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3 Ways To Plan A Great Thanksgiving Dinner In An Uncertain Season

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David M. Brenner, ChFC®, CLU®

D. M. Brenner, Inc.
Phone : (858) 345-1001
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In a year defined by social distancing, a holiday known for large group gatherings is bound to look different.

You may be choosing to celebrate locally to avoid air travel. Your dinner may be limited to just your immediate family. Or you may be exploring new and safe ways to celebrate as a single or a couple.

The pandemic is sure to bring up new concerns and needs when planning this year’s feast.

Thanksgiving 2020 Considerations

The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic can be felt across all aspects of your family Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving gathering. For example, this year you may experience a variety of changes:

  • Number of guests. While many will have smaller celebrations, your household size may have grown during this pandemic, if adult children or others moved “home.”
  • Budget-friendly. With national unemployment at 7.9%, finding an affordable option will be important.
  • Covid cautions. Consider grocery pickup or contactless delivery to minimize exposure.
  • Stress level. 2020 has not been easy. Look for ways to make this holiday as stress-free as possible.
  • Alternative options. The Thanksgiving meal may not work for everyone. Consider making this out-of-the-ordinary year a nontraditional meal. Go vegan or order Thai food.

Regardless of what you have planned, Thanksgiving 2020 is likely to be unique. In the midst of so much uncertainty, weigh these three Thanksgiving options: Thanksgiving to go, a meal planned for you or a DIY grocery store adventure.

Which Thanksgiving dinner plan feels like the right fit for this unusual year’s “celebrate in spite of everything” vibe?

Whether your gathering will be larger or smaller than usual, surrounded by friends and family or largely on your own, explore your options and then pick the one that works for you. There’s still plenty to be grateful for and to enjoy this Thanksgiving.

1. Thanksgiving to Go


  • No cooking and minimal cleanup required
  • Each person can choose the meal they want


  • Limited by restaurants open on the holiday
  • Potentially, higher cost for the convenience, depending on fees and restaurant choice

Two types of restaurants will be open for Thanksgiving Day: those that offer traditional Thanksgiving food options and those that do not serve turkey and gravy.

If you plan to order in, confer with your party to determine what everyone wants. If you have family members who typically only tolerate the holiday dinner plan, then each person can order from the restaurant of their choice.

Traditional Meal Options

For the traditional meal option, make sure you plan ahead. While restaurants want to generate delivery revenue, they are still limited by kitchen capacity. Contact the restaurant soon to determine how far ahead you need to order.

Consider Something New

If you are not a big fan of turkey, consider a nontraditional meal—like sushi or Italian. If your gathering will not be what it normally has been, ordering a completely different meal may help create a special memory.

Know the Cost

While zero contact delivery is ideal for Covid-19 precautions, the delivery costs can add up. Service and delivery fees are added to your order with most delivery services.

Sometimes you can avoid a delivery fee by placing a minimum order or getting a new customer discount with a new delivery service. While it makes sense to pay for the convenience, you may find it more enjoyable to save on the fees and pass that money along to the driver as a tip.

There may be fewer drivers available on the holiday and some platforms may charge higher fees during the peak delivery period. If funds are tight, consider ordering earlier in the day or choosing curbside pickup to save a few dollars.

2. Dinner Planned for You


  • Meals are preplanned and all ingredients come straight to your door
  • Minimal preparation and premeasured ingredients


  • Limited sides and dessert options
  • Early ordering and a subscription may be required

Meals With Minimal Prep

Most large grocery chains offer Thanksgiving meals that only need to be warmed up. Call your local grocery deli counter to ask about options and place an order. Meals range from $50 to $120.

Many grocery store meals have the added bonus of being eligible for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits.

Cook From Scratch

If you like the idea of leaving the meal planning to someone else and yet still want a home-cooked meal, meal kits may be a good option. But make sure to plan ahead. Many meal plans require you to make your selection five to 10 days before your scheduled delivery.

Similar to the grocery store dinners, meal service kits tend to come with preset sides and desserts. HomeChef allows you to mix and match your meals, but requires you to sign up before viewing all the options. Some providers also have predetermined holiday meal sizes.

The HelloFresh turkey meal serves eight to 10, which may be more food than you need for a smaller Covid gathering.

Purple Carrot does offer a vegetarian option for those who want a traditional dinner without the meat, but you are required to subscribe to place a Thanksgiving order.

HelloFresh and Purple Carrot holiday meals range from $75 to $160.

