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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

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