Of all the holidays we have to look forward to, Thanksgiving is the one that rarely abandons tradition. Every family usually has their own “way” of celebrating, and the routine typically goes as follows: Gather among family and friends over a big meal of hearty mains and decadent side dishes and desserts, while discussing football or other controversial topics in the midst of passing the dinner rolls. Then later, you may ponder what to do with all the extra food and wake up to some Black Friday shopping. And so it goes—wash, rinse, repeat every year.
It’s thought of as the standard way of spending Thanksgiving, but as with most things, traditions are made to be broken or started anew. With more and more people unable to join their relatives during the holidays due to demanding jobs or a heavy course load, or perhaps even burdened with the financial means of traveling, many have no choice but to celebrate Thanksgiving alone. We could look at it as a sad occasion, but we prefer to empower those people in the kitchen this year. What could be more liberating on the biggest gathering of the year than to be in complete control of the menu, wine, and conversation? Here’s how to make the most of a Thanksgiving for one (or maybe even two), and it all starts with not biting off more than you can chew. First, decide on the foods you simply can’t live without on Thanksgiving, and then halve those tried-and-true recipes.
Make Thanksgiving Dinner in One Pan
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If turkey just happens to make your list, putting in the extra time and effort required to prepare it is futile for one person. Did you know that you can buy smaller portions of turkey meat, like turkey breasts, thighs, or drumsticks, instead of the whole bird? Try pan-frying or roasting a turkey breast, or you can be more creative by stuffing a turkey breast or making a quick turkey stir fry on the stovetop in one skillet. You still get all the deliciousness of fresh turkey, except in a small-sized, manageable portion, perfect just for one.
- Another way to simplify Thanksgiving for one is with a sheet pan, where you can bake a portion of turkey and stuffing along with roasted veggies like Brussels sprouts. Sheet-pan dinners offer maximum flavor with minimal fuss and clean-up. And if you happen to have any turkey breasts or thighs left over, you can heat up a pan on the stovetop with a little oil and add your turkey, vegetables, and a couple of eggs to make a day-after Thanksgiving hash.
- One additional pan you should add to your baking arsenal to make Thanksgiving dinner easier is a muffin pan. One 12-cup muffin tin allows you to bake several meals at one time. Place four dinner rolls, four apple pies (or whatever mini dessert you’d prefer), and four stuffing or dressing portions in each row, making sure the cook time and temperature are relatively the same for each recipe. It frees up one wire rack in your oven to roast your meats or vegetables and saves you a lot of time.
Rely on the Supermarket for Sides
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In addition to traditions and yearly rituals, we know there’s also the added pressure to make everything from scratch on Thanksgiving. Cut yourself some slack; there’s nothing wrong with buying a la carte, pre-made sides, desserts, or rolls. Supermarkets like Whole Foods typically have cranberry sauce, turkey gravy, and healthy sides like cornbread stuffing that they’re willing to put in smaller containers for you, as well as mini pies and desserts. Ready to heat and eat, make the most use of store-bought sides when possible. It’s less time consuming and results in less pots and pans to clean.
Skip the Turkey Altogether
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A personal favorite, as someone who typically celebrates Thanksgiving with one other person every year, is Cornish game hens. Even though they’re small, you can still put stuffing in the cavity or seasonings under the skin just as you would a regular turkey. Not only are they individually portioned (no leftovers!), but Cornish game hens are tender and cook very quickly. Most importantly, they don’t dry out as easily as turkey. Also, a portion of duck and slices of ham are worth considering for a quaint Thanksgiving on a smaller scale.
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Cooking for one is no walk in the park on any day, but on Thanksgiving, it’s even more difficult. However, the beauty of celebrating Thanksgiving by yourself is that you can cook whatever you want without worrying about impressing anyone else at the dinner table. Sure, you’re spending Turkey Day solo, but you also have a lot to be grateful for, and you’ve earned the right to have a delicious single-serving spread.