How to Host Thanksgiving During a Pandemic

Before you write off this year’s holiday, read this.

In my family, we look forward to Thanksgiving all year long. Grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, and old friends gather at my mother's home in Los Angeles to catch up, reminisce, and be thankful for another year together. Inevitably, someone gets a little too drunk (last year, that person was me), and you can bet that at least two of my cousins will fight over who gets the last crusty corner piece of gooey macaroni and cheese.

The prospect of not being able to physically be with loved ones this Thanksgiving is a sad reality that many of us are facing. But while we're swimming in uncharted waters, the pandemic doesn't mean we can't have a happy, delicious, and safe holiday. Whether you're choosing to cook for a scaled-back crew or are planning on participating in a virtual dinner, this guide will help ensure that you still have an enjoyable meal.

Embrace the New

Expecting an ordinary holiday this year will disappoint you. Start by acknowledging that things have changed, and try to see it as an opportunity to be creative.

"Normally, I have one Friendsgiving that I host with around 50 people, and then a smaller one on Thanksgiving Day with my husband, parents, sister, and a few friends," says cookbook author and blogger Gaby Dalkin of What's Gaby Cooking. "This year, our Thanksgiving probably will just be [me and my husband] and maybe one or two other couples."

One of the unexpected benefits of hosting a smaller crowd this year? "Less dishes and more quality time with a smaller group!" exclaims Dalkin.

Choose Your Virtual Platform Wisely

If you're participating in a bigger dinner virtually, consider different technology options. While Zoom allows up to 100 participants with their free plan, the 40-minute time limit might not be ideal when your grandmother is trying to walk everyone through how to make her famous oyster dressing. Google Hangouts doesn't have time restrictions, but it caps participants at 25. Houseparty allows unlimited chat rooms, but only eight people can be on each at once. This is a good option if you're having a Friendsgiving and a family dinner at the same time. You can (finally!) freely jump back and forth between the two.

Expecting an ordinary Thanksgiving this year will disappoint. Start off by acknowledging that things have changed, and try to see it as an opportunity to get creative.

Plan Ahead

One rule of Thanksgiving still holds true this year—preparation is key. "Make a list of the recipes you're going to make in advance. Look them over and see what you can do ahead of time," Dalkin suggests. "You can peel some potatoes or carrots or make a sauce or something like that on a Monday, and then Tuesday maybe you make your piecrust. That way on [Thanksgiving], you can be as chill as possible."

Prepping doesn't just apply to the food you're planning to serve. Make sure to test all of your technology ahead of time. If you're hosting a smaller, in-person group at home, walk through all safety precautions you plan on implementing on Turkey Day to keep everyone safe. Do you have enough sanitizer and disposable masks? Stock up in advance.

Try the Drive-By Potluck

Celebrating Thanksgiving solo? Private chef and The Kitchenista Diaries blogger Angela Davis suggests creating a feeling of togetherness by having everyone participate in a drive-by potluck, where each guest drops off a portion of their dish at others' homes. It's a great way to safely share food and minimize waste, especially with larger traditional dishes like casseroles.

"[A dish] like macaroni and cheese is easy to assemble, and you don't even have to bake it ahead of time. Pies are also great since there is no reason you can't prepare them earlier in the week," Davis says. "Also, hearty greens like collards, mustards, or kale will keep for a while and can be frozen in advance."

Ditch Tradition

While things may be different this year, look on the bright side—no schlepping across the country in overcrowded airports.

These are strange times, so don't be afraid to throw traditions out the window. "Personally, I don't like turkey, so I would say just skip it and make a lasagna," Dalkin suggests. "Just go for it. Make an enchilada! There are no rules; it's 2020.

Whether you choose to celebrate Thanksgiving over the computer or with a smaller-than-usual group, remember the reason for the season: gratitude, food, and family.

Batch, Batch, Baby

This year, Alex Zink, co-owner and beverage director of The Dabney in Washington, D.C., suggests keeping everyone on the same page by getting together virtually to discuss wines or cocktails to enjoy over dinner.

Encourage guests to pick a wine or cocktail, and ask them to share why they chose it during your festivities. To create a similar drinking experience for everyone, consider sticking with one wine or cocktail for everyone to enjoy. Send out instructions in advance, or make batch cocktails and deliver them.

"I like to go with a nice Beaujolais because I think it's the most versatile," says Zink. "If you're going to [pre-batch] anything, I would avoid beverages that require bitters because [their flavor] can get more enhanced over time. A simple drink like the classic Negroni avoids that, and it's just three ingredients of equal parts."

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