How to Host a Small-Scale Family Thanksgiving Dinner

Preparing a small family Thanksgiving dinner? We're sharing the best small-scale recipes and ways to celebrate.

Thanksgiving is a time for togetherness and sharing a meal around the table. But with smaller gatherings planned, or maybe even celebrating from a distance, this year might feel a bit untraditional. However, Thanksgiving is by no means canceled. In fact, a beautiful family Thanksgiving dinner can still be on the menu, and we’re here to show you how.

From the classic dinner staples and a roasted turkey to fun activities for the whole family, there’s no need to forget any of your favorite Thanksgiving traditions.

Family Thanksgiving Dinner Recipes

With fewer people gathering around the table, you may not need to make as much food. Whether you’re prepping a menu for two, a dinner for four or gathering with just a few more, there are delicious recipe options for every dinner style.

Thanksgiving Classics

This might be the year to really lean into comfort foods, and you certainly can’t go wrong with the classics. Dish up mashed potatoes with your bird, even for a small Thanksgiving dinner. And don’t forget the sides! You can make all kinds of quick air fryer Thanksgiving recipes.

Thanksgiving Drinks

This may not be a typical tradition around your table, but with fewer mouths to feed, why not play with fun drink options to make dinner all the more special? A pumpkin pie latte or a mug of hot apple cider is the perfect, festive way to warm everyone up before a great meal.

Thanksgiving Desserts

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a festive, indulgent dessert. But with fewer people around the table, that massive pumpkin pie just won’t do. The good news is that you may even have more time to put into an elaborate dessert such as honeyed pears in puff pastry, especially if you only have to make a few. But if you and your family can’t live without the traditional flavors of pumpkin pie, whipping up a batch of pumpkin pie bars to enjoy over the course of a few days is the perfect substitute.

Download our printable Thanksgiving shopping list to avoid an extra trip (or six) to the store. It helps to plan ahead, even for small celebrations!

How to Make Your Thanksgiving Turkey

Juicy roast turkey for small family thanksgiving dinnerTaste of Home

Bringing home a large bird for the occasion has traditionally been the norm, especially if you have plenty of guests to feed around the table. And for many, Thanksgiving simply just isn’t as special without a juicy roasted turkey. But a smaller family Thanksgiving dinner may require a different approach.

Consider a smaller bird, such as a five-pound turkey for four guests, or an eight-pounder for six guests. (Follow our turkey guide to cook the bird just right.) Other great options include purchasing a turkey breast or even opting for a roasted chicken.

But if having Thanksgiving leftovers is your goal, there’s no reason to deny yourself the satisfaction! Opt for a large bird as usual, and put together a list of delicious ideas for leftovers such as turkey tetrazzini, turkey Alfredo pizza and homemade turkey soup. You can even bring those leftovers to breakfast with turkey cranberry bagels.

What to Do on Thanksgiving

country mash up place settings for family thanksgiving dinnerTaste of Home

Thanksgiving incorporates so many wonderful traditions, with each family celebrating in different ways. And just because the crowd around the table is a bit smaller, it doesn’t mean you have to skip out on your annual traditions. However, a small family Thanksgiving dinner may offer the ideal opportunity to try something new.

  • Set an Elaborate Table: Hosting for a large crowd can feel intimidating when it comes to beautiful tablescapes. Why not try your hand at setting a stunning table for a smaller gathering? Consider hand-crafting simple centerpieces, making place cards for each guest and adding beautiful touches to each setting.
  • Cupcake Decorating: If the kids are used to having plenty of cousins and friends to play with during Thanksgiving, this might be the perfect time to set up a special activity for them. Put together a station to decorate Autumn Leaves Cupcakes or Turkey Pilgrim Cookies.
  • Give Thanks on Video Chat: If you’re not traveling this year, it’s probable that other family members will be hosting small-scale Thanksgiving dinners on their own as well. Why not gather virtually with a quick video call? Plan to bring everyone around the table to share what they’re thankful for.
  • Host Your Own Turkey Trot: If running a 5K is a tradition for your family, chances are, the organized race may be called off. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it on your own. Plan out a route around the neighborhood, get dressed up as a family and start running.

A small family Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t have to be less special. It still calls for plenty of delicious food, family fun and, of course, the best pair of stretchy pants you own. Make sure to also check out our ultimate guide to hosting Thanksgiving.

Want to bring joy home this holiday season? Check out the best tips and tricks to make your home merry and bright.

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Molly Allen
Molly Allen is a previous bakery owner and former event planner. Now, a freelance writer and editor focused on food and beverage, lifestyle, travel and parties, she brings her years of experience and industry knowledge to readers across a variety of platforms.