Divine Dinner Party

Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas: Planning the Perfect Thanksgiving

Food, decorations, entertainment, organization, traditions... there are so many Thanksgiving dinner ideas and options out there, it can really make your head swim!

Funny, isn't it, how this one dinner --a dinner that is always more or less the same-- can also be so different from year to year and family to family? Whether you're hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the first time and looking for some ideas of what to do, or are in a Thanksgiving rut and want to change things up a bit, we can help. Here, you'll find practical Thanksgiving tips, ideas for decorations, Thanksgiving food ideas, and more.

Because sometimes all you need to get moving in the right direction is a few fresh Thanksgiving dinner ideas.

You'll also find a ton of Thanksgiving planning resources, menu ideas, tips, recipes and more at Thanksgiving Central!

Creating Your Thanksgiving Menu

Many homes want traditional food for Thanksgiving-- that special side dish or veggies, that turkey cooked just-so. And there's nothing wrong with trusting tried-n-true edibles! Here, you'll find some Thanksgiving dinner ideas for every palate, from those who want the same again and again, to those who delight in new flavors.

Option 1: Sticking with Tradition

Traditional Thanksgiving DInner IdeaYou know the recipes, you know how much time they take, and you can feel pretty confident that things will come out great. Going with traditional Thanksgiving recipes keeps you in your comfort zone and probably gives you more time with family and friends.

Creating Thanksgiving Traditions. But especially if you have a young family and haven't been hosting Thanksgiving dinner for decades the way your mother or grandmother have, instilling Thanksgiving with your own traditions can be difficult. Here, I've got some great ideas for creating your own Thanksgiving traditions (both food and non-food related) in your home. Or learn a bit about traditional Thanksgiving customs to get some ideas!

Of course, the best traditional Thanksgiving dinner ideas are all about the food. You'll find all of my favorite Thanksgiving dinner recipes right here. And, of course, there's always that picture perfect Thanksgiving turkey, too!

Option 2: A Fanciful Fusion Menu

Another popular Thanksgiving dinner idea is having fusion foods. This means blending the best of the old with the new, East meets West, North meets South… and all on one table. Fusion is great because you can still have some of those customary favorites that feel so right, and then have some wild new recipes too.

For example, instead of having your traditional green bean casserole, you could make an Asian inspired dish with soy, ginger, and a little red pepper for heat. There is almost no traditional Thanksgiving dinner idea that cannot be adjusted a bit to offer a fresh, vibrant flavor. Some of my favorite fusion-y Thanksgiving dinner recipes are:

Option 3: A Themed Thanksgiving Dinner

A theme is one of the most fun Thanksgiving dinner ideas! Choosing a theme gives you the chance to break out of your traditional shell for Thanksgiving. Sure, you love your old favorites but sometimes eating the same thing every year gets dull. Food should be fun, and a theme dinner will definitely put a little zing back in your kitchen!

So what kind of Thanksgiving dinner theme could you consider? Well, the sky's the limit! Some great themed Thanksgiving dinner ideas are:

1001 Nights Dinner. Thanksgiving dinner complete with Arabian style food selections (think pita wedges, lamb, olives with goat cheese, heady coffee and couscous).

Hawaiian Thanksgiving. Or maybe you want to transport your guests to the beach with grilled pineapple, a lobster boil, and plenty of "umbrella" drinks.

Spanish Supper. A big tray of paella (a great choice, as it's also a special occasion food in Spain) some tapas, and plenty of red wine.

Nostalgia Snacks. Remember all those old dishes that have been relegated to the back of your recipe closet? Break them out for Thanksgiving, or look for fun 1950's or 1960's recipes online.

Ok many of these may not look like Thanksgiving, but once you start spending time with your company and enjoying the food, you may find that you're having a lot more fun than you would with a traditional Thanksgiving turkey.

Keeping Tradition and Your Theme Together:

Want to use a themed Thanksgiving dinner idea, but want to keep the meal a little more traditional looking? Keep the traditional dishes the same --turkey, potatoes, veggies, stuffing-- but add ingredients that fit in with your theme. Make a tropical pineapple turkey. Add saffron, onion, and cinnamon to your mashed potatoes. Toss your stuffing together with some cumin and chipotle chilies. Have fun with it!

Thanksgiving Decorating Ideas

Flower and Pumpkin Thanksgiving Table DecorationsThe first step in getting your guests to really anticipate your delectable food? Creating a delectable table. Decorating is one of those Thanksgiving dinner ideas that many people leave to the last minute. But if you take a little time to plan for it, you can create a wonderful table that will surprise your guests and get them eager for the meal. Some of my favorite decorative Thanksgiving dinner ideas are:

Using Fresh Flowers. Of course, the obvious choice for a Thanksgiving dinner centerpiece is flowers. A bouquet of bold autumn flowers, like sunflowers, tucked into a pumpkin is beautiful and dramatic.

Using Candles. A line of short candles down the center of the table will be understated and beautiful. And will light the table beautifully. And don't forget candles in the rest of the room!

Dried Leaves. In the weeks before Thanksgiving, collect and flatten autumn leaves. Use them all across the table, as place cards, or to decorate a basket. Pretty and free, too.

