7 Tips for a Successful, Low-Stress Thanksgiving Potluck

7 Tips for a Successful, Low-Stress Thanksgiving Potluck

Save yourself some of the pre-holiday hassle by enlisting guests to help with the food.

By Laura Wallis

Whether it’s your first time hosting Thanksgiving or your 20th, there’s no doubt that preparing this holiday meal can be a stress-fest. Sure, you’re a great cook, but sometimes all you really want to do is get your friends and loved ones together, enjoy some good food, and relax in front of the game.

Best way to have a winning Turkey Day party without endless hours in front of the stove and sink? Host a potluck. Here’s how to pull it off:

Know your crowd. The potluck approach will probably be more popular if most of your guests are on the same page. It’s the perfect solution for a casual “friendsgiving” gathering … maybe less so for impressing your new (and very formal) mother-in-law.

Take the big job for yourself. Obviously, the Thanksgiving host is buying and roasting (or deep-frying, if you’re adventurous) the turkey. You anchor the meal with the centerpiece and its trimmings — stuffing, gravy — and provide a festive dinner setting, while letting your guests fill in the rest.

Assign the menu well in advance. When you send out your dinner invitations, spell out exactly what you’ll be providing, and let your guests know the feast will be potluck. Ask them to let you know what they’d like to provide, then make requests as needed. If three people want to bring pie but no one has mentioned vegetables, it’s your job to ask them to switch to ensure a balanced meal.

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Let your guests play to their strengths. Balance is important, but if your sister is super proud of her apple pie, don’t insist that she bring a salad instead. Keep the salads and easy apps (think cheese and crackers, marinated olives) for the non-cooks in your life.


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Plan your oven time. Chances are some guests will show up with gratins or rolls that need to be heated. Find out about this in advance, and just as if you were cooking the whole meal yourself, chart out your oven time so everything will be hot and ready when the turkey is ready to carve. Remember to have hot plates or chafing dishes on hand, and think beyond the wall oven: The toaster oven can warm up smaller dishes, and even the slow cooker, set on warm, can keep veggies hot.

Stock up on to-go containers. Thanksgiving leftovers are famously the best part of the meal, so have plenty of covered, reusable containers so your guests can all take a little of everything home.

Make everyone take their own serving dishes home to wash. This is one of the best features of the potluck. You pile the plates and glasses into the dishwasher, set the roasting pan to soak, and voila! Most of the cleanup is done. On to the game…

What are your best tips for hosting a successful potluck?

Laura Wallis is a freelance writer and editor specializing in all things family, home, food, and health. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, two children, and dog.

Image ©iStock.com/bhofack2

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