Downsizing Thanksgiving: Tradition Tips and Recipe Tricks

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I don't need to tell you that the holidays this year will look different than any other year in the past. At this point, we're all aware of our current situation. But the question remains:

How do we make the best of a holiday that's based on gathering in a world where gathering can put us all at risk?

Well, I'm here to tell you: Not all Thanksgiving traditions need to be completely thrown out the window! I'm all about tradition, so I've been wracking my brain as to how I could make this holiday as normal as possible. What it really comes down to is spending time with family, reflecting on what we are grateful for and eating delicious food!

While we can still gather with those in our household, here are a few ways we could also still be in-touch with those outside of our bubbles:

  • Set a time to call, Zoom or FaceTime the people you typically see on Thanksgiving.
  • Many of us have elderly family members who may not be up for cooking a big meal for themselves. If you live nearby and are able, make enough food for them and then make a contactless delivery!
  • Do a quick drive-by or drop off dessert to friends or family who may be alone this holiday.

Most importantly: Make sure you spend your day appreciating the good things in your life. There is a lot of stress and negativity in the world right now, but there are also SO many things to be grateful for.

Now, pour yourself a mimosa and let's talk food. For those of you who don't typically cook Thanksgiving dinner on your own, it's not as hard as you might think! And it's not impossible to downsize this meal for just your household.


Turkey Size and Ordering

First, call any local grocery store or butcher and order your turkey ASAP! I like leftovers, so I aim for one and a half to two pounds per person. Small turkeys are hard to come by, so here are some other ideas:

  • Order individual thighs, breasts, legs, wings—or a mix of it all.
  • Split a big turkey with a friend! Many meat departments can cut the bird for you, so you can order a big turkey and have them cut it down the middle.
  • If all else fails and you cooked too much food, there are great recipes for leftovers online! Turkey sandwiches and turkey pot pie are two of my favorites.

Here are some recipes to add to your Thanksgiving toolbox:


This is for an unstuffed, whole turkey but many of these can be applied to cooking individual pieces, too.


  • Turkey (Duh!)
  • Turkey broth (Add herbs to taste—whatever your family likes!)
  • ½ stick of butter (melted). Add more, if needed.


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Unwrap turkey (over the sink, as it can get messy). If you have a whole turkey, make sure gizzards are removed.
  3. Place in roasting pan and baste with butter and broth. Make sure you get all the crevices! Drape aluminum foil loosely on top and place in oven.

For a whole turkey it will take approximately 15 minutes per pound. I estimate 20 minutes per pound, since I pull mine out so much.

  1. Pull the turkey out every 45 minutes and quickly baste using the turkey's juices at the bottom of the pan and inside the body, and/or turkey broth.
  2. Once you're halfway through your estimated time, check the temperature of the turkey. Google has great examples of how to use a thermometer for this!
  3. Take the aluminum foil off during the last 30-45 minutes, depending on how much you want your turkey to brown.
  4. Once the turkey reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees, remove it from the oven.
  5. Cool the turkey with tented foil. Let stand for 30-45 minutes before carving.

DO NOT THROW AWAY THE JUICES! THESE ARE GOLD! I use them in my gravy (see below) and as the liquid for my stuffing and mashed potatoes.


Homemade Turkey Gravy


  • Juices directly from your turkey and/or turkey broth.
  • A dash of paprika.
  • Salt to taste.
  • 1 tbsp butter.
  • Flour (amount based on consistency).


  1. Sprinkle paprika on top of your butter and melt in a large frying pan over medium heat.
  2. Add a tablespoon of flour to start. Cook over medium-low heat and continuously mix until blended, being sure to not let the flour burn.
  3. Continue adding small amounts of flour and stirring constantly until the consistency resembles damp sand (slightly crumbly, but not dry).
  4. Slowly add broth and whisk consistently until blended.
  5. Repeat step four until your gravy is at the desired consistency. Add salt to taste.

Don't heat the gravy too quickly or it will become salty. If it thickens as it cools, slowly add more broth and warm over medium-low heat until it's the consistency you're looking for.

And that's a wrap! Of course, feel free to add any additional side dishes: Stuffing, gravy, green bean casserole, cranberries, etc.

I'm so grateful for the many years I've had to celebrate the holidays with my family. I learned these tips and tricks while cooking Thanksgiving dinner all day with my mom and grandma. Although this year will be different, tasting the meal I've made from their recipes will always remind me of home. Looking forward to the day we can gather again!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Written by Ashley Micallef, Media Consultant for West Michigan Woman.


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