Thanksgiving dinner can be a  very difficult time for empty nesters. 

I would like to share some ideas for a Thanksgiving dinner for empty nesters. My husband and I have a blended family consisting of 8 children, their spouses/fiances, and 13 grandchildren.  The first 10 years of our marriage, 7 of the 8 children lived with us so every meal was a feast and Thanksgiving always involved days of baking and cooking.  They are now grown and have their own homes so we are  rarely able to all be together for Thanksgiving. 

The Thanksgiving dinner should still feel like a special meal of the year.  My husband is a hunter and Thanksgiving week is the highlight of hunting time in WV.  He hunts until around mid-morning and then comes in for a few hours.

Thanksgiving ideas for empty nesters.I try to make it special by using fresh flowers, candles, and linen napkins.  The foods do look a little strange to me served in such small dishes, but if you fix your plates and carry them to the table, it will feel like you are not missing a thing.  (It is a bit more quiet though than with the family here)   It has been hard  to scale down my cooking for 2 but I am making progress.  We still wanted to enjoy all of our traditional foods but  I just make them in much smaller portions.  I make enough that we can have Thanksgiving dinner with some leftovers. After all, they DO taste much better the next day.

The beautiful, 25 lb golden brown turkey being pulled from the oven and placed on the giant platter can now be replaced with some of the following options.

Turkey breast…..easy, good for leftover turkey sandwiches and can still be served on a nice platter.  This is what I fix if it is just the 2 of us on Thanksgiving.

Turkey cutlets… another easy option.  They can be seasoned, baked or grilled and then sliced and served on the small platter.

Rotissere chicken… an easy option.  You can serve it on a platter with nice fresh herbs and garnishes and pretend it is a turkey.

Purchase a complete meal from a deli or grocery store.

Go out to eat at a buffet.. my husband would never do this.

Cornish hens.. my husband wanted these for supper a few days ago and it made me think of them as an option also.  

Last year I thought it would be fun to take some of our traditional side dishes and make them in the downsized portions.

Thanksgiving dinner ideas for empty nesters.I made my home-style noodles.  This recipe is scaled down for 2.

Home-style Chicken and Noodles
Serves 2
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  1. 1 cup water
  2. 2 -3 cups chicken broth
  3. 6 oz frozen egg noodles
  4. 1 cup rotisserie chicken, cut into small cubes
  5. 1/2 can cream of chicken soup
  6. 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  7. 1/4 teaspoon coarse black pepper
  1. Pour the water and 2 cups of chicken broth into a medium size saucepan or dutch oven. Bring to a boil over a high heat.
  2. Stir in the noodles, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 15 minutes. Stir frequently.
  3. Stir in the chicken, soup, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to low, cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Continue to stir frequently.
  4. If mixture is too thick, add remaining cup of broth.
  5. Turn off heat and allow the noddles to set for a few hours. (This allows flavors to blend better).
  6. Prior to serving, heat pan slowly, over a low heat and stir frequently.
GRANDMA HONEY'S HOUSE https://grandmahoneyshouse.com/

I fixed deviled eggs and only did 3 eggs. HERE is my recipe for these.

No dinner would be complete without the mashed potatoes/gravy.  I did a smaller amount with 4 potatoes. 

scalloped potatoes, thanksgiving sides, downsized cooking

Scalloped potatoes are always a favorite of ours.

Old Fashioned Scalloped Potatoes
Serves 2
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  1. 2 cups russet potatoes, sliced
  2. 1 Tablespoon onion, diced
  3. 1 Tablespoon butter
  4. 1 Tablespoon flour
  5. 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  6. 1/4 teaspoon coarse black pepper
  7. 1 1/4 cup half and half
  8. 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 1 quart baking dish with no stick cooking spray.
  2. Place potatoes in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Cook only until slightly tender but still firm. Drain water and place potatoes in the baking dish. Sprinkle onions over the potatoes.
  3. Melt the butter in a medium size saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, salt, and pepper until smooth. Gradually whisk in the half and half and continue to stir until it starts to thicken. Remove from the heat and stir in half of the cheese. Pour mixture over the potatoes. Arrange remaining cheese over the potatoes.
  4. Bake until mixture is bubbly, potatoes are tender, and cheese is melted; about 30-40 minutes.
  5. Remove from oven and serve warm.
GRANDMA HONEY'S HOUSE https://grandmahoneyshouse.com/

sweet potato casserole, ThanksgivingI love using my ramekins and they make a cute casserole dish for the sweet potato casserole.  (use 1 or 1 1/2 cup size)

