How To Have A Simplified Thanksgiving Dinner During The Pandemic

From A Chef & Caterer: 7 Ideas For A Memorable Pandemic Thanksgiving

Woman With Thanksgiving Turkey
Julia Meslener/Scary Mommy and GraphicaArtis/ CQYoung/Getty

Thanksgiving is almost here, and we are still in the middle of a pandemic. Like, smack dab in the thick of it. We are not turning the corner or whatever TF some people think is happening. This thing is raging.

Sadly, getting together for a giant family meal this month is a really terrible idea. Take it from me—someone whose birthday falls on Thanksgiving this year. I am itching to get everyone I love in the same room. Nobody wants a big celebration more than I do, but this is not the year. It just isn’t.

That means that, for those of us still following the COVID guidelines like we should be, Thanksgiving is going to be kind of mini-sized this year. We are not going to require a twenty-pound turkey, five pounds of mashed potatoes, and a swimming pool of gravy.

If your Thanksgiving feast is going to be an immediate family affair this year, you might be trying to think of ways to make your meal fun and delicious without all the hours of prep work.

Jeanne Strout, a retired caterer and restaurateur of over twenty years who now works as a personal chef, agreed to sit down with Scary Mommy to chat about the upcoming holiday. She provided us with some creative, delicious ways to make your Thanksgiving meal one for the books!

Courtesy of Jeanne Strout

Do it up big with the traditional Thanksgiving feast—just substitute the bird!

“There’s no reason to scale back unless you want to,” Jeanne reminds us. “If you need a roasted bird, your best china, and a gorgeous tablescape to get you in a celebrating mood, do it!”

She continues, “I absolutely love cooking the Thanksgiving meal, and repurposing the leftovers into soups, sandwiches, potato pancakes and more makes my heart happy. For a smaller crowd, a turkey breast, roasted chicken or Cornish hens can take the place of a giant turkey.”

Grill up some turkey burgers.

If you live in a climate that allows year-round grilling, Jeanne suggests throwing some turkey burgers on the grill. Serve them with a drizzle of gravy on big, fluffy buns. Fry up some crispy sweet potato fries, and toss together Jeanne’s holiday favorite: cranberry coleslaw! This casual meal can be eaten off a paper plate, making cleanup a cinch.

Jeanne’s Cranberry Coleslaw

Slaw:

1 head of green cabbage, shredded finely.

Large carrot, peeled and grated.

1 green apple, diced.

¾ cup dried cranberries

Optional: ½ cup pecans

Dressing:

½ cup mayo

½ cup Greek yogurt

1 Tbs plus 1 tsp Honey

¼ cup Apple Cider Vinegar

1 Tbs whole grain mustard

Whisk together all the dressing ingredients. Toss together with the cabbage and carrots until well-coated. Add green apples and cranberries, and toss again until well coated. Garnish with nuts if desired.

Try a slice of Thanksgiving-inspired turkey meatloaf.

Chef Jeanne says, “This simple recipe has all the flavors of Thanksgiving without the fuss! Serve it alongside mashed potatoes and traditional green bean casserole. Your tastebuds will thank you!”

Jeanne’s Quick and Easy Thanksgiving Meatloaf:

2 lbs ground turkey

2 eggs

½ cup milk

1 ½ cups pre-seasoned boxed stuffing mix

1 small onion, grated.

¾ cup dried cranberries

2 packets dry poultry gravy mix

2-3 Tbs poultry seasoning

Salt and Pepper

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and milk. Add salt and pepper and stuffing mix. Allow to soften 5-10 minutes. Add ground turkey, onion, cranberries, gravy mix and poultry seasoning, and mix well with your hands. Press into a loaf pan or fashion into a loaf shape on a flat sheet pan (preferred.) Bake 45-55 minutes, until internal temperature reaches 165. Serve sliced with gravy.

Hit up your local BBQ joint.

You could smoke and pull a turkey breast on your own if you’ve got the smoker, the time and the desire, but if you’re just not feeling very much like cooking this year, Jeanne suggests saving yourself the hassle.

“A couple days before Thanksgiving, stop by your local barbecue restaurant and ask for a family-size order of pulled turkey. On Thanksgiving morning, throw a few large baking potatoes in the oven, and heat the turkey. Load up your potatoes with whatever fixin’s you love, and add a heap of pulled smoked turkey to the top. Toss together a light salad, and you’ve got a delicious turkey dinner with hardly any cooking—or cleanup!”

Opt for sandwiches, and don’t cook one single thing.

“A few days before the holiday, take a trip to your local deli and ask to sample a few of their highest quality turkeys. When you’ve settled on the one you like best, ask for a couple pounds, sliced the way you like it. Choose your favorite cheese while you’re there, too. Head to the bakery for some freshly baked sandwich bread, sliced thick for toasting. In the produce section, get a nice head of crisp butter lettuce, and a decent slicing tomato. Grab a bag of high-end kettle chips, and you’re all done shopping!” Jeanne exclaims.

On Thanksgiving, toast the bread, slather on mayo, salt and pepper, then layer on turkey, cheese, lettuce and tomato. Serve the sandwiches with chips, and watch a movie on the couch. Turkey sandwiches are the best part of Thanksgiving anyway—why not skip the meal and get right to the good part?

Skip the Thanksgiving turkey, and get fancy!

If you aren’t married to the idea of a turkey, but you still want to spend the day cooking up a feast, Jeanne suggests this is the perfect year to do it.

“You probably aren’t serving lobster tails or filet mignon to your 27 cousins and their entire families on a normal year,” Jeanne says. “If there’s just a handful of you this year, why not break out high quality ingredients, or even that fancy recipe you’ve been dying to try and give it a go? This is the perfect year to get adventurous—and if it doesn’t go well, nobody has to know! I suggest Gordon Ramsay’s Beef Wellington. It’s positively decadent!”

Support a local small business.

If your local restaurant is serving holiday meals packaged for takeout, don’t feel bad “making them work on a holiday.”

“When I was running restaurants with my family, we were happy to work on holidays. We could celebrate on the off hours or have our big meal on another day. That holiday income kept us afloat during the slower months that followed. Holiday customers meant I got to spoil my kids and grandkids. This year, small businesses are struggling under the weight of the pandemic. If they’re offering a holiday meal, they want you to buy it!” Jeanne explains.

This year, Thanksgiving might feel like a bright moment of much-needed happiness in an otherwise heavy year. It might feel like just one more big chore for you to try to shove into to your already overwhelming calendar.

Either way, you are under no obligation to force yourself to put on a happy face and pretend nothing is different.

If this year is too much, try one of the simpler suggestions on the list.

If the way the pandemic is changing the holiday season is hitting you hard, maybe opt to make this year feel exciting by trying something new.

Whether you’re just doing your best to get through it, or looking forward to the distraction, your pandemic Thanksgiving probably won’t look like it always does. Here’s hoping we can all find something to be grateful for—and keep the faith that with our newly-elected, competent leaders, 2021 might bring us the chance to gather together again.