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Tips for organizing a large meal and making sure that everything is ready at the same time.
First, you need to be realistic. If your home is not large enough, or you don't have the proper equipment or parking, then see about renting a facility to house your dinner, or let someone else host it. With that being said...
A week before my dinner, I start my baking. Cookies, pies and cakes can be made ahead of time and frozen. The day before your dinner, remove them from the freezer. I also contact guests and ask them to bring a covered dish (especially if they are close or local family). If we are inviting a special guest, or someone from out of town, I don't ask them to bring a dish. I do ask everyone to let me know what they are bringing however so we don't have 7 green bean casseroles.
The day before your dinner, set up your tables and chairs. Set your place settings. Make your tea; make sure you have enough ice on hand. It's perfectly fine to use good quality foam or paper plates, if not for the entire dinner, than for at least dessert. This gives you less cleanup time, and more time to visit and focus on other activities of the day. You can simplify your dinner even more, by setting up your dinner as a buffet. Ping-pong and pool tables are great for holding the food!
I cover my "kids table" with blank newspaper and set a cup on crayons on that table, along with some coloring books. It helps keep little ones entertained while their plates are being prepared.
Some foods you can start the day before, such as peeling your potatoes for mashed potatoes (store in salted water in the fridge), fixing relish, fruit and veggie trays, bake your turkey or ham and preslice it. 2 years ago our local deli was running a special on turkey. It was actually cheaper to have them bake our turkey and slice it than it was for me to buy a turkey. So, check them out for specials!
The day of your dinner, use crock-pots where you can. Crock-pots work great for gravy, noodles, yams, keeping mashed potatoes warm. Check a day or two before hand to make sure you have proper extension cords.
I also set out some board games, a cheese tray and snack tray. If we end up waiting on a last minute guest or have a kitchen emergency, I don't have to worry about people being hungry, especially in my family where we have several diabetics and lots of kids.
After our blessing, I ask the parents of young children and those over 60 to go through the line first, if it is a buffet. If it is not buffet, I ask the moms if they want to fill their children's plates before the blessing is said. Then, as soon as the prayer is over, they are handed their plates.
As our family grows each year, I find it fun to ask those who brought a special dish to also bring the recipe. I make sure to have plenty of index cards and pens on hand so others can copy them This way everyone has a chance to get a copy of Aunt Deloris pecan pie and Grandma Edna's cherry cobbler recipes.
Also, I try to be prepared for bad weather. In my part of the country, ice and snow can sometimes hit quickly. So, I make sure the flashlights, candles, lanterns and extra blankets are on hand. Several times we have had guest stay over due to the weather, or need to borrow a blanket for the trip home in case they ran into car trouble. The day of your dinner, keep your phone line open so any lost guest can call for directions.
By April from Missouri
my mom was PRO at getting it all together & on time ! The last Thanksgiving she was able , she had it all ready (with ALL the trimmings) AT the stroke of NOON (not one minute after!), BY HERSELF ! I was so amazed - i was there in the kitchen & asked what I could do & she replied that she had a handle on it ! (I am wondering if she played all that through in her mind & just had all her moves figured out & the steps to take or if she had just done it before so many times that she had it perfected as it seemed?!?!)
So anyone who can pull that off with as much ease as she did deserves applause I'd say - so BRAVO !
April, these are very good suggestions. Thanks!