Minimalist Thanksgiving

What Is a Minimalist Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It’s an opportunity to spend time with friends and family, be grateful for what we have and eat special foods we have only once a year.

The problem is we can run ourselves ragged if we’re not careful. Not only are we too busy to talk to our guests or think about our blessings, but we’re exhausted and cranky at the end of the day.

What kind of holiday is that? There is an easy solution though – simplify your Thanksgiving celebration.

By having a minimalist Thanksgiving, you can save all the good parts of Thanksgiving while “decluttering” those parts that don’t bring you satisfaction.

Consider Downsizing Your Celebration

Do you really need as many dishes as you normally serve? When I began hosting holiday meals, I tended to think no matter how few people we had coming, we still needed a variety of dishes.

Eventually, I realized that (a) no one else cared, (b) I was ruining the week for me by spending every free minute rushing around preparing, and (c) we wasted food, since we couldn’t eat all the leftovers.

Of course, I didn’t figure this out until the year I made a whole turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, homemade bread, salad and two kinds of dessert for (drumroll, please) 3 people.

It didn’t seem quite as crazy when we had 6, but looking back, it was still too much food, especially given that the kids were all picky eaters.

Who says you have to have a turkey?

We have turkey only once a year, and to me it’s worth the trouble because I love turkey and the leftovers, but I know lots of people who’d be just as happy with ham or even a nontraditional meal like spaghetti or burritos.

There are plenty of ways to make a meal special regardless of what you have. If dessert is a rarity in your house, that alone may be enough. Or maybe instead of making spaghetti with jarred sauce you try a homemade version.

If you have multiple guests who are vegetarian, gluten-free or have other dietary restrictions, you may find it easiest to have a nontraditional menu. Consider a “bar” type meal where guests fill their own plates. Meals that lend themselves to the bar concept include burritos, salad, baked potatoes and sandwiches.

Saving Time in the Kitchen

Even if you don’t normally buy pre-cut vegetables, you might want to consider it for a big meal. If you choose to chop your own, you’ll find it easier to chop many of the vegetables a day or two before the meal.

You can make some items well ahead of time. For instance, here‘s a recipe for gravy you can make a month ahead and freeze. Here’s another where you make the base the night before, adding only the drippings and giblets after the turkey’s done.

Cranberry sauce is easily made ahead, as is bread. Even mashed potatoes can be made early. Chowhound has some more tips and recipes for make-ahead potatoes.

What about a Potluck?

Many years we’ve celebrated with friends, expanding the crowd to a dozen or more. In that case, we do need lots of food, and it’s fun to have variety. That doesn’t mean you have to make everything though.

I’ve never experienced anyone being offended by being asked to bring a dish or beverage to a meal. In fact, most people offer to bring something.

If you usually prepare everything yourself, people have probably become used to it and may not ask if they can help. But I’ll bet you that few, if any, people will mind if you explain the celebration is too much to handle on your own and you’d really appreciate switching the meal to a potluck.

If you have friends or family members who can’t cook, ask them to help decorate, set the table, bring beverages, stir or chop vegetables.

If You’re Not Foodies or into Tradition

If your family doesn’t care that much about food or maintaining a particular holiday meal tradition, maybe you don’t want to bother cooking at all. If you have a tiny group, it can even be cheaper to go out to a restaurant instead of making a traditional meal.

Obviously the more people there are, the more expensive that becomes, but there are other options. Most grocery stores and restaurants offer Thanksgiving meals you can pick up, nearly ready to eat.

Your Turn

How do you simplify your Thanksgiving (or other holiday) meals? Please share in the comments.

7 thoughts on “Minimalist Thanksgiving

  1. I second that, great tips. Six years ago my son relocated 100 miles from us. He worked in retail which meant he worked every Wednesday before and every Black Friday starting at 3-4 am. In order to spend time with him on Thanksgiving I began to travel to his home giving him the time he needed to sleep. That makes it very simple for me as his wife loves to entertain and run the show. I sit back and enjoy playing with my granddaughter, which keeps her out of the kitchen. It’s a win-win for all of us.

  2. Great tips, Christy! You sound super-organized, so I’m glad you share your wisdom! As for me, my mother-in-law helps enormously when I host Thanksgiving (which I prefer to do, since it means no traveling on the biggest travel/traffic weekend of the year). I give her the two things I don’t want to make myself–a vegetable dish and her very tricky-to-make but delicious pumpkin flan. And of course she helps with the turkey!

    • Thanks, Joy. I am usually pretty organized – in fact, sometimes I get laughed at for being too organized. Sounds like you have your holiday plan worked out well too. My friend is hosting is this year but hates making the mashed potatoes, so that’s one of my jobs. It’s funny how people like/dislike making different things. Yet one more reason to have a potluck!

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