Tips for cooking (and saving) a smaller Thanksgiving feast

This 2017 photo shows a recipe for roasted turkey breast, perfect for serving a smaller group on Thanksgiving.

It was hard enough limiting this year's Thanksgiving dinner list to 10 family people instead of the usual 20. Don't ask Bakersfield couple Bobby and Ginger Scott to make the additional sacrifice of buying a smaller turkey as well.

That would be going too far.

"I'm sure we'll have leftovers," Bobby said. "That's the best part about Thanksgiving."

Not everyone knows what their Thanksgiving will look like this year because of the pandemic, but for the most part expectations are that it's going to be different — smaller, in many cases, and closer to home but otherwise as traditional as possible.


The picture painted by national surveys is of most people scaling back — or not.

Turkey producer Butterball has released survey results suggesting the share of Americans planning to celebrate in person with only their immediate family jumped from about one-fifth last year to nearly one-third this year.

Separately, a survey published by Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center found the majority of Americans plan to take precautions such as social distancing at this year's holiday gatherings, including not inviting people with symptoms of COVID-19.


But it reported nearly two in five people across the country have indicated they'll attend gatherings of more than 10 people. A third will not ask guests to wear masks, it said.

That prompted Wexner's chief quality and patient safety officer, Iahn Gonsenhauser, to suggest families and friends "find ways to communicate virtually and cancel in-person plans."

“When you’re gathered together around the table," he said in a news release, "engaged in conversation, sitting less than 6 feet apart with your masks down, even in a small group, that’s when the spread of this virus can really happen.”

Walmart, anticipating people will dial back their shopping to fit expectations of smaller crowds, said it has widened its assortment of turkey breasts, with or without bones, by as much as 30 percent in stores across the country.


The AAA, meanwhile, says it expects a 10-percent drop in travel this Thanksgiving, the biggest one-year decrease since the Great Recession, in light of health and government recommendations that people stay home to protect themselves from the pandemic.

The auto club predicted about half as many people will book a flight for Thanksgiving in 2020 as compared with 2019, while only 4.3 percent fewer people will drive to their Thanksgiving destination this year. It estimated three-quarters fewer people will take the train, a bus or a cruise ship this year.

A key consideration for Bakersfield shoppers Monday was how widely to open the door for extended family members and the unexpected visitors who sometimes tag along.


Gloria Medina had only a vague idea of how many people to buy food for as she got ready to buy a traditionally large turkey and the standard array of side dishes at the FoodMaxx grocery store on Ming Avenue.

Thanksgiving dinner is normally at her house, she said, but this year it's being moved to her granddaughter's big new home in southeastern Bakersfield. No uninvited guests will be allowed in this year, she suspects, but it's still not clear whether family in Shafter or Corcoran will be coming.

"We'd like them to come but this year we're not sure," Medina said. "We really haven't made up our minds."


A shopper nearby who provided only his first name, Ron, said he had no plans to change anything this year. His whole extended family is invited for a dinner he wants to be as close to normal as possible.

"We're not afraid," he said. "If we get sick we're going to get sick. … We're not looking at the negative. We're looking at the positive."

Bakersfield shopper Becky Sinclare said she normally has 21 people at the table but this year it'll probably be nine, just to be safe and to protect one family member who's 80 years old.

But she said there are no plans to cut back the amount of food that will be served. She has ordered a ham and her son plans to pit-cook a turkey, Sinclare said.

"It should be good," she said.

Follow John Cox on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf