How to Have a Small Thanksgiving

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Staying home this holiday? Thanksgiving can still be a celebration.

How to Have a Small Thanksgiving

We don’t travel for Thanksgiving. Our closest family member lives a 12-hour drive away, and we don’t have the money to drop on airline tickets for such a short trip. Vacation days are precious, and my husband stockpiles them for longer trips rather than a day here or there. Sometimes it feels like we miss out on the quintessential Thanksgiving celebration. It’s just our family at the table now – slightly larger than in previous years, but still small enough that we don’t need the extra table leaf.

However, over the years I’ve come to realize how precious it is to have the holiday to ourselves. We can sleep late (or at least lounge all day in pajamas), have dinner whenever we want (I’m not a fan of huge midday meals), and no one will think twice if you decide to have a long afternoon nap (I mean, the baby is napping anyway, right?). Plus, it gives us the bonus option of a special breakfast before all the turkey hubbub settles in.

Having a small Thanksgiving can be a bit of a challenge if you’re used to the over-the-river-and-through-the-woods affair. Here’s how we get through it.

Be realistic.

My husband loves turkey, but with only two adults, one kid, and one baby, it isn’t practical to cook a whole bird Even when factoring in leftovers, there’s just too much. Turkey breasts, Cornish hens, and quail are all more practical for smaller celebrations. And you won’t have turkey fatigue when you realize how much is still left three days later.

Skip the casseroles

Similarly, chances are you won’t need twelve servings of green bean casserole. If you must have green beans, steam and saute a small amount with butter and mushrooms, then top with crispy onions to serve. (The onions are the best part anyway, right?)

For smaller amounts of stuffing, make cornbread to go with a meal a few days before and save half the pan. Use half a pack of bulk Italian sausage or two links, uncased, and freeze the rest for using on pizza or adding to pasta sauce.

Nix the Dessert Bar

I know, it’s hard to think about Thanksgiving and not focus on all the pies, bars, and other desserts. And I know I can eat an entire pumpkin pie by myself – but should I? Recently I asked my Facebook fans if they would pick pumpkin or pecan, and most comments revealed they would do both. As hard as it is, choose just one pie for Thursday’s meal. You can always make your other favorites throughout December, and add a bit more festiveness to your regular meals. If you really can’t decide, there are special pie pans that allow you to make two kinds of pie at once.

Focus on family

No matter if you’re celebrating with your blood family or your chosen family, the holiday is not about whether the gravy is lumpy, not being able to find the perfect centerpiece, or finishing the day early so you can prepare for the No Holds Barred shopping that grips the country.

Grab some popcorn, stick in a movie, and use the family room for what it’s meant for.

Eat Well

Just in case you still don’t know what you’re making next week, here’s a few of my favorite dishes for the holidays.

Do you have a small Thanksgiving? Have any great tips to share?


About Megan

I focus on fresh ingredients and easy methods, with spins that keep meals interesting. Dinnertime shouldn’t be stressful or complicated, and I’m here to help you enjoy the time spent in the kitchen. Read more…

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  1. Megan, I think these are all great tips, super practical and from the heart.

    I made my first stuffed turkey breast roulade last month, and we loved the leftovers in sandwiches. Another alternative to the mega turkey.

    1. @Aimee Thanks! I think we’re doing a citrus glaze on our turkey breast, but the idea of a roulade always appeals to me.

  2. Love this! We also tend to have a small, family-only Thanksgiving celebration — this year it’s just the 3 of us and my mom — but I think it’s important to make it special anyway. Every year I tend to overdo it, and every year we end up with waaaay too any leftovers… so thanks for the reminder. This year I need to find a middle way. Leftovers are good, but not TOO many leftovers.

    1. @Lauren Yes! I think we love the idea of leftovers, but not necessarily eating them! Last year we got a whole, locally pastured turkey ($$$) and we ended up having to throw a lot of it away. I always try to plan out our leftovers from big meals now, because it still makes me upset to think about that waste.

    1. @Kristin I don’t know if my husband is a turkey wizard or something but we’ve always had great turkeys, and it doesn’t take all day like they make it seem in movies/TV. I’m sure yours will be great – or at least a great story 😉

  3. We stopped doing a huge family gathering years ago and, maybe it makes me a jerk for saying this, but it’s been a huge relief to scale it down. I get overwhelmed by huge gatherings of people, especially in small spaces. Now that things are smaller, I like that I get to spend the morning at my sister’s, helping she and my mom with all the cooking.

    I hope you and your family have a relaxing, enjoyable Thanksgiving!

    p.s. I sort of love/hate you for introducing me to that pie pan 🙂

  4. I love the recipe ideas. I made a stuffed turkey breast a few years ago for a Friendsgiving and it was a huge hit. The only drawback to a small Thanksgiving is that I love trying new recipes and I am the only one who ever wants to!