Thanksgiving dinner 2020

Planning for a smaller Thanksgiving this year

By Stephanie Chang, clinical dietitian at CHOC

 Thanksgiving is just around the corner and many of us are thinking about what we’re going to do for Thanksgiving 2020. You might be thinking:

“We won’t be able to have the big family celebration with our extended family.”

“We won’t be able to have a big potluck with our friends.”

“I don’t know how to cook turkey!”

“I usually volunteer to pick up the pumpkin pie and now I’m responsible for the whole dinner?!”

“What am I going to do with a whole ham or whole turkey when I’ve only got four people to feed and two of them are small children?”

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are encouraged to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner with just the members of our household. How can you manage creating a special meal on a smaller scale?

There are lots of healthy and delicious options for those of us cooking for a small group. We can choose simple dishes that make it manageable for only one cook to make an entire meal. This year, we may have to forego the five or six side dishes we might be used to having for potluck dinners and instead focus on a few simple and tasty sides to make the meal complete.

The Main Dish

In years past, the whole turkey or the whole ham might have been the star of the meal. However, this year that may be too much for one household. Consider making this year special by choosing a different protein for a smaller group. A whole roasted chicken can be a smaller, manageable protein choice for a family if a whole turkey seems daunting. Chicken is a good source of protein and contains minerals such as iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium.

Roast chicken with rosemary

  • 1 whole chicken, rinsed (about 3 pounds)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh rosemary
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Stuff with the onion and rosemary. Place chicken in a 9×13-inch baking dish or roasting dish.
  3. Roast for two to two-and-a-half hours, or until chicken is cooked through and juices run clear. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the chicken.

 Recipes courtesy of

The Side Dishes

 To keep side dishes simple, choose winter vegetables that are in-season and plentiful at the grocery store this time of year. These mostly root vegetables tend to remain fresh for a long time, so if you are not able to use them all on Thanksgiving Day, the uncut ones can be stored for another time. Root vegetables can be washed and cut ahead of time to cut down on time in the kitchen later. If you are short on oven space, roast the vegetables first, then the protein. While the protein is cooling, you can heat the vegetables in the oven while allowing them to brown more for a better roasted flavor. Root vegetables provide fiber, potassium, magnesium, vitamin A, beta carotene and folate.

The recipe below is a colorful mixture that provides a variety of tastes and textures. Recipes like these can be easily halved or have items omitted if there is an ingredient that won’t work for your family.

Roasted potatoes, carrots and Brussels sprouts

  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 medium carrots (about ¾ pound), cut into 1 ½-inch thick circles
  • 1 ½ cups Brussels sprouts (about ½ pound), halved
  • 4 cups red bliss potatoes (about 1 pound), cut into 1 ½-inch thick slices
  • 3 medium parsnips (about 1 pound), cut into 1 ½-inch thick slices
  • 1 cup sweet potatoes (about 1 pound), cut into 1 ½-inch thick slices
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Grease a baking sheet with extra-virgin olive oil. Place vegetables on baking sheet and add herbs, salt and pepper. Toss well, evenly coating all the vegetables with the seasonings and oil. Add more oil if the vegetables seem dry.
  3. Spread the vegetables evenly on a large baking sheet. Place on middle rack in oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes.

 Recipe courtesy of Food Network.

To make things easier on Thanksgiving Day, consider preparing cornbread the day before or Thanksgiving morning. Then by dinner time, it will be ready to simply heat and serve! The corn meal in the recipe adds 6 grams of fiber per 1 cup and also provides iron, B vitamins and vitamin A.

Honey cornbread muffins

  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ stick butter, melted
  • ¼ cup honey
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Mix the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the whole milk, eggs, butter and honey. Add the wet to the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed.
  3. Place muffin paper liners in a 12-cup muffin tin. Evenly divide the cornbread mixture into the papers. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden.

 Recipe courtesy of Food Network.

Thanksgiving dinner may look a little different this year, but it can still be a special day shared with your household around a delicious and healthy meal.

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