COVID Thanksgiving Ideas: 14 Ways To Celebrate Safely This Year

thanksgiving dinner

This year, due to social distancing and continued restrictions, Thanksgiving will look rather different.

The CDC is recommending that people avoid large gatherings, going shopping in crowded stores, and attending parades, and that means scaling down traditional dinners to involve only members of your household, or doing festivities virtually. 

Among the CDC's recommendations for celebrating this Thanksgiving include having a smaller dinner with only your own household; preparing traditional family recipes for family and neighbors, and delivering them in a socially distant way; having a virtual dinner, and sharing recipes with loved ones.

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In a recent interview with CBS Evening News, Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the world's leading experts on infectious diseases, said, "My Thanksgiving is going to look very different this year." He's not alone in this, either. Unless, of course, people are ignoring guidelines. 

Fauci says that this year, all families (and that includes his own) will need to change their holiday traditions to stay safe from coronavirus. "That is, unfortunately a risk, if you have people coming from out of town, and then eating together in an indoor setting. It is unfortunate."

That doesn't mean that Thanksgiving can't still be special and meaningful. It will just have to be adjusted.

14 COVID Thanksgiving Ideas

For those who are used to spending the holidays surrounded by extended family and friends, remember that safety is the most important thing right now. We are still in the middle of a pandemic, with COVID cases rising every day.

Keep yourself and your loved ones safe by having a smaller dinner, even if those not used to being the cook will suddenly be entrusted with the job. Here's how you can have a safe Thanksgiving, while still feeling grateful.

1. Cook for a small number of people.

Your family may be used to marking the holiday with a giant turkey, but this year, a smaller group means a smaller meal. So, why not have a turkey fit to size, and have the spirit of the occasion without all the work and expenses of a giant bird?

Turkey legs or wings are the solution here. You can also play around with seasonings, spices, and fun marinades, or smoke your turkey leg. If you go with the turkey wings, smoke or roast it with a jerk marinade or creole seasoning. You can even make fried buffalo turkey wings.

“Normally available at your local grocery store or butcher, especially around holiday time, turkey legs and wings are easy to prepare,” recommends Tastemade chef, Rashida Holmes. “It's just enough meat for one, and a little leftover for a Thanksgiving bowl the next day.”

Turkey parts are pretty easy to roast or smoke, so outsource where you can. Make that turkey breast or legs yourself, and then maybe order the sides from a local restaurant that needs the support. 

“Lots of local restaurants sell sides for pick-up the week of Thanksgiving, and you can probably get a couple of sides for two and have meals for days with your homemade turkey leg,” Holmes adds.

2. Use single-serving options.

Rather than serving all your dishes family-style, consider having one person serve all the guests. Since family-style servings mean everyone touching the same utensils with their hands, one person serving each dish on their own will reduce contact

That way, you won't have to worry about cross-contamination. It's safer all around!

3. Make a meal for yourself.

Since many people will not be traveling this year, that means single people will likely spend Thanksgiving alone.

That doesn't mean there won't be a Thanksgiving, though! This may be a good time to consider a cute little cornish hen, or a personal-sized mac and cheese or sweet potato casserole.

You can still enjoy the traditions of Thanksgiving, just with smaller portions in mind. And feel free to meet up with other friends on Zoom, where you can eat your single-serve portions together.

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4. Plan a Zoom get-together.

It’s still a get-together even if you aren't physically together. If you're joining extended family via video chat, coordinate a specific time and video platform with your Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving family to have dinners ready and sitting at tables for a virtual feast.

“You can still go 'around the table' and share what you’re grateful for, toast each other, and chat while you dine,” says Karen Condor, a hospitality specialist with The Truth About Insurance.

5. Share a meal remotely.

For anyone known for their cooking skills and living within a short driving distance, Thanksgiving dinner could include a treat left on a doorstep from the chef of the group.

"The chef of the family or group can prepare pre-portioned meals and create a contactless delivery, with everything from the turkey to the stuffing for each member. Then, you can all give thanks together, completely socially distanced via Zoom,” suggests Andrea Correale, Founder of Elegant Affairs Caterers.

