Speaking of Thanksgiving . . .

Updated on November 15, 2018
M.6. asks from Woodbridge, NJ
17 answers

For the first time in a very long time, I am doing a little Thanksgiving meal at my house. Normally, I go to the nursing home and eat with my dad and hubby takes the kids (well, we are down to one, now) to his Brother/SIL for their gathering 3 hrs away. This year, hubby is having treatment and more testing just before Thanksgiving so he can't travel, AND our daughter who has been deployed for the last 6 months just arrived home and since her husband has to work on Thanksgiving, she is coming here as well. So, instead of eating with my dad, we are all going to sit with him during his meal (it is only a mile from the house so hubby will be able to go) and then I will be serving a meal here for the 5 of us. The problem is there are only going to be 5 of us . . . one of which is our special needs son, who isn't going to eat much and is texture fussy, my mom, who is on another one of her "diets", my husband, who probably won't feel the best, my daughter, who is starving for any American food/comfort food, and me.

I don't want a million leftovers and I don't even have freezer room for them with Christmas coming (which is the big holiday where I host over 30 people across 3 different days). I can send some back with my daughter, but honestly they aren't going to want a ton of leftovers, either. I will do a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey to cut down on those leftovers, but I hate to skimp on the sides. Not so much quantity in the sense of having tons of each thing, but there are like 6 or 7 things I'd like to serve besides the turkey, but that seems ridiculous since no one could eat more than a tablespoon or two of each thing :(

For those who have small Thanksgiving gatherings, what are your "must haves" and your "can do withouts"? Any tips for serving such a small crowd? I don't want to minimize things just because we are a small group :) In reality, with my husband having cancer, my daughter arriving home, and our last Thanksgiving in this home, it is special even though it will be small and we are all thankful for being together.


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answers from Portland on

We celebrate on our own (just our family) for holidays - then visit over the holidays. It works best for us. We do brunches etc. with family. So we do this all the time.

We do the turkey, etc. and then we make a shepherd's pie with all the fixings afterwards and it's so easy and good. Everything goes in - and you eat with the cranberry sauce. Delicious!

So I'd make the turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, squash, and then I like a sweet potato casserole (make ahead). We do a veg like carrots or beans. Cranberry sauce.

*Btw - I hope your hubby is doing well, and so glad you're all getting together!

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

Your hospitality is inspiring, as well as your willingness to accommodate so many different diets/appetites, etc.

A turkey breast is a great idea.

Then, instead of mashed potatoes, how about baked potatoes? If you don't buy a bag of potatoes but select the individual ones in the grocery store, you can choose smaller potatoes. Serve with butter, maybe a lactose free butter substitute, and sour cream (on the side, so people can dress up their own potatoes), and it will satisfy the potato lovers.

You can also bake sweet potatoes. Provide some interesting toppings like crumbled cooked bacon, mini marshmallows, butter, brown sugar, chopped nuts, and let people choose their own toppings.

All those potato toppings can be prepared in advance. Buy a few small plastic containers with lids at a dollar store or grocery store and fill them with potato/sweet potato toppings a few days before Thanksgiving.

Instead of green bean casserole, you could make a colorful salad. Use baby spinach, mandarin orange segments (from a jar), Craisins (those sweetened dry cranberries), chopped pistachios or walnuts or pecans, and nice crisp croutons. Serve with a berry vinaigrette salad dressing (raspberry, etc - there are some good choices of bottled dressings).

Those Pepperidge Farm bags of stuffing bread cubes are pretty simple, and already seasoned. Just get a good box of chicken stock (like Kitchen Basics brand) and you can make just a small pan of stuffing using only as much of the stuffing bread as you wish.

Even if you're usually a stickler for homemade/from scratch stuff, take advantage of a few shortcuts, like canned cranberry sauce, a good quality jarred gravy, dinner rolls from the bakery department at the grocery store, and a pie ordered in advance.

