Special Report

30 Ways You Should Start Planning Your Thanksgiving Right Now

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6. Coordinate travel plans

If you’ve got family members coming from out of town, make sure they have their airline (or bus or train) tickets and a place to stay and that they have a way to get from their arrival site or hotel to your house. They’re presumably capable of taking care of these details themselves, but a good host always makes sure.

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7. Plan the menu

Once you know how many people are coming to dinner and their dietary restrictions, it’s time to decide what you’re going to serve. That usually means turkey, but there are alternatives, including goose, duck, capon, and even vegan Tofurkey. There are some side dishes that almost everybody seems to expect, like mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and stuffing, but beyond that, the host has considerable leeway. Brussels sprouts, candied yams (which are actually sweet potatoes), green bean casserole, peas with pearl onions, creamed spinach, mac and cheese, corn pudding, glazed carrots… The possibilities are endless. Choose what you like and offer a good variety of sides, but don’t overdo it.

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8. Make a budget

Now that you know how many people are coming to dinner and what you’d like to serve, figure out how much you can afford to spend on the occasion. Estimate food costs, remembering the beverages (alcoholic and otherwise), and factor in fresh flowers and/or seasonal decorations as well as any rentals you may need (see below). You want to have plenty of food and give your guests a memorable repast, but remember that Christmas is just around the corner, so don’t spend more than you should.

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9. Research recipes

Once you know what you’d like to prepare and how much you can spend on it, look online, in cooking magazines, or on your cookbook shelf and compare various ways of producing each dish. Look for ease of preparation as well as cost.

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10. Try out anything you haven’t made before

One of the most basic rules of giving dinner parties is: Don’t experiment on your guests. In other words, don’t make something you haven’t made before, unless you’re a very accomplished cook. You don’t have to preview the whole meal (you can probably skip testing the turkey, for instance), but if you plan to serve new dishes, or make familiar ones in new ways, test them first.