Struggling with stay at home guidance quashing your Thanksgiving for 15 plans?  Pivot to a stay-at-home Thanksgiving dinner for one or two where you bring in your own spin (or dabble with the dishes you never make!).

Thanksgiving for One or Two

For a Thanksgiving dinner for one or two people, a 25 pound turkey is overkill. Unless you have plenty of empty freezer space for those leftovers! Instead, plan on your favorite items, skipping those family dishes you dread. If you have the time and money, try something new.

How to Plan a Small Thanksgiving

I’ve actually had few Thanksgivings with other people as an adult– it absolutely can be a lovely day, even if you are used to a big gathering. Plan your meal in steps: 1) write down what you usually have; 2) write down what is most important; 3) write down how much time you want to spend; 4) set your budget. These will help guide you in selecting your meal. Expect to pick a short-cut or two if money or time limits your options, like:

  • Skip the turkey
  • Buy rolls from the store
  • Use frozen vegetables
  • Support your local bakey by buying a pie
  • “Potluck” with friends or family via contactless drop-off/pick-up.

Turkey for Two?

First, remember that you’ve got options.  “Turkey” might mean poultry.  So, think chicken, duck, Cornish hen, or… turkey.  Think traditional with:

  • Roasted chicken (try a salt-roasted chicken for incredibly tender meat)
  • Roasted turkey breast
  • Duck breast.

If you’re thinking outside the roasting pan, there are many options.  A nice time-saving option is to consider a sheet pan meal.  Particularly for one or two, sheet pan thanksgiving dinner recipes are an efficient way to pull together your favorite turkey piece and sides.  Even better—with less clean-up! Consider this herb roasted turkey with cranberry pecan stuffing, made in just over an hour. 

Not feeling the turkey?  What about a pasta dish?  In our area, many families of Italian descent include dishes like lasagne at their holiday meals.  To keep it seasonal, consider a butternut squash lasagne (which works for the vegetarians, too).

Joyful Seasonal Appetizers–Perfect for your Stay-at-home Thanksgiving

If you’re skipping the turkey, you might be interested in a playful appetizer or dessert.  Consider options with bright, seasonal flavors (and not too many dishes).  Key ingredients to think about: cranberries, carrots, beets, cabbage, parsnips, pumpkin, pears, leeks, fennel, and kohlrabi.  Use your appetizer to highlight a favorite or be adventurous without risking the whole meal. Or perhaps a beverage will add a little excitement to the meal, like this Winter Wonderland Tea Recipe. Try:

Don’t want to bother? Olives, cheese, crackers, and vegetable sticks are always popular. Add a bowl of roasted broad beans or chickpeas for extra flair (you can buy these pre-made). Photo by HK Photo Company

What easy sides work in a small Thanksgiving?

Seriously, frozen vegetables.  Green beans, peas, broccoli florets, spinach, corn…  Just don’t use frozen brussels sprouts.  Please.  Another option is doing that sheet pan meal where you can toss a vegetable on the same pan.  This is where you might find roasted sweet potatoes or potatoes are a lovely option, even if you usually have mashed.  In addition, a few other ideas include:

  • Hominy: Simple, easy, and affordable.
  • Rice pilaf: an upgrade to your everyday rice, soft and flavorful.
  • Wild rice: packed with flavor, a great replacement to mashed potatoes.
  • Rolls: soft, warm, fluffy, complemented perfectly with some butter or gravy.
  • Cornbread: A classic comfort pic that goes great with a homemade meal.

The Finale: Thanksgiving Dessert Ideas for One

Now what’s Thanksgiving without dessert?  Everyone has a different tradition here, so think about what matters to you.  Is it the fruit part of the pie?  Or the pie crust?  These questions will lead you to your perfect Thanksgiving in 2020 dessert because you are defining your priorities.

Like fruit the most?  Choose:

  • Mini fruit crisp: A sweet tasting treat made with your favorite fruits.
  • Baked apples: fragrent, juicy, and so delicious.
  • Poached pears: very classy, simple, and affordable (slice an leftovers into oatmeal or salad).
  • Bloomin’ apples: a great twist on an apple pie that looks just as good as it tastes.
  • Pumpkin custard: a seasonally spiced custard that is delicious for breakfast the next day, too.

Prefer crust?  Think about:

However, if dessert isn’t high on your priorities list, consider a simple plate of sliced pear and spiced nuts.

Conclusion: How to Adapt Your Stay-at-home Thanksgiving

2020 may be different.  That doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice everything.  You have the tools to build the holiday that provides joy for you without the stress.  Make a dish (or even two or three) and join friends or family via phone, webchat, or even via a few thoughtfully written cards.  Use a nice plate, a tablemat, or candle if those make your meal special. Create yourself a stay-at-home Thanksgiving that enables you to feel gratitude among our challenges.

Going to be alone that day?  Then send me an email (stephanie.bostic @  I’ll keep you company. If you’re not feeling sociable, there are also projects to write cards to those in long-term care facilities around the county, so you could write a few cards for people if you would prefer a more contemplative day.

Written by: Jason BIngay, Dietetic Intern and Stephanie Bostic, PhD RD CDN

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