8 Smart Ways to Enjoy a Thanksgiving for Just Two

updated Oct 16, 2020
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(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Last year I learned firsthand that cooking Thanksgiving dinner for two, while very enjoyable, comes with its challenges. For starters, while a 10-pound turkey seems small compared to those 25-pound birds, it’s still a lot of meat for two people. Perhaps, there are more suitable choices than a whole turkey.

From side dishes and desserts, to non-turkey main courses and leftovers, we get a lot of questions about hosting holiday dinners for a cozier gathering. We collected our readers’ best tips on cooking Thanksgiving dinner for a party of two.

So, is it worth cooking such a big meal just for two people? There’s really no right or wrong answer, it all depends on you. For me, the answer is undoubtedly yes. I love the planning, prep, and cooking, as well as having a special meal, not to mention the leftovers.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

1. You don’t have to cook a whole turkey.

The smallest turkey you’ll likely find is still 10 to 12 pounds. That’s a lot of meat for two people. Consider cooking turkey breasts or legs. Or, if you really want a whole bird, opt for something smaller, like a chicken or cornish hen.

If not particular about having both white and dark meats, I’d go with just turkey legs or breast instead of the whole bird. Not only is the size more manageable, but you’ll get better results too, since you don’t have to worry about getting the legs completely cooked without overdrying the breast. – Foodventures

If you don’t have your heart set on turkey, you could get Cornish hens, pheasant, or even duck! I did Cornish hens for my fiancée and I last year. – AtomikHBomb

(Image credit: Nealey Dozier)

2. Make a plan for your leftovers.

Expect to have a lot of leftovers, more than if you were cooking for a larger group. To limit food waste, make a plan for your leftovers ahead of time. I love using some of the meat to make stock, soup, and chili, then stash it in the freezer for cold winter nights.

Remember, the best part of cooking for thanksgiving is the leftovers you can use to make other things like turkey sandwiches with cranberry spread, turkey noodle soup, etc. Go make a full feast! – MonicaK__

3. Cut down on the number of sides.

It pains me to say that because the side dishes are arguably the best part of Thanksgiving dinner. But, when you’re cooking for just two, a table full of side dishes are a bit much. Instead, each pick a couple of your most favorite sides. It will make the leftovers more manageable.

I would make a favorite side or two, a pumpkin pie, and call it good! They also have little frozen bite-size pumpkin pies at Trader Joes … not sure if they’re any good, but they’re adorable! – laneh

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

4. Keep things simple.

You don’t have to have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Consider keeping the day simple, and cook things that you love.

I’ve done Thanksgiving for two twice. Both times I took it as an opportunity to make dishes that are seasonal, but ones that are a little more special than my usual. So don’t feel pressured to make it an ordeal! Do what sounds great and special to you. – BostonBrunette

It can be great to have the opportunity to create a quiet, simple day that reflect things you love and value all year. A couple years ago my sweetie and I decided to spend thanksgiving focusing on what made us happy in our relationship. We cooked each other’s favorite foods and watched a couple favorite movies. It was one of the most joyful, rejuvenating holidays I’ve ever had. – gerundgirl

5. Consider pre-made foods.

If putting together a feast isn’t quite your thing, that’s okay! Use this as an excuse to try some of the pre-made foods from your local gourmet market or Whole Foods. Not only will this save you time, but you won’t have to buy a lot of ingredients that you may not use later on.

If you’re not into doing a lot of cooking, there are many fine things pre-made at Whole Foods and the like. In fact, you can get a dinner for two at a reasonable price — just pick it up on Thanksgiving morning and reheat when you’re ready to dine. No muss, no fuss. – Bison65

If it isn’t too late, order sides from your favorite supermarket, and only make your favorite part of the meat from scratch.

Supermarket sides can be gussied up or customized at home with the addition of more butter, roasted onions or garlic, toasted nuts, blue cheese or goat cheese crumbles, or a splash of vinegar. This way you get the meal and the leftovers without too much heavy lifting. – maryeats

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

6. Celebrate with a Thanksgiving breakfast or brunch instead.

Take a non-traditional route and celebrate with a special home-cooked breakfast or brunch. You won’t spend the whole day in the kitchen, and depending on what you cook, you might still get leftovers.

For just two people, I’d consider a two-step plan:
1. Make reservations at a fabulous restaurant for relatively late in the afternoon, this being your Thanksgiving dinner.
2. Then that morning, cook a delightful and leisurely breakfast.
This plan gives you a home that smells good and possibly some leftovers (depending on what you make) without any danger of feeling that you’ve cooked all day without the payoff of entertaining. – eilonwy

7. Seize the chance to get really experimental.

Since you’re not cooking for a crowd with varying tastes and food preferences, cook the foods that you like to eat. If you love spicy foods, add some heat to your meal. If you love Thai food and flavors, make a meal that reflects that.

We made Thanksgiving dinner with an Indian spin on it, something we’d never have been able to do with a bunch of family to please. (We both love Indian food.) Cranberry mango chutney, curried pumpkin soup, and chiles filled with stuffing. Perhaps you could pick something you’ve always wanted to try, since you don’t have to cater to grandparents or Aunt So-n-So. – KittyWrangler

I just made a salad the other night that I was thinking would be a good option for my husband and I some T-day. I roasted butternut, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. I tossed that with a bit of a rice blend, added pistachios and dried cranberries, and tossed with a balsamic dressing. Can be made in advance and eaten at room temperature. Change it up a bit and do something more interesting for the dressing. A bunch of fall flavors in a small package though. – Astur

8. Go out for Thanksgiving dinner.

And, if you’re just not up for cooking a big meal, that’s just fine too. Treat yourselves to a dinner out! A lot of restaurants are open and serve quite a nice Thanksgiving dinner.

One year when it was just my dad and I, we went out to a really nice restaurant. It was so great. No fuss, but an awesome treat. – jess pith

More Tips on Cooking Thanksgiving for Two

  • Help Me Cook Thanksgiving for Two!
  • Small-Sized Traditions: A Thanksgiving Menu for Two
  • Ideas for Thanksgiving Dishes for Two?

Have you ever hosted Thanksgiving dinner for two? What are your best tips?