family life, recipes

First solo Thanksgiving dinner? Here’s how to pull it off without losing your mind or temper!

Just you and the dog this year? Don’t hide from the challenge. You can still eat well!

Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not coincidence.” Erma Bombeck, American humor writer

A recent survey suggested that – because of various COVID restrictions — one in five Thanksgiving 2020 dinners will be prepared by a first-time holiday cook. Sobering news, indeed.

Should you be among those entering the fray, here are some tips and recipes for a scaled-down, yet tasty Thanksgiving meal.


  1. Consider this an opportunity to make some of your own traditions. You are capable. You are creative. You can do this.
  2. Don’t assume you have to make everything from scratch. This is especially true if you are cooking for four or fewer people — who will judge? (BTW, cook for at least four even if it really is just you and the dog. Leftovers rock!)
  3. Some things can be made ahead of time, and will taste better for it. That said, all of the recipes in this post can be made day-of if needed.
  4. Chill out. It’s one meal. If something isn’t quite right, life will go on.
  5. Don’t forget that you are blessed! That’s why we’re celebrating – even if it’s not with the normal holiday crowd.



This is the most difficult item to prepare well. Unless you are really into it, spend the money and buy one that is pre-cooked. Such turkeys – a turkey breast is plenty to serve four BTW – are offered to-go Thanksgiving week by many restaurants and groceries. Store and reheat as recommended.

Cranberry sauce

Canned is OK, but fresh is so easy, why not? This is an easy one to prepare up to several days ahead.

To serve four, get one bag of frozen or fresh cranberries. Put them in a sauce pan with one cup of water and one cup of white sugar (don’t skimp). Heat until fruit skins begin to pop. Remove from heat and cool to room temp. Refrigerate in an airtight container until just before serving. Serve chilled.


Make a green salad of some sort. It’s a nice contrast to all the heavy stuff and it’s easy. Buy bagged greens to make it even easier.

Gussied-up Box Stuffing

To serve four, buy one box of stuffing mix. (Gluten-free versions exist if this is you.) Prepare according to box directions. Set aside.

In a wok or large skillet, sauté two large apples cut into chunks, one finely chopped onion, two chopped ribs celery and one cup of black or golden raisins in oil or butter. When fork tender, cool and gently mix into the stuffing.

This can be served immediately, but it will taste better if it is refrigerated for at least a few hours in an airtight container. Simply warm it up (covered with foil so it doesn’t dry out) when it’s time to serve. (This recipe can be easily doubled and makes excellent leftovers.)

Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Walnuts

For four people, buy a large can of sweet potatoes. (Like 32 ounces.) Drain, rinse and set aside.

In a small sauce pan, heat a half cup of brown sugar, 1/8 teaspoon salt and a third cup of water until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. Pour the sugar mixture into the sweet potato chunks and gently toss until they are coated. Cool to room temp. For best taste, refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to re-warm for the meal.

When it’s time to serve, toast two cups of walnut pieces until lightly browned in a dry skillet. (This part can be done way ahead of time, just store the nuts in an airtight jar at room temp.) At dinner time, sprinkle the nuts on top of the potatoes and warm in a baking dish covered with aluminum foil at 200 degrees. (You want warm, not burned…)


For traditionalists, this is where you want to stick with mom’s or grandma’s recipe. Go for it – but cheat with a pre-made pie crust if pie is your family thing. Make this ahead of time so as not to make yourself crazy.

If you’re not enamored with one specific dessert, anything will do. We’ve served coconut cake and pineapple upside-down cake to a good reception. Who’s to say good quality vanilla ice cream sprinkled with a bit of cocoa isn’t OK, too? Do what feels right to you.

39 thoughts on “First solo Thanksgiving dinner? Here’s how to pull it off without losing your mind or temper!”

  1. Thank you, Nora! People tend to forget that “Thanksgiving” means “giving thanks.” When did it become a day to watch football all day, or stress out over cooking? Thankfulness should be #1, fellowship is #2, and whatever else makes us happy after that.
    I’ve read the suggestion of a Cornish game hen as a good main course if you are only cooking for two. I think that’s kinda cute. ❤ The thing I spend the most time on is the cranberries. I'm not crazy about them by themselves, but I have a recipe involving cranberries, cherry Jello, chopped apples and oranges, grated orange peel, and chopped nuts, if I can get away with them. (Some of my family don't like nuts.) That's more like dessert for me, since I don't do sugar. (I use sugar-free Jello.) The grated orange peel gives it the "holiday" feel, IMO. 🙂
    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. We had Cornish hen for Thanksgiving too! It was just the two of us… eating in a cold basement, as we were in the middle of redoing our kitchen where the electrician was working (no Thanksgiving holiday in France). Still, I made sure there were cranberries and apple pie on the menu 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a lovely post Nora! I love the suggestion to create some of their very own holiday traditions! It really doesn’t take long for a tradition to take hold in a family. This year, it will be my husband and myself, first time every I haven’t had at least 20 around the table. So I will simplify, and know in the grand scheme of things it is not a big deal in order for all my loved ones to be safe.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Me, too! And, we usually have a houseful of people. I’m doing all the sides from this post plus chicken this year — just like I did when I was a newlywed and we lived far from family. Blessings whatever you cook, Liz!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Nora, Is that Miles peaking out from behind a chair? Great Thanksgiving meal suggestions. The gussied up box stuffing sounds delicious. Several years ago my mother, who for her entire married life hosted the Thanksgiving feast and cooked the turkey, finally switched to a simpler fare of chicken & gravy over Yeast waffles. None of us even miss Tom Turkey.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That is Miles! He knows the holidays are coming. A simple meal really is so much more fun! I love your mom’s idea. We, too, are doing chicken this year. (I won’t miss arguing with my husband about whether the turkey is done…) Have a blessed holiday if I don’t talk to you again. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 🙂 Happy Thanksgiving to you, too! We relented and are having turkey … and all the stuff I normally cook. There’s a possibility of a neighborhood porch crawl of sorts. Weird but true!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanksgiving is not celebrated in New Zealand – but I always think that if you aren’t able to follow a tradition – just laying the table with a nice cloth, using your best china and cutlery and glass ware with anything else that constitutes a great meal that you don’t usually serve on a daily basis…is the way to give “thanks”

    And yes, it will be hard for many families particularly in countries where c/19 is rife… I have an online friend who has had to turn down an invitation to join her family/friends gathering because she is “vulnerable” … all I think we can all say “she and her husband are being sensible” but it’s hard act to swallow

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a tough time. Our children are still at home, so we’re under one roof. But, I would sure miss them if they weren’t already here. A lot of my empty-nest friends are quite sad because it looks like this will take down family Christmases, as well. That said, we’ve already lost one family friend to COVID. I’d rather not lose any more.

      Blessings on your great meals, whatever days they occur!!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Especially embrace your idea of creating a new tradition. Excellent post. Cornish Game Hens are perfect for small Thanksgiving celebrations. All my best to you. Peace and blessings.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. How did I miss this post? I know, spent a lot of time cheering my daughter stuck in her studio at B.U…
    This applies to the 2020 Christmas gathering also, so I am glad I read it. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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