NCH is part of Endeavor Health

Learn more

News  ›  Fitness and Nutrition

The upside to downsizing your Thanksgiving meal

November 10, 2020

Rosemary Weaver, MPH, RDN, LDN, NCH Wellness Center Dietitian

It’s nearly time for one of America’s favorite holidays: Thanksgiving. COVID-19 will likely change the way most of us celebrate this year. Instead of a big spread and a houseful of guests, we should be “downsizing” the celebration to more immediate family. Is there an upside to all this? Practically speaking, yes! Besides protecting yourself and others from COVID-19, additional “upsides” for “downsizing” the holiday meal may include:

  • Less groceries to purchase (easier on the budget)
  • A smaller turkey or even an alternate main dish (quicker cooking time)
  • Less prep time and cleanup (who doesn’t love this)
  • Fewer leftovers (therefore, fewer post-holiday “temptations”)
  • More time to spend on experimenting with a new recipe or two
  • An opportunity to focus on starting a new tradition—like a family turkey trot, setting a really special table or giving thanks on a video chat with extended family

Many cherished recipes can be successfully scaled back simply by reducing the quantity of ingredients based on the number of desired servings. For example, a mashed potato or sweet potato dish that serves 16 in an extra-large pan can have all ingredients divided by four and made in a small casserole dish.

For the entrée, consider buying a smaller bird, such as a five-pound turkey for four guests or an eight-pounder for six guests. Other options include purchasing a turkey breast (see our great recipe below) or even roasting a chicken.

To keep turkey breast from becoming too dry, try roasting it with a vegetable stuffing that goes under the skin, cook it “low and slow” in a slow cooker or instant pot or—when roasting in the oven— cover the meat with foil and sufficient liquid in the pan; remove the foil near the end of roasting time to allow the skin to brown nicely.

In the vegetable and salad department, this could be the opportunity to experiment a little if there are a few less picky eaters at your table. Consider roasting vegetables, like Brussels sprouts, mash up a new butternut squash recipe or pair the turkey with a side of beet, carrot and apple slaw.

Less doesn’t mean sacrificing fun in the dessert category: make half a recipe for pumpkin pie bars or opt for single take-out pie slices rather than buying entire pies or making 13 x 9 pans of dessert. Or, lighten it up a bit by preparing individual baked apples or pears—optionally serve with a small scoop of frozen yogurt or cinnamon ice cream. Kids who might miss seeing their cousins/friends can get creative decorating their own orange-colored frosted cupcakes using assorted toppings of sprinkles, chocolate or butterscotch chips, mini-marshmallows, dried fruit or nuts.

In the end, no matter the size of our tables, it’s still about being thankful and being together—and a holiday meal is a beautiful expression of that.

We hope you and yours have a lovely and safe Thanksgiving.

You may enjoy this recipe for Orange Rosemary-glazed Turkey Breast, courtesy of MINDFUL by Sodexo:

Orange Rosemary—glazed Turkey Breast—(serves 8: provides a meal for 4 with leftovers)


  • Orange marmalade—5 1/2 oz.
  • Orange rind (zest), grated—3 tsp.
  • Orange juice—2 Tbsp.
  • Honey—1 1/2 Tbsp.
  • Rosemary (fresh), chopped fine—1 1/2 tsp.
  • Black pepper—3/4 tsp.
  • Reduced sodium turkey breast/frozen/uncooked—2 1/3 pounds


  1. Thaw turkey breast overnight in refrigerator. 
  2. In a bowl, combine orange marmalade, orange zest, orange juice, honey, rosemary and black pepper for glaze. Mix well.
  3. Remove turkey from bag. Place turkey breast on a rack in roasting pan with ¼ inch water in bottom of pan. Cover pan with parchment and foil.
  4. Roast in a 375 degree F oven for 45 minutes.
  5. Remove cover. Baste turkey breast with 2 oz. of glaze.
  6. Return to oven for 20 minutes. Baste with additional 2 oz. of glaze. Return to oven and roast until done –minimal internal temperature should be 165 degrees. 
  7. Let rest for 10 minutes before carving into thin slices. 

Nutrition information: per 1/8 or recipe, approx. 3 .5 oz. serving

Calories:  244

Carbohydrate: 4 grams

Protein:  24.5 grams

Fat:  6.3 grams

Saturated Fat: 2.1 grams

Sodium: 102 grams

Added sugars: 3 grams