Fruits and Nuts. Fruits are both beautiful and inexpensive-- a lot cheaper than fresh flowers. So instead of flowers, place a bowl of red apples in the middle of the table, or a place a line of apples down the center of the table. Or place candles inside a bowl full of cranberries. Use a clove-studded orange as a place card. The sky's the limit!

Pumpkins, Squash, and Gourds. These items are the symbol of Thanksgiving, and using them decoratively is one of my favorite Thanksgiving dinner ideas. Use a pumpkin as a flower vase, as in the photo above. Place a basket of gourds in the center of the table. Use individual pumpkins as place cards. Have fun with it!

You'll find more ideas for table decorations for Thanksgiving right here!

Setting Up for Thanksgiving

While cooking the food is going to be a ton of work, something serving the food can be almost as much trouble. Trying to figure out the best way to display your beautiful food? Read on.

A Sit-Down-and-be-Served Dinner

A sit-down dinner is one of those traditional Thanksgiving dinner ideas that most people probably don't do any more. Because it can be a lot of work! However, if you want an elegant looking Thanksgiving dinner that will really impress your guests, this is the option to choose.

How to Make it Happen. Most of us don't have a houseful of servants to pull off this Thanksgiving dinner idea. So the best way do a sit-down dinner without working your fingers to the bone? Bribery! Bribe a teenager in the family to help out. Have them tie on an apron and play waiter while dinner is served in exchange for a gift or money. Then allow everybody at the table to get up and go into the kitchen for seconds. You get all the oomph of a sit-down-and-be-served Thanksgiving dinner without all the work.

A Buffet Thanksgiving

Buffet Table Decoration for Thanksgiving with TurkeyNo matter what you do --aside from popping by your favorite restaurant for the turkey special-- making Thanksgiving dinner is going to be a lot of work. One of my favorite Thanksgiving dinner ideas to make the day a little easier? Make it a buffet.

The Advantages. A buffet style Thanksgiving dinner is ideal for a holiday party that's a little less formal. If you want the freedom to mill around, talk, play games and munch the whole time, a buffet gives you that freedom. It's by far one of the best Thanksgiving dinner ideas for larger groups.

Buffet Set up and Presentation. What's really fun here is that your buffet can have a theme or it simply can present a collection of your favorite goodies for everyone to sample. Or you can really take a load of work off your plate and make it a pot luck buffet where everyone brings at least one dish to share, complete with recipe cards that folks can take home! You can also find lots of creative ideas for setting up a Thanksgiving buffet table here.

Getting the Kids Involved

Thanksgiving Helper- Letting Children Help Cook DinnerChildren love to help with meals. It gives them something to do on the day itself, and it also gives them an investment in the success of the meal-- they'll be excited to see how everybody enjoys the things they've created.

Giving kids the whole job. If you have kids that are old enough, why not let them help to plan and execute Thanksgiving dinner? You'll be amazed at what items your kids feel they must have on the menu, and at the creative Thanksgiving dinner ideas they come up with to surprise your guests. Yes, you'll need to stand by with some guidance and plenty of cookery help, but this can be a really exciting Thanksgiving-- one where your children are the ones who get to shine.

Giving the kids a dish. Does the above sound like a little too much responsibility for your kiddos? One of my favorite Thanksgiving dinner ideas for keeping the kids involved is to give them one dish to be responsible for. If they're young, you'll want to be there to supervise, of course. But for older kids, this is a great option. If they're in charge of the green bean casserole or the apple pie (with your help, if needed) the kids will be that much more excited about the meal. And about your guests' reactions to it.

Thanksgiving Dinner Planning and Timing

Without proper execution, even the best Thanksgiving dinner ideas can go awry. Read on for some of the most important things to consider when planning the evening.

The Schedule

No matter what Thanksgiving dinner ideas you choose to integrate, remember to plan ahead. You don't want the holidays to be filled with stress and angst. Especially if this is your first Thanksgiving dinner, it's a very good idea to have a schedule for every hour of Thanksgiving day.

The Preparation

If possible schedule as much preparation before the day of Thanksgiving as possible. Prepare the dry ingredients for the stuffing. Put together some dips or other make ahead appetizers. Chop and peel extra vegetables. You can even do make ahead gravy! Believe me, it'll make your life a lot easier.

Thinking Outside the Kitchen

Don't overlook the benefit of slow cookers, grills, and smokers. Think about a smoked or a deep fried turkey instead of a traditional roast one, and give the responsibility of cooking it to someone else. Remember, any other appliance you use to make dinner leaves you more room in the oven.

Having Fun!

Yes, this is one of the Thanksgiving dinner ideas that hosts and hostesses never seem to think about: having fun! Get extra hands in your kitchen-- dinner is always more fun when other people help out. Pre-prepare what you can. Plan a moderate menu that allows you to socialize. Sit with your guests, have a drink, and have a good time.

After all, that's what Thanksgiving is all about, right? Bon appetite!

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Free Holiday Turkey Recipe Guide to How to Cook a Turkey

If it's a fat bird with a beard (no, I don't mean your Aunt Marjorie), we can help you cook it. Click on the icon above or click here to get started with recipes and tips on how to cook a turkey for Christmas, Thanksgiving, or any time of year.


Share and share alike! If you have a great dinner party idea or tip, send it in!

After all, what better way to pass on your knowledge than to share it with other hosts and hostesses?

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