Sweet Potato Casserole
Serves 2
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  1. 1 cup sweet potato, cubed (1 large sweet potato)
  2. 1/4 cup brown sugar
  3. 2 Tablespoon butter, melted
  4. 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  1. 1 Tablespoon butter, softened
  2. 1 teaspoon flour
  3. 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  4. 1/4 cup pecans, chopped
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 1 or 1 1/2 cup ramekin or baking dish with no stick cooking spray. Place on a foil lined small baking sheet.
  2. Place cubed sweet potatoes in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Cook until potatoes are tender. Drain water and place potatoes in a medium size mixing bowl. Add the brown sugar, butter, and vanilla; mash with a potato masher or on low speed of mixer, until ingredients are combined. Spoon into ramekin.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the butter, flour, brown sugar, and nuts using a fork or fingers until ingredients are combined. Arrange topping evenly over the sweet potatoes.
  4. Bake until mixture is bubbly, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and serve warm.
GRANDMA HONEY'S HOUSE https://grandmahoneyshouse.com/
potato salad, thanksgiving sides, downsized cooking for 2

I always fixed potato salad as a side because it tastes great beside that leftover turkey sandwich.

Old Fashioned Potato Salad
Serves 2
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  1. 3 large potatoes
  2. 2 eggs
  3. 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  4. 1/4 cup sweet relish
  5. 1 Tablespoon mustard
  6. 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
  7. 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  8. 1/4 teaspoon coarse black pepper
  9. 1/4 cup celery, chopped
  1. Peel potatoes, wash, and cut into 1- 1 1/2 inch cubes. Place in a medium size saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium, and cook until potatoes are fork tender but not overcooked and mushy. Drain water and place back in the saucepan to cool. Place the eggs in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Cook 8 minutes. Remove from the water and allow to cool. Peel the eggs. Chop 1 of the eggs; slice the remaining egg; set aside.
  2. In a medium size mixing bowl, place the mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and celery. Stir together to combine all ingredients.
  3. Add the potatoes and the chopped egg; fold carefully to combine with the other ingredients. Transfer to a serving dish. Garnish with sliced egg and refrigerate until ready to serve.
GRANDMA HONEY'S HOUSE https://grandmahoneyshouse.com/

Of course you need desserts. These are delicious, fall themed desserts.

Hummingbird Cake for 2. HERE is recipe link.


Saffron Orange Custard Bundt Cake for 2.  HERE is recipe link.


Pumpkin pie parfaits are a quick and easy dessert with all of the flavor of pie but in a cup. withPumpkin Pie Parfaits are an easy dessert option.  HERE is recipe link.

I hope this helps you to scale down some sides and still enjoy the traditional foods we associate with Thanksgiving, even as empty nesters.  

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  1. What a beautiful table setting! Cooking for 2 after years of cooking for many is indeed a challenge. Thank you for posting these down sized recipes, and alternate ideas to that huge turkey. Never thought of Cornish hens, but I like that idea a lot.

    1. Thanks Helen. I know that some people would not take the time to do smaller portions but I know several people that live alone and totally cook every meal.

  2. Pamela, these are some great ideas! I love the little mashed potato casserole as no matter what I cook I always seem to make too much mashed potatoes and I’ve never had anything good to do with them! Now I do! And you’re right — there is no reason not to make just a couple of deviled eggs! Thanks!

    1. The small dishes look so funny to me but it does give people a variety of foods to eat and not a large amount to throw out.

  3. Thank you for some great recipes! The worst part about Thanksgiving for me is wrestling that 20 lb. monster out of the oven! It would be nice to have a smaller affair once in awhile!

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