For a few years in my late 20s and early 30s, Thanksgiving dinner was comprised of exactly five people: My husband, my brother and his wife, and my grandmother. We didn’t have children yet, and the rest of my family was living in various locations throughout the United States.
Those meals were some of my favorites because dinner was manageable, and I had plenty of time to enjoy not only my holiday feast, but also the company.
When life shifts course or family dynamics change and our once huge family celebration is whittled down, it’s easy to think making a feast isn’t worth the trouble. But the special touches that make holiday dinners feel important still matter regardless of how many chairs are at the table.
Set out your best plates, make that gorgeous centerpiece, iron the table cloth, and cook until your heart is content.
If you are planning a small family gathering for the holidays this year, why not think outside the 20-pound bird and try something a little different? Who knows? This may be the year to start a new tradition.
With a little planning you can do most of the work ahead of time, so the day of is relaxing and (relatively) fuss free.
Your Thanksgiving Prep List
- Up to Three Months Ahead of Time: Parker House Rolls
- Three Days Ahead of Time: Cranberry Sauce and Pumpkin Pie
- Two Days Ahead of Time: Green Bean Casserole
- One Day Ahead of Time: Sausage Sage and Cornbread Stuffing
- The Big Day: Stuffed Turkey Breast, Hasselback Potatoes, and Drinks
A whole turkey can leave a lot of leftovers when made for a small gathering, but a rolled, stuffed turkey breast is elegant and serves about 4 to 6 people along with all the sides on the table. If you want to have leftovers or enough for seconds this recipe is easy enough to double without taking up additional room in your oven!
These are a classic, and luckily, dinner rolls can be made months in advance and frozen. Remove them from the freezer 24 hours before you want to serve them, and then just before serving, warm them briefly in a low oven.
Skip the sauce in a can and make it from scratch. It’s easy to do, and can be made at least 3 days in advance. Spice it up with orange zest and cinnamon and add some texture with chopped nuts.
Wow everyone by making green bean casserole from scratch – arguably the most loved dish on any holiday table. Keep the pre-made casserole in the fridge and store the fried onions in an airtight container on the countertop. When you're ready to serve, scatter the onions on top, and bake!Continue to 5 of 9 below.
Gluten-free doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy stuffing. This cornbread version is a great make-ahead side. Just heat it up and serve!
In my world, the final side has to be of the spud variety. Hasselback potatoes are easy to make: one per person and you’re ready to go. This is a dish that speaks to tradition but spices it up a bit.
If there are traditionalists among you, and Thanksgiving just isn’t Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie, it’s ok. Never fear, you can bake the pie three days ahead of time. Let it cool, cover it and keep it in the fridge until everyone has joined the Thanksgiving Day Elastic Waistband Society, and happily continues eating now that their stretchy pants have allowed room for dessert.
Hot cocoa is great because it can double as dessert! This version is sweetened with maple syrup and is dairy free.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
I love the rich ruby color of this cocktail. The flavors are a nice balance of sweet and tart. The sprig of rosemary adds an herbal note and finishes its festive look. Make the drink non-alcoholic by replacing the tequila with orange juice then raise a toast those near and far.