How to Host a Scaled-Back Thanksgiving

Family holiday selfie - celebrate Thanksgiving

We love the holiday season as much as the next person, but sometimes throwing a full, over-the-top Thanksgiving with a multiple-course meal isn’t in the cards. Whether you’re short on time or need to dial down the celebration for other reasons, we’re here to help. 

Follow these tips to host a scaled-back Thanksgiving with all the fun and gratitude minus the hassle. 

Guest List and Seating

First things first: Whittle down your guest list to as few people as possible. Not needing to prepare food for a small army cuts down on your time in the kitchen and decreases cleanup.

If you have more family and friends than seats at the table, invite a few people to join through Zoom, Skype, Facetime or other videoconferencing tools. We know nothing beats being with others in real life, but seeing their faces through a screen is better than not at all. 

Family dynamics can be tricky. If, hypothetically, you have a high-maintenance relative who might be offended because others were invited to your house and they were asked to video in, consider limiting the in-person activities to household members only. This way, you avoid hurt feelings and all of your guests can join remotely.

To keep a little space between everyone, move the party outside. If the Kansas weather allows — we’re crossing our fingers! — seat your guests appropriately distanced from one another outdoors. Bonus: Since nobody will see the inside of your house, there’s no need to hurriedly clean in a panic before they arrive! 


Even in a smaller celebration, food is still the center of attention. This doesn’t mean you need to prepare a large turkey with all the fixins, though. Take a more nontraditional — but equally tasty — route this year. 

Instead of a main course with a few sides, create a smorgasbord of side dishes as the whole meal. Many recipes like green bean casserole, creamed corn, mashed potatoes and others can be prepared relatively quickly, which will cut down on your prep time. If you’d like to mix things up with unconventional sides, find recipes for cranberry salsa, stuffing balls, flavored butter and more here.

If you’re a stickler for Thanksgiving tradition, never fear! You don’t have to buy a whole turkey, you can pick and choose parts if you wish. Or click here to find the perfect main course for your meal.

After the party’s over, make sure to keep your leftovers for future use. Discover tasty ways to use the saved food here.


Get the conversation flowing with a few simple games. Since screens have limited views, physical activities like charades should be avoided if your guests are attending virtually. Instead, make it easy and fun for everyone with verbal games or trivia.

Here are our favorite, easy-to-play-from-a-distance activities: 

  • Thanksgiving trivia: Get in the spirit with festive questions about the holiday ranging from how it started, important dates and more. To personalize the experience, write questions about your family’s Thanksgivings past, including funny or memorable anecdotes.
  • Themed trivia: Are you and your family constantly quoting a movie or TV show? Find questions relating to your favorite watch. 
  • Thankful game: We know, we know, it’s not the most exciting, but it is a classic. Go around the (virtual) table and have each person share one thing — or a few! — they’re especially thankful for.
  • Story game: In this activity, go around the circle and have each person say one word, each word playing off the last to create sentences. Eventually, a story will unfold with quirky, funny twists and turns.
  • Crafting from afar: Your guests may have to bring their own tools — paper, crayons, markers, etc. — but a turkey drawing contest is a fun activity easily done in separate locations. Have everyone start with a blank piece of paper, set a timer, then get to creating the most interesting, impressive turkey. When time expires, have each person present their masterpiece and vote on a winner.

Extra Surprises

Even with the helpful technologies we have today, holidays without loved ones can be dreary. Brighten someone’s day with a surprise package! 

  • Cutouts: If you can’t make a real-life appearance at a party, send a cardboard cutout of yourself to keep someone company. There are many websites ranging in price and cutout size — full body, chest up, etc. — for this very purpose. Find the right fit for you, put on a festive outfit, snap a picture and send the inanimate version of yourself to sit around a table. 
  • Thanksgiving goodies: Let your loved ones know you’re thinking about them with a simple, affordable goodie basket. Write a note saying a few reasons you’re thankful for them, toss in a little candy, drawings or doodles of a turkey, pictures from previous Thanksgivings and anything else you think they’d enjoy, then mail it off in time to be opened on Thanksgiving. 

You knew this was coming: The important thing about Thanksgiving is to be thankful for all of the blessings in our lives. No matter what the celebration looks like, pause to remember the good stuff. 

Happy Thanksgiving! 

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