How to simply host Thanksgiving Dinner for 15-20 people. Simple planning and hosting ideas for an easy holiday buffet.

How to {simply} host Thanksgiving dinner for 20

Ruthie mothering 12 Comments

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How to simply host Thanksgiving Dinner for 15-20 people. Simple planning and hosting ideas for an easy holiday buffet.My favorite America’s Funniest Videos clip features a young wife hosting Thanksgiving dinner for all the fam.  When presenting the turkey, her mama asked if she stuffed it.

Placing the turkey amidst a buffet of delicious looking dishes, she happily quipped, “No!  It was already stuffed – it came that way!”

And all the people rolled in the floor as she pulled the neck and giblets out of the turkey cavity.


Do the thoughts of cooking a turkey overwhelm you?  If “table for 15-20” makes you want to run away and bury your head underneath your couch cushions until after the holidays, maybe you’d better read this.

I used to be afraid of turkeys too.  Several years ago, we felt it might be best if we held Thanksgiving dinner at our home.

So I bought a turkey, read the directions on the back, and the rest is history!

You can do this, mama.  I got your back.  C’mon, let’s get cookin’!

You can serve Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd simply with these 7 easy tips! Click To Tweet

How to simply host Thanksgiving Dinner for 15-20 people. Simple planning and hosting ideas for an easy holiday buffet.

1.  Plan the meal

Now is when I usually dig out my list from last year.  No list?

Time to make one!

The biggest thing to remember is that people have their favorites on  Thanksgiving Day, so don’t mess with their favorites.

Do that, and you will be cooking for one next year.

(Unless that’s your strategy.)

Take a poll and find out what everyone wants to eat.


2.  Divvy up the dishes

Who is going to make all this food?

Not you.

Oh no, honey.

You’re sharing this load.

Ask Aunt Hazel to bring the corn pone and  Cousin Sue the green beans.  Most people will be willing to bring something (mine do) so give yourself a break and let them!

You don’t have to be a martyr.  Get those reinforcements in there.

Here’s what our dinner looks like:



Mashed pots

Holiday mashed pots


green beans


corn pudding


cranberry sauce

sweet pot cass

7 layer salad

another type salad

pumpkin pie

coconut cream pie

pumpkin roll

one other dessert


So these are our family favorites.  Does your list look anything like it?

(Does anyone else use the abbreviation, “mashed pots”?)


3.  Decide on the dishware

Personally, I like feeding my tribe on my nice dishes, but it does make for a heap of clean-up afterwards.

Lucky for me, I have three daughters and a dishwasher.

But you can also buy sturdy plastic dishware at Sam’s with turkeys on it.

We did this one year, and it did cut down on clean up.  We also ate on turkey plates until Easter because you know, Sam’s doesn’t sell 20 of anything.

If you want to save yourself the headache of so much clean up, and if it is your first time, maybe you should consider your plastic options.


4.  Decide on a table scape

Here’s my table scape:  one autumn colored, leaf decorated table cloth.

I never do much with this because – well, frankly, I just don’t.  Sandra Lee would be very disappointed in me, probably.

However, now that we’re discussing it, I could throw in a candle or two or maybe a fold-out paper turkey.

I think I’ll take a trek around the house and see what I can gather.

There are many fun, simple ideas on Pinterest, so check it out and have fun with it – but don’t stress.

It’s ok if you just have a leaf table cloth.  Your family will still love you.


5.  Buy food and supplies at least a week in advance

I always do this because I hate crowds.

And honey, if you wait until Thanksgiving week to go grocery shopping, you are gonna be in the thick of it.


Watch the sale ads for turkeys, the stores usually mark them down around this time of year. Click To Tweet


For 20 people, you will probably want a 40 pound turkey, but you can use this nifty tool by Butterball to calculate how much you’ll actually need, proportionate to children verses adults.

Keep in mind that if it’s frozen, you’ll need to set it in the refrigerator to thaw for about five days.  (It’ll tell you on the back of the turkey how long, and also how long it takes to roast.)

If you get a turkey with a pop-out thermometer, this saves you on guess-work as to whether or not it’s done, but if you don’t, just be sure to have a meat thermometer on hand.

This link will show you how to check the temperature of your bird.


6.  Serve buffet style

We clear all counters plus the island in order to serve this way, and it works well for us.  (Might want to set aside some time the week before to declutter any counter space in preparation.)

Everyone gets to interact during the buffet line and this is where general mayhem and chaos prevail, but it’s better than passing heavy dishes around the table.

Plus the fact that my family has a “passing-deficiency”.  We serve a lot of buffet style meals at my house for this very reason.

Plan the service route so that it goes smoothly – plates, silverware, napkins first, salads and side dishes, meats, and lastly, desserts and drinks.