6. Create a fun food competition.

If you really want to add a creative twist to the celebrations this year, make the best of a remote gathering by creating a baking competition via Zoom or other video chat platforms.

“Each family member or loved one can bake their own favorite kind of pie, and pre-portion the slices out and deliver them to each person's home for dessert,” says Correale. “The pie contest will take place completely socially distanced via Zoom, where everyone will try each slice at the same time and then decide on a winner.”

If you are unable to deliver yours, another member can deliver it for you. That's the spirit of the holiday, after all.

7. Have your celebration outside.

Outdoor dining is thought to be safer than indoor dining, so if you do have a small gathering planned for Thanksgiving (keeping gatherings small is still important), staying outdoors and socially distanced is a safer bet.

Still have hand sanitizer handy, and be sure to keep seats far enough apart. Seat people from the same household together since they are already not distancing from one another. Also, avoid sharing platters of foods so as to limit touchpoints. 

8. Deliver food to your neighbors.

As much as boo baskets were very popular at Halloween, dropping off a dish at a neighbor's house can be such a wonderful way to celebrate the holiday. This is especially true if you have neighbors who live alone, are elderly, or don't have family to enjoy a meal with.

Consider making mac and cheese, a casserole, or other delicious sides. Then, leave Tupperware containers of portions at your neighbor's home so they know they are being thought of this holiday, even if they feel sad and isolated.

9. Have a potluck-style virtual celebration.

If relatives or loved ones do not live within driving distance, you can assign each attendee of your Zoom celebration a Thanksgiving course, and have them choose a recipe for their dish.

“Once each person chooses their recipe, you can compile them and send them out to each member to cook at their own homes, then all enjoy via Zoom!"​ suggets Correale.

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10. Set the mood with decorations.

You can't have a celebration, no matter how big or small, without keeping things festive! That means some decorating is in order.

“Decorate for Thanksgiving like you would for Christmas, or decorate for Christmas early, and video guests can 'tour' each other’s decorated area,” says Condor. You can even set up a fun competition with family or friends, and judge who has the most creative decor.

This may include a fun flower arrangement as a centerpiece, turkey-shaped napkin designs, or anything else your family tradition may dictate.

11. Share your thanks.

Share Thanksgiving resolutions and what you're grateful for while having dessert. Share ideas of how to donate to a worthy cause over the holidays, and commit to doing one charitable act before the end of 2020.

“Why wait until the new year?" asks Condor. "We could all do with something to look forward to on the other side of this pandemic.”

12. Create new traditions.

The video call doesn’t have to only be for the dinner. Adds Condor, “It could include grandparents virtually 'helping' their grandkids bake cookies, or rooting for specific football teams during the Thanksgiving NFL games."

Have everyone in the family contribute a short video of what they are thankful for this year and put it all together into one larger video that can be shared with the family. You can even save it for future holidays.

Or, have everyone take a video of themselves making their signature dish, and then it can be compiled into one comprehensive cooking video.

13. Shop online for Black Friday.

While it will be tempting to go to Black Friday, avoid any and all crowds at this time. There are still plenty of Black Friday deals you can get online, rather than standing in line with lots of people.

Less people will hopefully be taking part in Black Friday in person, so use this opportunity to scour the internet for sales. Plus, shopping together (virtually) can be a fun new family tradition.

14. Volunteer virtually.

There are a bunch of to volunteer virtually this year. And this option is a great way to spread joy, even if it's not in person.

Hire Heroes USA: Millions have lost their jobs this year, and this organization gievs career counseling and interview practice to military families and veterans.

UN Volunteers: This is sort of like matching-making, but instead of dating, participants are paired with a cause. A lot of this is skill-based, so this is good for professionals with time on their hands.

Career Village: Career Village matches students with professionals in the industries they are interested in, answers questions, and provides guidance.

Be My Eyes: This brilliant nonprofit matches low-sighted people with volunteers to help with tasks via a smartphone app.

Even if we’re not together this year, there is so much to be grateful for. And now, more than ever, is a year to appreciate those we love.

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Aly Walansky is a NY-based lifestyles writer who focuses on health, wellness, and relationships. Her work appears in dozens of digital and print publications regularly. Visit her on Twitter or email her.