I think when serving a smaller group, the smells and colors are important. With a menu like this, you'll have the potatoes, the bright colors, and the smell of turkey and pie, and it's all pretty easy.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

i spent the first few years after the boys moved out trying to 'cut back' on how much i made at the Big Feasts, and tried to be sensible, and to have fewer leftovers, and definitely less to throw away.

i'm giving myself permission to can all that this year. i want a groaning table. i want lots of choices. i want to celebrate abundance, not to be sensible.

i'm-a gonna cook like a mad witch on crack, and hope people eat or take it home, but if they don't, oh well.

this is especially poignant for you this year. your daughter's situation alone would galvanize my inner wannabe chef.

if you really want to keep it traditional, that's easy enough, right? turkey-stuffing-gravy, mashed pots, something sweet potato-ish, something green, rolls and pies.

so i'm going to do all that, but i'm going to have several veg dishes like marinated grilled carrots, corn pud, broccoli casserole and baked onions au gratin in addition to the green bean casserole. i'm going to wrap dates in bacon and buy big fat cocktail shrimp in addition to the nuts, cheeses and dips for appetizers.

and i'm going to have at least 4 dessert choices.

hells yeah.


5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Thanksgiving isn't complete for me without a Waldorf salad.

Use the KISS method (Keep It Simple Silly).
Stuffing OR Mashed potatoes
Hot rolls

5 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Well, you have two choices, either make smaller servings of the six or seven things you usually serve, OR make fewer dishes overall.
Personally I would keep it simple and just have turkey and two or three sides. My personal favorites would be mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potato casserole and some kind of fall salad with dried cranberries. Yes, that's two potato dishes but hey, it's Thanksgiving after all! But maybe you would rather have stuffing and green bean casserole?
It's really a matter of personal choice and taste.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Anchorage on

I am also doing a much smaller version of Thanksgiving this year so I am just going to do a small turkey breast in a bag with veggies such as onion, carrots, potatoes etc (as if I was doing a chicken), a small green bean casserole and a half size portion of my grandma's stuffing recipe.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

When it was just "us"? I made the basics, Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes/gravy, corn (or another veggie) and rolls. If there were leftover mashed potatoes? I would make shepherds pie with it and the turkey meat.

I personally love cranberries so I put cranberries out! Especially the new one with the mandarin oranges and walnuts? YUM!!

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answers from Atlanta on

Which foods are your daughter's favorites? Since she's just back, craving home-foods, and the only person who will eat heartily, make sure that her favorites are covered. As for the sides, just make small quantities if you don't want to choose between them.

To make things easier for you, how about asking your mother to make something which is on her diet? That way, you are cooking a bit less and you can be sure she will have something to eat. Also, are there any foods which will overlap with the Christmas meals? If so, maybe you can make a larger quantity of them and freeze them--save work for later. Finally, if the turkey isn't a huge favorite for anyone, you can buy some smaller pieces in the store and save yourself that work.

I hope it is a lovely celebration! It sounds like you are grateful for a quite a bit.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

First, may you have a blessed Thanksgiving. I always read to posts and find a woman who does so much for others. I hope having Thanksgiving with your family is a wonderful day.

Second, splurge on those dishes. Celebrate in style. I know, it may mean some waste. But the look on your daughter's face will make it all worthwhile. And I bet you'd love it, too!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Christmas is just 4 weeks and 4 days after Thanksgiving - make anything you want, freeze the leftovers, repurpose it for Christmas. (I mean really you can repurpose it for *any* meal in those three days for your 30 guests!)

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I'd still go all out with the sides. My menu for a small group would be turkey breast with gravy, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing/dressing, squash or sweet potatoes, dinner rolls and dessert. There is a grocery store in my area that prepares a small Thanksgiving dinner for 4-6 people and I just checked the menu and it's pretty much that.

I'm so glad that your daughter will be home to spend the day with you - enjoy!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Kalamazoo on

My must haves are mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing and a green veg, usually green beans (not cass, just steamed beans). oh and rolls and cranberry sauce. and a pie or two. I usually host a small group of 9. I make the meal and others bring snacks, veg tray, cheese tray etc.
I agree with ask your daughter what she really wants.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

We alternate between large gatherings and tiny ones. If there are just 3 of us, I don't even get the turkey breast because I don't want to deal with the carcass and because no one eats the wings anyway. So once I got a small boneless breast at Whole Foods (they tied it up in a roll) and one other time I got a turkey breast in juice wrapped in plastic (it was SO moist!) - and we had one meal of leftovers. It was a joy.