7.  Sit down and enjoy the feast

Yes, you are the hostess and yes, you will invariably pop up and down during the meal, assisting your guests and making sure everything runs smoothly.

But your people want to interact with you, too, so be sure to have a sit down and enjoy them and all that yummy food you’ve been preparing for days on end!


Later on in the day, you will have to do the dreaded de-boning of the turkey.  It’s not really that bad.  Enlist a few helpers if you like!

Enjoy preparing Thanksgiving dinner this year, mom!  Plan the food, dividing the dishes among family members and guests.  Decide on the dish wear and table scape, go shopping early, serve buffet style, and above all – enjoy this special time with your peeps!

You can do this!  And to help you out, I’ve created a free, downloadable, printable list with a pretty festive theme! You can insert your dinner menu and stick it on your ‘fridge!

Enjoy! Be sure to check out these 5 Savory dishes for a sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner!


How to simply host Thanksgiving Dinner for 15-20 people. Simple planning and hosting ideas for an easy holiday buffet.

Comments 12

  1. I’ve been cooking Thanksgiving dinner for years and follow pretty much everything you stated here. Except the paper plates. My goodness, my grandmother would roll over in her grave if I ever did that. But, you know what, I LOVE THE IDEA! By the time cleanup comes around, this grammie is cooked! I usually gather everyone to help in shifts, but with more people living in my house right now, the last thing I am thinking about is Thanksgiving dinner or the cleanup! I want to escape to a B & B and spend the day reading all. by. myself! Yeah, that won’t happen!

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      Michelle, I think your grandma would give you grace in this instance! You and I have been in the same boat for a long time, deary – why do you think I’m in Florida right now?! lol! This too shall pass! Hang in there! And hey would you do me a favor? Let me know if this comes via email today? I set everyone up with Mailchimp and I’m hoping it goes through! Thanks! 🙂

  2. You never fail to crack me up. Honestly. THIS killed me “We also ate on turkey plates until Easter because you know, Sam’s doesn’t sell 20 of anything.” Now, SFAM, how did you do that printable? I must know I want to be able to do that. Sending it to my daughter because NOW she is the turkey roaster and all things holiday. A perk of being 65. Don’t worry, your time is a-comin’. xoxo

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      LOL – it’s true, Mimi, and you know it. My husband goes to Sam’s (because he loves Sam’s and I don’t) and brings home all this STUFF that can’t possibly fit in our house!!! UGH.
      Ok, the printable. Go to Pic Monkey. Click on “Real Estate Flyer” (it’s one of the layout options when you first get there – under “more” – you’ll see it). Now make your background color whatever you want. Install your header graphic (mine was a free downloadable from “Creative Market”), add a bit of text, and then make some lines with your keyboard. Download as a PDF, and upload to your WP media file. Copy the URL code, paste into your blog post for your free printable – and Voila – you’re done!
      Clear as mud? Let me know. 😉 YSFAM

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  3. I’m not hosting this year. (First time in 10 years.) Just making 4 pies with my daughter. But I love your list. It really helps to divvy out the work. We’ve always hosted big sit-down dinners in Turkey, far away from family, it made us feel more at home. But when my kids got to be teens, I said, “Do you guys wanna keep doing this? Because if you do, you’re gonna have to help!” And they did. Decorating, setting up tables, making place cards, shaping rolls, making salad. You name it. Enjoy your feast!

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      I’ll bet that was fun! “Do you guys wanna keep doing this?” LOL. Yep. Get the fam involved for sure!
      I know this year will be hard for you, friend. First time transitions after doing it one way for so long are just tough. You’re not in Turkey, and your son is not with you – or is he for the holiday? I hope he is.
      Growing up is tough on the adults as well as the kiddos!
      I do hope you have a blessed Thanksgiving, friend!

  4. I’m hosting Christmas this year solo (I’m newly divorced and the people who used to do the turkey are no longer part of the picture.) This list and your encouragement has helped me relax and remember that preparation is the biggest part of a successful meal. Thank you for helping me not freak out. #fellow31dayer

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      Julie, you can do it! I realize a little of your story through reading some of your past posts. Praying right now for a smooth Thanksgiving dinner and also joy and peace despite your recent circumstances. And yes – planning is key! 🙂

  5. Well, it looks like I am hosting Thanksgiving this year again so we will have about 15 people over 🙂 Thanks for your great list Ruthie! And great printable friend!!!

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      Awesome! I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, friend! And oh my goodness, I stressed over that crazy printable!!! Oh Great and Wondrous graphics art Guru, I accept your kudos with a humble heart of thanksgiving!!! My first attempt. I loved doing it, once I finally figured out what I was doing!!! (This one was the fifth attempt.)

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