How to Host a Beautiful Thanksgiving Potluck … and Save Money.

How to Host a Thanksgiving Potluck

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Are you hosting a Potluck Thanksgiving or attending a large gathering for Thanksgiving? Here are lots of ways to save money and reduce stress when feeding a large group for Thanksgiving Dinner or being a guest at someone else’s event. We will also share menu ideas talk about what to make for a Thanksgiving potluck.

Hosting a successful Potluck Thanksgiving dinner

There are so many details to hosting a successful dinner: Where will they sit; what time will you serve dinner; how much help will you need; how many days will it take you to prepare; and what about cleaning all of those dishes?

How Did the Pilgrims Celebrate Their First Thanksgiving Dinner?

In the fall of 1621, the plans for the very first Thanksgiving Day were probably much less detailed and more spontaneous. Of the original 102 pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower, only 54 remained alive. Fortunately, the Wampanoag tribe had befriended them and that friendship ensured their survival.

They were grateful to God and to their 93 faithful Indian friends, and this gratitude precipitated the celebration of one of the first potluck meals on pre-American soil.

How You Can Celebrate Thanksgiving with Children

Whenever we host a Thanksgiving holiday feast we follow in the Pilgrims footsteps . . . we shoot turkeys (cardboard ones with BB guns) and eat lots of food. Read more in our Thanksgiving Activities for Families article.

But more importantly, friends and family who come to celebrate with us always offer to bring something to add to the feast. We love sharing from our bounty and welcoming others to share their specialties – it spreads the love and makes the feast special every time.

The Key to a Successful Potluck Thanksgiving Dinner

The key to any successful potluck meal is planning.

Annette keeps a holiday meal notebook where she records who will be attending, a menu, and what each guest will bring. As guests RSVP, she consults the list, checks what is still needed, and then presents a couple of options to them. She keeps in mind the person’s cooking ability and budget.

Just be sure you have at least two people bringing similar category items (i.e. veggies, starches, desserts), in case one of them cancels, you’ll still be covered.

RELATED ARTICLE: Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner on a Budget

What to Make for a Thanksgiving Potluck 

Here are the food categories Annette usually includes, what we provide, and what others can bring.

Host & Guest Dishes:

Following is a list of suggested components to make your Thanksgiving Potluck a success. We’ve always provided the main elements of the meal and asked guests to bring some of the side dishes. Annette always tries to determine the guest’s comfort level with bringing a particular side dish.

RELATED ARTICLE: 5 Ways to Get Scratch Marks off Dishes

Main Dishes

Annette always cooks the highest priority items such as turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, and bread stuffing.

Watch our How to Cook A Turkey like a Pro (article and video) and lots of Stuffing Recipes)

A man carving a cooked turkey with a long, sharp knife and meat fork.

Others Can Bring: If we have a large number of friends coming (like more than 20) we ask one of those who loves to cook to bring an additional type of stuffing—like rice or cornbread. (we have lots of stuffing recipes on our starchy side dish page)

Side Dishes

Yams: If Annette has time, she makes some scrumptious candied yams (a great recipe that Steve grew up with – get the recipe here).

Others Can Bring: We’re always open to another dish if a guest has a particular yen to bring that ever-delicious yam and marshmallow recipe (delish).

Veggies: We provide one type of green vegetable such as broccoli or green beans.

Others Can Bring: A second green veggie dish is always helpful. Other vegetables that can be added as the crowd increases are carrots; Brussels sprouts; or a spinach dish.

Cranberry dishes: If the group is large we don’t need to provide a Cranberry dish, instead we delegate this. You may want to share our fresh cranberry sauce or cranberry chutney recipes.

Others Can Brink: We’ve had a couple of different types of cranberry sauces show up; a fresh one and a cooked one—just ask what your guests know how to make.

Dinner Rolls: These are something Annette always has others bring—great for single guys or busy working families.