3. DIY Grocery Store Adventure


  • Provides more choice at a significantly lower price
  • Can select only your family favorites


  • Recipe planning involved and significant cleanup
  • Preparing several dishes and timing the completion may be more stressful

In September, the USDA reported that grocery prices were up 4.1% from last year. While this outpaces the 3.8% increase for restaurants, preparing a meal at home is likely your most affordable option. Last year, the American Farm Bureau estimated that the average cost of a meal for 10 was $48.91. Even with a $2 increase, this option is the cheapest way to feed a group that size.

Find the Best Deal on Turkey

Saving money on your holiday bird is the easiest way to cut costs for your special meal. As of October 30, the average price per pound for fresh turkey was $1.32, while frozen birds were $1.17 per pound. Historically, the price per pound will drop closer to the holiday. Check your local circulars or compare prices on sites like Flipp, Reebee or Checkout 51 .

You also could get a free turkey. Some grocery chains also offer a free turkey with a minimum purchase. If you plan ahead and stock up on necessary grocery items, you could save at least $9 to $14 on your meal.

If a turkey feels daunting, consider a baked ham, pork tenderloin or another family favorite.

Choose Your Sides Wisely

Thanksgiving sides do not have to break the bank. Traditional sides such as mashed potatoes, yams and green bean casserole can cost less than a dollar per serving. However, with the higher than average grocery shopping during the pandemic, there may be an unexpected run on particular sides.

Write your shopping list with the ingredients for two to three additional sides. If you find an ingredient hard to find or priced higher than expected, you can change your plans in the store. Typically, the fewer the ingredients, the cheaper the cost of your dish. Look for recipes with limited ingredients or spices you already have on hand.

Shop ahead for canned or frozen options to avoid empty shelves, if your favorite recipe requires these items.

Scale Your Menu

To reduce food waste, cut the size of your recipe if you’ll be having fewer people around the dinner table this year. Instead of making an entire pie, consider apple turnovers or other desserts with smaller portions.

Of course, if your family loves leftovers, you may want to cook an entire turkey to plan for extra food. Making one large meal can save you time and money on future meals.

Practice Social Distancing

Many families are discovering the ease and safety of grocery delivery and curbside pickup. Online grocery orders are up 13.4% since the Covid-19 pandemic. And this year, avoiding the inevitable holiday shopping rush may be wise.

Some services offer free delivery. Instacart waves the delivery fee on your first order for many stores and Amazon Fresh offers free delivery to Amazon Prime members when you order at least $35 in groceries. If free delivery is not available in your area, picking up curbside is another option. Schedule your pickup or delivery a few days early to avoid late orders.

A Few Additional Thoughts

As you try to imagine what Thanksgiving dinner 2020 will look like, do your best not to compare to prior years, unless that provides you a happy memory. Focus instead of making the best of this year’s celebrations and being grateful for what they will bring.

Make It Easy

Many people dread cooking a turkey or baking from scratch. Make this holiday as stress-free as possible. Order a prepared turkey, but cook your favorite sides. Use a premade pie crust or order from your favorite bakery.

If an element of the meal feels like more trouble than it is worth, it probably is. Consider options that will allow you to relax.

Everyone Is Welcome

In this year of isolation, look for ways to make sure everyone is included. In years past, your holiday gathering was limited by square footage, the number of seats or the distance people can easily travel.

If you have family or friends who need to stay remote, plan a virtual Thanksgiving meal. Consider this a hidden blessing of 2020. Instead of driving all over town to celebrate with different families, schedule a progressive Thanksgiving meal online. Plan virtual appetizers with one family, the main meal with another group and dessert with a third.

Make Sure Others Can Celebrate Too

This year, with continued high unemployment, it may be harder than ever for people to put food on the table. If your Thanksgiving dinner will not be quite what you had hoped, consider donating to a local food bank.

Even if you cannot give much, pick up extras of those items that are on sale. It may make all the difference to a family in need, and giving to others may expand your sense of gratitude.

Choose the Option That’s Right for You

There is no one-size-fits-all plan this year. Prioritize what you need for your meal plan. Have a few contingency plans. And be kind to yourself in the process.

Thanksgiving dinner will probably be very different, but you can still make it special.

By Jenn Underwood, Contributor

© 2022 Forbes Media LLC. All Rights Reserved

This Forbes article was legally licensed through AdvisorStream.

David M. Brenner profile photo

David M. Brenner, ChFC®, CLU®

D. M. Brenner, Inc.
Phone : (858) 345-1001
Schedule a Meeting