I get a bag of cranberries and make whole berry sauce and a small loaf of cranberry nut bread. For 5 people, I would get 2 of those. I buy the best gravy I can find rather than make my own. I make a butternut squash dish we all love - cube it, cook it with a little minced garlic, puree it, mix in a little sour cream and bake it. To jazz it up, I sauté scallions or bacon (often turkey bacon) and put those through the processor with everything else. I make a version of the Silver Palate cookbook stuffing with 3 kinds of bread (whatever I have in the freezer, including old hot dog buns or end pieces), and add sautéed celery, onions and cubed Cortland apples, the usual herbs, and I pour a little apple cider over the top to keep it moist. I use leftover apples for an apple crisp. I buy a couple of potatoes, bake and halve, scoop out most of the insides, mash & mix with leftover scallions or bacon or sour cream (any or all), re-stuff and bake. Instead of green bean casserole, I make a few green string beans - steam 8 minutes, then put a little melted butter and a few slivered or sliced almonds on top. Everything except the turkey and beans can be made ahead. I put the rest of the jug of cider in the crockpot with a cinnamon stick and it makes a great mulled cider, great on a cool day. You could do all of this ahead, go visit your dad, and bring everyone home to a cup of hot cider and a fragrant house, throw in the turkey, and then take it out to slice while the other stuff reheats (which it will quickly if you use smaller casseroles), then heat the gravy & cook the beans. You can make these very small in quantity and it will still look beautiful on the table. An alternative to squash and green beans and stuffed potatoes would be roasted veggies: sweet and/or white potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, onions, maybe broccoli or whole green beans, whatever you like. Cube and put in a bowl or ziploc of olive oil and herbs (dill works well) and keep in the fridge for a day, turning once or twice. Dump on a cookie sheet and roast for 20 minutes with the turkey.

You can really enjoy this if you scale back your view that this is somehow not a great Thanksgiving - make it intimate and colorful, and enjoy time to talk and visit especially with your deployed daughter rather than slaving in the kitchen.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Abilene on

Happy early Thanksgiving. I am so happy for you that your daughter is home. What a gift. Thank her for her service for me.

I would ask her what would make her Thanksgiving and definitely make those dishes. If you want to make it easier on yourself, consider ordering some sides from a local restaurant or grocery store.

You can always go with a 10-12 lb turkey or turkey breast. We love mashed potatoes and stuffing. Cracker Barrel has yummy stuffing if preparing a small casserole isn’t what you want to do. I’ve used Pepperidge Farm bag mix and sautéed onions and garlic to mix in with quality chicken stock and it was delicious. Cranberries are my thing and I love a green salad.

If you made a larger dinner, do you have any elderly neighbors you could bring a plate to? That’s what I do in my situation and they are always so grateful and excited to have it. I have a couple of widow ladies who don’t cook a lot since they are alone. They’re always invited to family homes for the holiday but when they get back, they love helping us with our leftovers. ❤️

I hope your husband feels better and you have a wonderful day. Make sure you do something for you too.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

My must-haves for Thanksgiving:
Turkey breast and gravy
Cheesy broccoli
Pumpkin pie

I can do without:
Mashed potatoes

I know the lack of rolls and mashed potatoes will be heresy to some people, but with stuffing and yams, I always feel like rolls and mashed potatoes are redundant.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I suggest that you cook the dishes you want in smaller amounts taking into consideration how much you think will be eaten. My family had the basics, Turkey, stuffing, potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce.Then we chose sides based on what others would like. Nearly everyone likes sweet potatoes with marshmallows, green beans with bacon. My brother likes brussel sprouts. We didn't have them until we were all grown.

I suggest you ask your kids what they would like.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

This would go easier on you if you made it a pot luck.
You do the turkey breast, gravy and maybe dessert.
Have everyone bring a side.
When it's time to go home - people can take back with them any leftovers and/or make up plates of everything to take home with them.
It means less prep and storage issues for you and it divides the 'joy of cooking' up so everyone does something.

Sides for us have varied a bit.
We have 2 or 3 sides.
In the past we've had:
mashed sweet potatoes
mashed butternut squash (this is less heavy than sweet potatoes)
green bean casserole (not one of our favorites)
any kind of salad

For dessert we like pumpkin pie or pumpkin cheesecake.

A nice drink might be wassail - there are a bazillion recipes but for us it's
apple cider, a cinnamon stick, a few cloves (in a tea ball), some Clementine orange segments, some lemon slices (thin, de-seeded, leave skin on - it's very pretty when it floats on top),
some cranberry juice, a spoonful of orange juice concentrate.
Put it all in a crock pot on low and let it steep and simmer - it smells great!
Taste it periodically - when the spice is enough take the cinnamon and cloves out otherwise they will get too strong.

1 mom found this helpful
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