Nov. 13, 2013 at 6:24 PM ET
Just because there are only a few people around your Thanksgiving table doesn't mean you should throw the towel in and cook a chicken—or worse, order pizza! You can still have turkey and all the trimmings without having a month's worth of leftovers on your hands. Just follow our easy menu plans to create a feast on the smaller side.
15 Tips for a Faster, Easier Thanksgiving Dinner
Write down the menu. Make a shopping list from the recipes. Then shop as far ahead of time as you can. Also take into account what dishes you'll need for serving and eating, including glassware. For example, next to the specific food, write the dish in which it will be served. Don't forget decorations, candles, linen, anything you can think of.
Buy a smaller turkey
We've been conditioned to think that we need to have a Godzilla-sized bird so we can eat leftovers for three weeks. But the rule of thumb for portions of turkey is one pound per person. So if eight people are going to be eating, a 10 to 12 pound bird will do just fine and still provide leftovers. Maybe you don't need a whole turkey. If your family doesn't like dark meat, why not buy a turkey breast instead? It will be faster and easier to cook and carve. Alternatively, if they do like dark meat, turkey parts like drumsticks and wings may be a better option.
Make fewer side dishes
I'm as guilty as the next person; I feel have to include not one but two dressings, sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes, and so on. Pretty soon you've got 10 side dishes. Keep it to a manageable four or five. For example, one dressing, sweet potatoes or mashed potatoes, a green vegetable like string beans or Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce and perhaps a salad.
Have guests bring a dish, decorations or a beverage
I'm cooking for my family this year, but my brother Frank and his girlfriend Patty are bringing the pies because she likes to bake. Try to match people up with things they do best.
Keep the beverages simple
Beaujolais is an easy-to-drink red wine that won't be overwhelmed by the cacophony of dishes on the table. Sparkling wines are also a good idea. Spanish cava is a good value. Italian prosecco is refreshing and lower in alcohol. Sparkling mineral water and apple cider are good nonalcoholic choices.
Minimize the hors d'oeuvres
You'll actually be doing your guests a favor. The last thing they need is a lot of food before dinner. A colorful platter of raw vegetables with a simple dip and perhaps some mixed nuts or olives are all you need. Pre-dinner munchies should be cold or room temperature, so there is no worry about making them at last minute or keeping them warm.
Simplify decorations too
An attractive floral arrangement may be all you need.
Don't be ashamed to buy a few prepared items
Just because you're having guests, doesn't mean you have to cook every dish. For example, if you're not a good baker or dessert maker, buy the desserts.
Prepare as much food as possible ahead of time
Start as far out from the actual serving time as you can, then work up to dinnertime. For example, what dish can be done two, three, even four days ahead? What can be done the day before? The morning of? Most, if not all, side dishes can be done ahead, then reheated. Some dishes actually improve in flavor if made in advance.
Leave as little as possible to the last minute
Clean as you go. There is nothing more daunting than facing a mountain of dishes after you cook the big meal. If you clean your equipment as you finish with it, you will feel much less stressed when the dinner is done. Keep a sink full of hot, soapy water to make this easier.
Consider how the food will be cooked or reheated
You're not going to be able to reheat everything in the microwave oven, so figure on doing one dish there, another in the oven, another on top of the stove and so on. Remember, a whole turkey needs to rest at least 20 minutes outside the oven before carving. Use that time to reheat some, if not all, of the side dishes.
Set the table the night before
Having the table set when you wake up on Turkey Day puts your mind at ease and gives you a feeling that things are under control.
Assign guests tasks
If one person is particularly adept at carving, have her slice up the bird. Another can open and pour the wine as well as putting the other beverages on the table.
Splurge on a house cleaner
You don't have to make every room spick-and-span, just the rooms your guests will see like the living room, dining room and powder room.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.