How to Downsize Thanksgiving Dinner Without Sacrificing Favorites

Nearly one in three Americans say they'll be celebrating Thanksgiving with fewer people due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey by email marketing company Klaviyo, and 26% are planning to purchase less food.

But they aren't giving up the feast: 87% of Americans are determined to make the Thanksgiving meal happen in some way, according to new Butterball data.

So how do you serve the meal without having a fridge full of Thanksgiving leftovers after that you won't be able to eat before they go bad (that's four days, per the USDA's food safety guidance)?

"I don't think there are any dishes you must eliminate, and scaling down the size doesn't mean it can't be special," says Colleen Weeden of the Better Homes & Gardens Test Kitchen. "You can still set a beautiful table and you can even use the fancy dishes that you can't always use with larger crowds."

Read on for tips from Weeden and Lauren Grant-Vose, founder of Zestful Kitchen, to right-size all the Thanksgiving menu mainstays. Then score some bonus tips about making your 2020 Thanksgiving memorable—regardless of the number of seats at the table.

small family at thanksgiving
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7 Ways to Scale Down Your Favorite Thanksgiving Recipes


The general rule of thumb is to estimate 1 pound of whole turkey per person, Weeden says, but it's often challenging to find a 6-pound turkey if you only are cooking for six. "This is where a turkey breast might come in handy, or try roast chicken," she adds.

Grant-Vose loves using a bone-in turkey breast for occasions just like this. "Frankly, I prefer a bone-in turkey breast over a whole bird anyway. It's deliciously moist, cooks more evenly and roasts faster—ideal for the Thanksgiving oven schedule," Grant-Vose says. "Without the wings, legs, or thighs, the breast can be pulled right when it's done cooking, which means it won't dry out waiting for the dark meat to finish cooking."

She also recently created a recipe for Herb-Roasted Cornish Hens with Wild Rice Stuffing that's super-elegant and designed for four. "A nice bonus of cornish hens is that you can safely stuff them, which knocks out two dishes in one," Grant-Vose says.


For enough to stuff a full turkey, you'll need 8 to 10 cups of bread, Weeden explains, which is about half of a 16-ounce loaf. For a smaller batch of a stuffing recipe, simply bake what you need in a casserole dish (technically a dressing) or make stuffing muffins.

Try Grant-Vose's stuffing math to build your custom starchy side: ½ cup bread per person + ½ cup of add-ins like veggies, nuts or meat per person + about 2 cups broth + 2 eggs.

"Adjust with additional broth as needed and season to taste. Plan for ¾ to 1 cup of stuffing per person, or for leftovers, increase to 1 ½ cups per person," Grant-Vose says.


Plan for two spuds per person. Yes, we know it seems like a lot, but you don't want to run out and leftover mashed potatoes can be turned into creamy potato soups or to top shepherd's pies.

"You can easily halve, or quarter, classic mashed potato recipes," Grant-Vose says. "If you do so, add milk and butter incrementally until the desired texture is reached. You can always add more, but you can't take it back out."


"One thing I learned working in a test kitchen: There's never enough gravy. Make more than you think you'll need, aim for at least ½ cup per person," says Grant-Vose, who has developed recipes for several national brands as well as for her blog. Weeden agrees, confirming that her household never has excess gravy.

If you don't make a whole roast turkey and opt for a turkey breast instead, "just make your gravy with purchased turkey broth," Weeden says. "A good basic recipe is to combine 2 tablespoons flour with 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan until a paste forms, then whisk in 1 cup broth and cook and stir until thickened. Season as desired."

If you're lucky enough to have it, leftover gravy can be used with many different meals, including biscuits and gravy, shepherd's pie or poutine. It also freezes well for up to 3 months, Grant-Vose says.


Do the math for about 4 ounces of each casserole or veggie side dish per guest. Most casserole recipes—including sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, and mac and cheese—can easily be halved. Simply cut the ingredients in half and bake in an 8- x 8-in baking dish instead of a 9- x 13-inch baking dish, Grant-Vose says.

Cranberry Sauce

If you like the canned version (like Ocean Spray Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce; $2 for 14 ounces, Target), sizing down portions is simple. But if fresh fruit is your jam, note that cranberries usually come in 12- to 16-ounce bags. Weeden suggests using half of the bag for your favorite cranberry sauce recipe, then freeze the rest for another use.

Or make a full batch, then use extra top spread on rolls, to garnish roasted chicken or pork, or freeze the completed sauce if desired, Grant-Vose says. Plan for ¼ cup to ½ cup cranberry sauce per person.


Instead of making multiple pies, choose one or two family favorites. "Or for something a bit more special, try individual or mini pies," Grant-Vose says. "You can use small individual pie pans, muffin tins, or even mini muffin tins. I love pecan tassies, or 'mini pecan pies' for smaller gatherings."

No matter the guest count, Grant-Vose always offers at least two different desserts, each of which has a serving per person (for a total of two servings per person).

Bonus Tips for Hosting a Special, Scaled-Back Thanksgiving

Now that we have the food basics covered, Grant-Vose suggests some other possible Thanksgiving dishes to try.

"Instead of halving or scaling each dish down, swap a few of the classics with show-stopping alternatives. Replace mashed potatoes with duchess potatoes for an elegant potato side dish. Swap classic dinner rolls with homemade challah bread or challah rolls. In place of roasted sweet potatoes or sweet potato casserole, make hasselback butternut squash," Grant-Vose says.

To spice things up and make the most of any surplus, find a neighbor or two that you trust, and plan a dessert swap, Grant-Vose suggests. Ask everyone to whip up a different fall dessert or holiday pie and swap a few pieces.

"That way you get the joy of multiple pies without all the leftovers! Just make sure to follow CDC guidelines and follow safe kitchen practices," Grant-Vose says.

To ensure your Turkey Day is spent in good spirits, regardless of the party size, Grant-Vose recommends allotting one bottle of Thanksgiving-friendly wine per adult over 21. You may not use it all, but leftover wine will last until the weekend.

And lastly, don't overlook those who will be alone this year. "Even if you have to do a distant drop-off, leave a nice meal package on their doorsteps. It'll make their day and yours," Weeden says. "My mom is 97 and won't be joining anyone, so we will be doing this for her."

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