The Ultimate Thanksgiving Potluck Dinner Guide: 12 tips to pull your meal off like a pro

Thanksgiving is 10 days away....oh my. I feel like it snuck up on me...but I have had a ton going on, so maybe that's why? Anyway, some people host the entire Thanksgiving dinner at their home and provide all the food, drinks, everything....well, in my family and my husband's family, we all bring something (1 or 2 things) and it's one big potluck dinner. And, I LOVE it that way. There are certain things that people bring, that I look forward to every year....and I remind them...."you are bringing the sweet potato casserole right?"! 

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A Thanksgiving potluck can be a great way to entertain at home without having to do all the work yourself or shoulder all the expenses. It will take some planning and organization, but could make all the difference between a fun Thanksgiving and one where you’re stuck in the kitchen all day cooking while you worry about having everything just perfect! 

Here’s how to organize a Thanksgiving potluck in 12 simple steps.

1. Take count of who will be attending

Find out who is coming. Make a list (I do this in my head, because I know who will be coming and I know the total number of people it will be.) But, if you are having 20-30 people, you may need to write this down and list who is coming and who they will be bringing. Also, if any of them have any special dietary restrictions or allergies that you know of. 

You should get a rough number from this list so that you will know how many people you will be feeding.

2. You CAN Take the Turkey (and Main Dishes)

You know why I say CAN? Because my husband I host Christmas every year, and every year, my sister and her husband bring the turkey, because they make a better turkey than me! I am not going to pretend I can do it better and they are nice enough to bring it, so it's set in stone at my house. But, most places, whoever is hosting, provides the main meat/meats and the main sides. You do what is best for your family. Everyone is different, and whatever works to get everyone fed and everyone involved!

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3. List the Sides and Essentials

Some people like to use their phone or computer for lists, and I do sometimes, but for planning holiday meals and such, I go straight for the good ole pen and paper. I will write my main dish, like turkey, and then list any potential sides that will be going with it, along with who will bring it. In my family it goes like this....my sister says "I am hosting Thanksgiving this year we would love for all of you who can come, to come." And then it starts:

Me: "Oh, we will be there, I'll bring the cornbread dressing and the green bean casserole!"

My sister-in-law: "We will be there, what do you need me to bring. Oh, I'll bring dessert and bread!" 

and so on and so on....it's the same at my mother-in-law's house too! So, your list may look something like this:

  • Cornbread Dressing - Aunt Bertha

  • Green bean casserole - Granny

  • Sweet potato casserole - Aunt Mabel

  • Corn casserole - Granny

You could also list desserts, like:

  • Chocolate pie - (whoever is bringing that)

  • Pecan Pie

  • Apple pie

  • Mississippi Mud Pie

  • And so on…

For drinks, depending on what you feel it appropriate to serve, you might list:

  • Water

  • Soft Drinks

  • Beer

  • Wine

4. Get Them to Commit

I have 1 sister and 3 brothers and my parents. We are all married with 9 children between us. Our children range in age from 24 years old - 4 months old. My husband has his parents and one sister and we have 6 children between us. They range in age from 21 years old - 13 years old and 1 just got married and 1 has a boyfriend, so my point is, we have a lot going on and sometimes extra people are coming to dinner. Try to get a good count. My in-laws are always nice enough to include any of my family who wants to migrate from our lunch meal to their dinner meal. Sometimes that means I'm bringing 6 or 7 extra people (they are so nice aren't they?)! Anyway, try to get a good count of who you will have, so that you can make sure and prepare enough food!

5. Make Space for All the Food

Set up a space where everyone can add their items as they arrive. I like to set up a separate dessert table or space, so the dessert doesn't get stuffed somewhere or lost. When it comes time to eat dessert, it's all in one place. Note: some things may need to be kept in the refrigerator or freezer until serving time, so you may want to make sure you have some space available in there. 

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6. Organize Lots of Serving Utensils

I try to make sure I have enough utensils. And, try to make sure of this before Thanksgiving Day! When my entire immediate family is here, there are 21 of us, so it's a small army.  These are essential so your guests can help themselves.

7. Be Ready to Microwave

Most of the dishes that arrive will be warm at best, so be prepared to heat them up in the microwave. Luckily, I have double ovens, so I have plenty of room for food to be warmed, but if you don't, be prepared to have a way to warm them quickly.

8. Organize Glasses and Ice

Some people put the cups on the table when they set the table and go around and fill the cups with ice before it starts, or we like to just have an ice bucket and some cups and let everyone fill up their cup as they want something to drink. Either way, make sure you have a way to help the beverage serving go smoothly.

9. Have Small Plates and Utensils Ready for the Dessert Course

Have these items ready for easy serving.

10. Decide If You Will Serve Coffee or Tea

These hot beverages are nice with dessert, but they will require organization and cups, mugs, milk, sugar, spoons and so on.

11. Don’t Forget the Extras and Condiments

Butter, mayo, and so on will help enhance the meal. Don't forget something for the gravy, and the cranberries or the cranberry sauce. My family is surely divided over cranberry sauce or fresh cranberries, so we have both!

12. Have Plenty of Napkins and Paper Towels

This will help keep things neat and tidy, and enable you to cover any spills quickly.

If you are hosting Thanksgiving this year, a potluck can be the way to go. The holidays can get hectic and just the mere thought of organizing a huge meal can be overwhelming!!! But if you use these 12 steps to help you get organized, you will be prepared and you will be able to actually enjoy your Thanksgiving!

My 13th tip??! When it comes time to clean up, get everyone involved! It will go much quicker and you can all relax and visit, watch football, nap...whatever your family does! Ok, so get to planning!!

Happy Pot Luck Planning,

Jennifer