiving side dish.  :)

Let the guests bring a couple of dishes.  My Mom made her mashed potatoes and I specially requested her to make these clover yeast rolls I hadn't had in years.  She was more than happy to make the extra effort to make the rolls because she didn't have to cook the entire Thanksgiving dinner this year.  My sister made a pecan pie as well.  That came in VERY handy later that afternoon as a stream of our nephews and our niece and their significant others came knocking on our door.
And on that note, it is also okay to ask your guests to bring their own containers for taking home leftovers.  I asked my mother to bring some, and it worked out wonderfully.  I could pack up all the sides and turkey in separate containers, and she wouldn't have to worry about returning any containers to me.  

And you can never have too many chairs!  Folding chairs, dining room table chairs, whatever chairs you have.  Bring them all into one room and set them up all around.  We ended up having 14 people between our living room and kitchen at one point during the day on Thanksgiving! 

And no matter how many people you have coming over or how big of a dinner you are making, make sure you set aside time to take a few photos from the day.  This family photo was taken by my sister (with my little point & shoot camera, folks) after we had ate dinner and before more family arrived for pie and coffee.  We took about 20 minutes, and just had her snap pics.  And now this photo will be a part of our Christmas cards this year, and we will always have a family photo from our baby girl's first Thanksgiving.  You don't want to look back on a fabulous holiday and regret not snapping a few pics.

Have you every hosted a family holiday dinner?  What tips do you have to share?  What helped save your sanity?