Here’s How We’re Simplifying Thanksgiving but Keeping it Special

Our celebrations are smaller this year—here’s how we’re adapting.


Marjie’s Thanksgiving will have a tropical vibe.

When it comes to Thanksgiving, the Killeens are not fans of cutting back. But it will just be the four of us this year—Liam, Nick (27), Emma (23) and me—and we don’t need a ten-course meal and days of rich leftovers. Plus, we’re celebrating the holiday for the first time at our Florida place instead of in Chicago. It just feels right to lighten up. (See our article with Julie Chernoff for her suggestions on how we can edit the Thanksgiving menu.) The changes to our celebration are a result of an extensive, emotional negotiation over our family group text. “Didn’t we already pare down Grandma?” Nick asked. But I insisted we rethink the celebration. Here’s how we’ll edit our 2020 Thanksgiving Day.

Focus on the Feast

With no out-of-town family visiting, there’s no need to prepare a big welcome breakfast or lunch for arriving family members. That relieves a lot of cooking pressure earlier in the day and makes the turkey dinner rightly the show. Also, we’re cutting way back on appetizers. Maybe a few nibbles during sunset cocktails, but no baked brie or bacon wrapped dates of years past. The point is to arrive to the dinner table with a hearty appetite. I’ll still set a festive table but we’ll save the fine china and Waterford for future full-family gatherings.

Dump (or Delegate) Dishes

I discovered my family can easily live without the green beans, cranberry relish and pumpkin pie, so they’re goners. I lobbied to cut out the Pillsbury crescent rolls, but apparently they’re non-negotiable for Emma. “Haven’t we lost enough this year?” she texted morosely, then volunteered to make them (as she has since was 5 years old). It seems excessive to have rolls and potatoes and dressing, but Nick is willing to take over the dressing prep so the carbfest tradition continues. Liam says he isn’t making dishes because his job is to wash them. All of that is fine by me.

Add Tropical Flair

We’re in Florida this year, with blue skies, palm trees, and the glimmering Gulf of Mexico. Autumn seems as alien as igloos and sled dogs. The harvest down here includes citrus fruit and fresh greens, so we’re going to include those flavors into the meal. I’ll roast the turkey with lemons, oranges and herbs and swap sweet potatoes for our traditional mashed spuds because they feel more tropical. Instead of heavy vegetable casseroles I’ll serve a spinach and pomegranate salad to add color and freshness to the plate. We’ll still have pie for dessert, but just one kind, and the Killeen consensus is that it be apple.


Laura is off to shop for this year’s smaller feast.

The Hine family is in the same boat as the Killeens—we’re down to just four people this year—which is pandemic-appropriate, but still sad. I want to keep as much of the festivities as possible, while, like Marjie, not getting stuck with a refrigerator full of leftovers.


I negotiated with the butcher at my local Potash grocer (where they carry HoKa turkeys, my fave) to sell me half a turkey: one breast, one thigh and one drumstick. He’s going to cut them up for me (per Julie Chernoff’s recommendation) and I’m using Samin Nosrat’s Buttermilk-Brined Turkey Breast recipe. I’m also dramatically reducing the amount of mashed potatoes I’m making. My family uses the potatoes as a gravy delivery system, but that duty is shared by the stuffing, so we’re cutting way back on the potatoes.

Bench ‘Em

Like Marjie, I took a text poll of what could be eliminated. The corn bread stuffing was the big loser, so out it goes. Pecan pie, also gone. But nothing else is easy to eliminate. My husband loves the back-of-the-can recipes for green bean casserole and pumpkin pie. Me, not so much! But they bring him joy and he can make the green bean casserole, so they’re staying because I (obviously) love him. We’re also keeping a veggie main dish for our one vegetarian, so, this edit challenge is definitely challenging!

Spread the Love

Because we’re all together for a week, I’m moving some of the less-essential dishes to other days. I’ll make my Aunt Mona’s breakfast casserole over the weekend for a nice brunch dish. I’m also enlisting my sons to help more than they have in previous years when the kitchen has been run and ruled by the women in the family (until the dishes, of course). And for some of the other meals, we’ll be supporting our local restaurants—takeout Indian on Wednesday night, takeout Chinese over the weekend!

How Lucky We Are

It’s been a tough year, and while we’ve been knocked around by the pandemic for sure, we’re both healthy and our families are fine. We may be gathering with our extended families via Zoom, which will be a drag, but we realize how lucky we are to have loved ones even if they are far away and food aplenty. We’re going to spread a little love and good fortune to those who aren’t going to have a joyous holiday through the Greater Chicago Food Depository and the Harry Chapin Food Bank. Both are filling essential needs in the Chicago and Southwest Florida communities, and are worth your consideration this holiday season.

2 thoughts

  1. Wonderful article and you both look amazing! I’d love to have a few of your recipes that you will be using especially Aunt Mona’s breakfast casserole. That sounds delicious. Happy Thanksgiving!


  2. Thanks so much Tracy! Yes, I’d like Aunt Mona’s recipe too. We will get Laura to share it. Hope your family has a wonderful Thanksgiving.


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