Alternative Thanksgiving Ideas for Smaller Gatherings

Simple Thanksgiving Recipes and Menus

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Chicken and Bacon in Puff Pastry. Linda Larsen

For Thanksgiving, many people cooking up a large traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. But what if there are only one or two or three in your family? Slaving over a huge meal that will mostly end up as leftovers isn't a great way to spend a holiday. These alternative Thanksgiving menus are a great alternative.

Thinking Outside the Box

There are many ways to scale back the traditional Thanksgiving meal.

At the end of the day, you'll be full and happy, but neither exhausted nor overwhelmed with cleanup and leftovers. Here are just a few simple options:

  • Cook a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey.
  • Cook other parts of a turkey, like a tenderloin or cutlets.
  • Make a cranberry-laced stuffing or serve a gratin of roasted vegetables.
  • Pick and choose your favorite dishes and make just one or two, supplementing the meal with purchased items, like a bakery pie or refrigerated mashed potatoes.
  • Use the crockpot to cook one or two dishes; all you have to do is serve!

Simple Alternative Thanksgiving Menus for Small Groups

Mix and match the following recipes from these menus, choosing the recipes that fit your cooking skill and those your family likes. And there may be one or two traditional recipes that you must make or it just won't feel like Thanksgiving! 

  • Chicken and Bacon in Puff Pastry Menu: This simple main dish recipe tastes like something from a fancy restaurant, but it's so easy to make! Enjoy it with some fabulous make-ahead side dishes and a wonderful dessert.
  • One Dish Thanksgiving Dinner: Serve the turkey, stuffing, and gravy all in one delicious casserole. All you need to add is a salad and some rolls, and your holiday dinner is on the table.
  • Roast Chicken Dinner Menu: A roasted chicken is a nice alternative to that big turkey. This delicious recipe is easy to make. Paired with asparagus and some creamy potatoes, this is a meal that is just as festive as the traditional one.
  • Turkey Breast and Stuffing Menu: For smaller families, this menu is ideal. It can be adapted to any taste just by changing the stuffing recipe.
  • Stuffed Turkey Tenderloin Dinner: Turkey tenderloins are delicious and easy to use. I'm always surprised by how quickly they cook. This menu is fun and festive.
  • Turkey Cutlets Menu: A cranberry and pistachio sauce makes quickly cooked turkey cutlets special. Sweet potato stuffing cooked in the crockpot and an easy make-ahead fruit salad round out the menu.
  • Crockpot Chicken and Sweet Potatoes Menu: Yes, you can serve chicken for Thanksgiving! It doesn't taste much different from turkey. And if you must have turkey, just use boneless skinless turkey thighs in this delicious recipe.
  • Roast Turkey Breast Menu: This menu is closest to a traditional Thanksgiving feast, but it's scaled down for a smaller group. You can make it for a crowd, though - just add more turkey!
  • Calvin Trillin's Thanksgiving Dinner: Writer Calvin Trillin has an interesting concept: since Columbus discovered America, Thanksgiving should be based on Italian food. Yum!