Thanksgiving for Two

Thanksgiving is the traditional time when families gather, but what if you are cooking for a couple instead of a crowd? Even with just a few at the table, the warmth and comfort of the holiday can be captured.  With a little planning, you can save time and calories, too.

Cutting calories

The average American eats 2,000 to 3,000 calories at the typical Thanksgiving dinner. That’s more calories than many people need for an entire day.  Make your Thanksgiving meal nutritious by including foods from each food group. Include plenty of fresh vegetables like sweet potatoes, winter squash, broccoli, carrots and green beans.

Apples, cranberries and pears combine easily for salads, fruit crisps or toppings for the turkey.  Try using whole-grain bread and wild or brown rice for the stuffing or as a side dish. Choose reduced-fat cheeses for salads and casseroles, and use low-fat or fat-free milk instead of whole milk in recipes.

Here are a few tactics for tackling Thanksgiving turkey and trimmings.

The turkey

A whole bird is traditional, but refrigerator space may be unavailable for storing an uncooked bird.  Opt for a frozen turkey breast instead of a whole turkey.  Whole frozen breasts usually run about three pounds and can be found in the frozen food section at the grocery store. A three-pound turkey breast will be more expensive per pound than a whole turkey but will have less waste because there are fewer bones. Be sure to cook the turkey until it reaches an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Side dishes

Thanksgiving side dishes can be healthy, but creamy casseroles are often loaded with fat and calories and difficult to make in small portions. Opt for frozen or fresh vegetables instead. Many frozen veggie varieties steam quickly in the microwave. Save money by buying fresh vegetables in season and frozen vegetables when on sale.

Substitute frozen whole wheat dinner rolls for home-baked breads.  Buy a  bag of frozen rolls. Use as many as needed and save the rest.

Mashed potatoes, sweet potato casseroles, stuffing and creamy rice dishes are all traditional Thanksgiving favorites. If you’re watching your waistline and budget, consider preparing one or two side dishes instead of several. Modify ingredients in traditional recipes to reduce saturated fat and calories and increase whole grains and fiber. Substitute low-fat or fat-free dairy products for the full-fat versions, and use “light” margarine instead of butter.  Instead of white bread, try whole-wheat bread in stuffing and substitute brown or wild rice for white rice.


Avoid going overboard on the number of desserts. Sautéed apples with cinnamon and a little sugar, baked pears with honey, or fresh fruit with a low-fat whipped cream topping are all healthy choices. A sweet potato baked and topped with a small pat of butter and brown sugar can substitute for traditional sweet potato pie.

If the idea of cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for two at home is daunting and cost is not an issue, consider ordering a smoked turkey breast or ham from a retailer or smokehouse.  The meat will already be fully cooked and ready for you to add the trimmings.


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