Annette always has at least one clear Lucite, two-gallon beverage dispenser with filtered water and cucumber slices as well as another beverage dispenser with unsweetened, decaffeinated herb tea.

Check out our page devoted to different non-alcoholic drink recipes.

Try this easy-to-make Pineapple Lemonade Punch.
Our homemade cherry limeade recipe is always a hit. It’s a bit more complicated than the lemonade punch but it’s really delicious and always a hit with guests.

What others can bring: Drinks are another great thing that can be entrusted to singles or cooking-shy guests. We ask drink-bearing guests to bring sparkling juices, cranberry juice, apple cider, or eggnog.


And finally, no Thanksgiving feast could be complete without having a broad selection of pies on hand. We always make apple pie and chocolate pudding pie. If Annette has the time she also makes a killer pecan pie too (yummy!)

Annette Economides Thanksgiving Pies

What Others Can Bring: Annette asks someone to bring a pumpkin pie and if needed others could bring fruit pies or cream pies.

This time of year there are always sales on great brands of pies in the grocery freezer aisle. Just remember to have whipped cream on hand.

RELATED ARTICLE: Delicious Pie Recipes (with videos)

Setting the Tables

Over the years Annette has collected an assortment of table decorations, candleholders, cloth napkins and chargers. She enlists the help of one of our kids or a friend who will be attending Thanksgiving.

We set up at least two tables and sometimes three depending on the number of people attending. This year, due to Covid, it will be a much smaller celebration.

Seating Arrangements. We make name cards so people know where they should sit. We try to keep families with small children seated together and in our dining room or kitchen where there is no carpeting.

Thanksgiving Table Setting in Living Room
Our Living Room Thanksgiving table setting with black plates, gold chargers, goblets and name cards.
Dining Room Thanksgiving table setting
This is our dining room table setting with black plates, gold chargers, white napkins and table cloth, forest green table runner, goblets and candles.

Cleaning up after Your Potluck Thanksgiving Dinner

After dinner, some of the dads take the kids and play a rip-roaring game of spoons ( a card game with spoons) in our family room. Check out this list of our favorite family games.

Watch the video below to see one of our games:

The ladies and a few of the other guys pitch in to help clean up the kitchen. It’s a great way to continue talking, sharing, and laughing while working together. Some put away leftovers, some wash, and many dry. And then one or two of our kids who knows the layout of our kitchen well puts the dishes and other items away.

No matter how large a crowd you’re hosting, it’s fun and very rewarding to allow others to participate in making this day less stressful and more full of thanks.

What about Getting Your Home Ready and cleaning it?

You don’t need to have the biggest, most beautiful home to host Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims served up a feast for a huge crowd that lasted for three days. They didn’t have a banquet hall, carpeting, a deluxe Viking stove or granite countertops–but they did have hearts overflowing with gratitude to God and their friends.

Nothing makes Thanksgiving so special as celebrating it with laughing friends and family.

We hope your Thanksgiving is a warm time for family and friends. Celebrate together, and enjoy the blessings you’ve been given.

We absolutely love having our turkeys turn out moist and delicious — and we ensure it by using a digital thermometer. Super-easy and accurate. Poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees, but we usually take ours up to 180 degrees and it’s just right. 

This is one of Amazon’s Bestselling meat thermometers.

Chef’s Necessities Meat Thermometer 

Here’s a link to Amazon’s best-selling meat thermometers and kitchen timers.  

How to Host a Thanksgiving Potluck
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2 thoughts on “How to Host a Beautiful Thanksgiving Potluck … and Save Money.

  1. Vicki Boyle

    Thank you for the tips, I will keep it in mind. I organize our Boy Scout Holiday Pot Luck Dinner and the categories were great. I will send out the categories of suggestions.

    Hope you and your family have a Blessed Thanksgiving,

    1. Steve Economides

      Love that you’re helping out your scout troop with a Thanksgiving holiday potluck. Hope it turns out fantastic! We were involved in scouting for many years with our three sons – it’s a great organization!

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