How To Host And Make A Small Thanksgiving Dinner During COVID-19

Food experts suggest ways to make the most of your menu when the coronavirus requires smaller gatherings.

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It’s just food. It’s just a day. But still, that fourth Thursday in November is looming in our minds and on our calendars, fraught with uncertainty. With the CDC saying that staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others, many of us will be observing a day of gratitude that’s smaller, quieter and possibly much lonelier. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still find reasons to be grateful, and it definitely doesn’t mean that we can’t eat well when we’re doing so. Here’s what the experts suggest.

Change your large indoor gathering to a small, outdoor one.

The CDC describes having a small outdoor dinner with family and friends who live in your community as a moderate risk activity, so you could try an outdoor event, depending on the weather where you’re celebrating. Or if you want another way to enjoy a few bites of all the best dishes your friends and family make, consider a virtual potluck. “This year, I’m considering a socially distanced potluck with folks who live in a 10-mile radius of me,” said Rick Rodgers, author of “Thanksgiving 101: Celebrate America’s Favorite Holiday with America’s Thanksgiving Expert.” “I’ll need to plan in advance so everyone has time to go buy containers, and I’ll assign dishes to everyone, so we don’t double up on green beans or sweet potatoes. The less-experienced cooks will be assigned things like cranberry sauce or drinks.”

Reconsider buying a whole turkey.

Rodgers predicted that this year will see renewed popularity for turkey breasts, which are a smaller serving option. If you still want to serve gravy with that breast, he suggested adding some giblets or wings to the roasting pan in order to make a sufficient amount of drippings. “Just don’t roast the turkey liver, because that taste is too strong for gravy,” he warned. “If you want to try something fancier, try a turkey roulade. Let YouTube be your friend for how-to videos on rolling up that pounded-out breast and adding a filling,” he said.

In the lemonade-out-of-lemons department, you might find that feeding a smaller crowd could be an opportunity for everyone to get the kind of meat they like best. “If there’s never enough thigh meat to go around, just buy thigh parts this year,” he said. “Or if the kids love drumsticks, buy a few of those and everyone can pretend they’re at a Renaissance Festival. Or this might be the year you try a new cooking technique and use the outdoor grill to cook the turkey and even some of the sides.”

Chef Keith Sarasin is the author of “The Perfect Turkey Cookbook: More Than 100 Mouthwatering Recipes for the Ultimate Feast.” This year, he’s advising people to view turkey as a sum of its parts.

“A whole turkey can be a ton of food for one or two people,” he said. “Some people love having the leftovers, but if you don’t want that, try turkey wings with the drumstick attached. Two wings for two people will be plenty. Pat them dry, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook at 350 degrees for 2 or 2 1/2 [hours], and you’re good to go.”

Pack big flavor in smaller dishes.

“Thanksgiving really is all about rich, deep autumnal flavors,” chef Robin Asbell told HuffPost. The author ofVegan Meal Prep” said the good news is that those flavors can be delivered in much smaller packages. “Ask yourself, ‘What does Thanksgiving taste like to you?’ Then recreate those flavors in smaller dishes.” Don’t be afraid to transform your recipes from “feeds a crowd” to “feeds a quarantine pod,” she said. “It’s possible to cut a recipe in half, or even into quarters. That won’t always work with baking, but for things you’re roasting or cooking on the stovetop, it’s definitely doable.”

How to safely Friendsgiving, if you must.

OK, maybe the day itself feels bleak, but there’s a chance for a do-over on the day or weekend afterward, when many people celebrate Friendsgiving. Alexandra Shytsman, author of Friendsgiving: Celebrate your Family of Friends,” said her day-after celebration started because, as an immigrant, she missed having a strong Thanksgiving tradition in her own family, so she began gathering with other young immigrant friends a few days after the big event.

“Back then, it was an opportunity to ‘be adults’ and play around with this extra little holiday,” she told HuffPost. “Plus, it’s a great way to have your favorite foods twice.” She said the holiday has become a way for many younger people to reach out to each other after a sometimes-stressful family-focused day. She suggested that this year that might just mean creating a menu with a quarantine pod, roommates or connecting virtually with far-flung chums.

“I’m hoping to take the flavors of Thanksgiving and make a smaller meal with them this year,” she said. “We can still enjoy that holiday taste with things like a small tray of roasted Brussels sprouts, a baked sweet potato and, for those who eat meat, maybe a turkey burger or some roasted turkey breast.”

Remember the “giving” part of Thanksgiving.

Rodgers is convinced that a happier holiday starts with sharing. He speaks from experience: over Easter’s pandemic-shutdown, he made and delivered slices of his signature coconut layer cake to those with whom he normally celebrates the holiday. He plans to continue the sharing this Thanksgiving, too. “Make up extra batches of your favorite dish for people you love, even if it’s as simple as a jar of cranberry sauce or a batch of Chex mix,” he told HuffPost.

Currently, the CDC says there is no evidence to suggest that handling food or consuming food is associated with COVID-19. It is possible that a person can become ill by touching a surface or object, including food or food packaging, that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes. However, the CDC reports, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. As always, you should follow food safety practices and wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after shopping, handling food packages or before preparing or eating food.

Pop a cork, perhaps.

Finally, Sarasin urges you to take it easy on yourself: “Stress levels are already high right now, and I’m sure they’ll be even higher by the time this holiday rolls around. Make sure you’re connecting with people and avoiding any talk of politics. Also, I wouldn’t skimp on the wine this year.”


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