Best Thanksgiving Meal for Small Families

Thanksgiving Dinner for Smaller Gatherings

As Thanksgiving approaches, various medias picture large families gathered around a table overflowing with festive foods, young kids at play, and grandpa sleeping in the living room recliner.  The incessant clamor of voices creates a beautiful kind of chaos. Everyone leaves with full bellies, a plate of leftovers, and the memory of another great Thanksgiving tucked away in their hearts.

Best Thanksgiving Feast for Small Gatherings

Maybe you're not from a large family, your kids can't make it home this year, or you're at a stage of life where too much commotion is unsettling.  You want a great Thanksgiving meal at home though and can't imagine going to a restaurant.

Our family is small, too, and after years of experimenting, we have landed on a delicious menu that pleases everyone, doesn't create too many leftovers, and can be prepared in just a few hours.    

Whether you're feeding your small family or inviting a few friends over to celebrate, here are recipes for all the trimmings you can put together in a snap.

Turkey Breasts Instead of a Whole Turkey

Preparing a large turkey is a lot of work.  You never know exactly when the thermometer will pop, and it's a delicate balance to make sure it's neither undercooked nor overdone. If you stuff a whole turkey, you need to ensure it's completely cooked so you don't give your guests food poisoning.  Once you debone the turkey, you have to keep it warm while you use the pan juices to whip up gravy.  It's a stressful juggling act--all while hungry guests wonder when you're ever going to get it on the table!

The best Thanksgiving main course for a small gathering of 6-8 is two, three-pound turkey breasts in the crockpot.  Butterball turkeys can be found year-round in the frozen meat section of your grocery store.  There are four types:  white meat, white and dark meat, Cajun, and savory herb.  We use white meat, and since the recipe calls for turkey gravy, it's convenient that each Butterball breast comes with its own gravy packet.

The recipe is a cinch to make.  I usually rub the skin lightly with butter to keep it from drying, but it turns out tasty and moist every time.  

Just click on the recipe to download and print.

Slow Cooker Turkey Breasts

No matter how many recipes circulate on the Internet advising how to use up extra turkey in an assortment of soups, pot pies, and pastas, leftover turkey is overrated.  It doesn't take long for it to taste "funny," so you won't miss having little or no turkey to spare when you use the above recipe. 

Best Ever Homemade Stuffing

Just because you're using turkey breasts without cavities to "stuff" doesn't mean you can't enjoy homemade, traditional stuffing on Thanksgiving.  

My mother created her own stuffing recipe, and I've altered and perfected it to meet the taste preferences of my family.  In fact, my mom now likes my version better!

Cutting up and sautéing the carrots, onion, and celery is the most labor-intensive part of this recipe, but once that step is completed, the rest is easy!  The trick is making sure your casserole dish of stuffing is lightly browned without getting crunchy.  You'll start with your casserole dish covered with foil, and you'll remove it part way through to lightly toast the top, but you need to make sure the bottom of your dish doesn't get too brown.  Positioning your dish on the center rack of the oven helps.

Click on the recipe to download and print.

Best Ever Homemade Stuffing

Smothered Green Beans

We all tend to overdose on carbs every Thanksgiving, so this green bean recipe can round out your meal.  It has a very unique taste compared to most green bean recipes.  Even our kids love it.

Each year, my husband's company has a covered dish carry-in before Thanksgiving.  The employer provides the meats, and the employees bring everything else. We double this Smothered Green Beans recipe and keep it warm in a crock pot for the occasion, and there is not a bean left by the end of the lunch hour!  Everyone always asks for the recipe, too.

Click on the recipe to download and print.

Smothered Green Bean Recipe

Sweet Potato Casserole

Mashed potatoes with gravy is a traditional staple at many Thanksgiving tables, but you can have that common side dish any time of year.  For the holidays, side dishes should be extra special.

We've tried many sweet potato casseroles through the years, and we've narrowed our favorites down to two:  Sweet Potato Casserole and Sweet Potato, Orange & Pineapple Crunch.  Both recipes are definitely a splurge because neither are very healthy, which is what makes them so good!

You can download and print these recipes from Taste of Home by clicking on the links above where they are listed.

Sweet Potato Casserole      Sweet Potato, Orange & Pineapple Crunch
Images:  Taste of Home

Pumpkin Pie, Dutch Apple Pie, or Both!

Thanksgiving would not be complete without a slice of pumpkin pie, but if you'd like your guests to have options, Dutch Apple pie makes a great addition.

There is no substitute for Libby's canned pumpkin, so don't skimp.  One year, my mother-in-law tried a different brand of canned pumpkin, and her pie turned out green!  Some pumpkin pie recipes have too much spice while others have too little, but the Libby's pumpkin pie recipe on the back of the can can't be beat, especially if you make a homemade crust instead of using frozen.

Libby's Pumpkin Pie Recipe
Libby's Pumpkin Pie recipe--just add Cool Whip!

The best recipe for Dutch Apple Pie can also be found from Taste of Home, but I make one significant improvement to the recipe. I shake copious amounts of cinnamon into the crumb mixture and also into the cooked apple mixture.  It makes a world of difference!

Dutch Apple Pie image from Taste of Home.

What to Serve If Your Guests Come for Both Lunch and Dinner

Some families eat their Thanksgiving feast at lunchtime so they have the rest of the day to burn off the extra calories before regrouping for leftovers at dinner.  Other families spend the day cooking and serve the largest meal in the late afternoon before spending the evening together.

Since the recipes noted above don't generate many leftovers, what can you serve if your guests are in your home for two meals on Thanksgiving Day?

Our family prefers eating our Thanksgiving meal at noon.  Even though no one is very hungry by dinner time, we still regather for lighter fare.  After spending so much time in the kitchen making the main meal of the day, who wants to labor into the evening hours making more food?  Instead, we throw together a picnic-style menu to make it easy.

Here's what we serve for dinner:

  • Meat and cheese platter for sandwiches
  • Veggie plate with dip
  • Fruit bowl
  • Deviled eggs
  • Chips
These simple foods can be whipped together quickly, and they don't bog down bellies still somewhat full from earlier in the day.

A Delicious Thanksgiving Menu Scaled to Your Needs

Just because your house isn't busting at the seams from guests doesn't mean you have to sacrifice any of the holiday foods synonymous with Thanksgiving.  

The recipes above are delectable, can be assembled quickly (even the night before), won't take up too much room in your fridge, and aren't stressful to prepare.  Thanksgiving made easy will leave you time for the most important aspects of the holiday--spending time with those closest to you and counting your blessings!

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