Beginners Guide: How to Make Thanksgiving for Two

Thanksgiving for Two

Come along with me on a journey today as I figure out how the heck I’m going to make Thanksgiving for two people for the first time.

(Actually, this would easily serve 4-6 people, but I want days and days worth of leftover goodness!)Thanksgiving for Two

I’m originally from Ohio.  I grew up there, went to school there, and lived there until I was 21.  Basically my whole family is still there, so I typically go back to Ohio for Thanksgiving.  But, woe is me, I fell in love with a born-and-raised Georgia boy. His whole family is here.  Big problem-o for us.  It might be different next year, but for now we just have to celebrate the holidays apart.

However, I’ve decided I’m a wannabe chef and, (though I’ve never cooked Thanksgiving before) I naively think I can pull off a Thanksgiving for two for just Taylor and I so we can still have our own holiday.

How to Pull Off Thanksgiving For Two

Thanksgiving for Two Step 1: KEEP IT SIMPLE. Don’t over commit.

This is going to be a lesson in self-restraint for me.  I freaking LOVE Thanksgiving and everything about it. How do I possibly narrow down all these different traditions and must-haves?! I don’t want to overwhelm myself and become chef-zilla, (totally guilty sometimes).  Make sure to keep these recipes SIMPLE. Know your own cooking level, and take it 5 steps back. You want to make sure this goes smoothly, plus, it’s comfort food. It doesn’t have to be crazy.

In my mind, the most basic recipe for Thanksgiving bliss is:

  • Turkey & Gravy: pretty much non-negotiable, but we definitely have some easy options here
  • Potatoes: we usually have both mashed potatoes AND sweet potato casserole.  How do I choose….but one is the clear must-have…gotta do classic mashed potatoes.
  • Veggies: I’m probably going to break Taylor’s heart at some point by leaving out one or more of his family Thanksgiving traditions, so I’ll make his favorite. Broccoli.  A quick and easy salad wouldn’t hurt too; you can always make that ahead of time.
  • Cranberries: Literally non-negotiable if you ask me.  In my humble opinion, it’s the only thing on your plate saving you from salty, rich, carby overload.  Gotta give that tongue some excitement once in a while.
  • Carby goodness: Stuffing, mac and cheese, and rolls.  Dear Lord, help me with this impossible decision. I’m going to catch a lot of grief for this one, but I actually am not the biggest stuffing fan.  My family always does shells and cheese on Thanksgiving and I don’t know if I can live without it.  However, I don’t think Taylor can live without stuffing, so we’re going EASY.  And easy rolls too!
  • Pie: Pumpkin with Cool Whip. No questions asked. Really considering just buying one here.Thanksgiving Menu

Thanksgiving for Two Step 2: Find Corners to Cut

Judge me all you want. The only way I’m going to get through this with a smile on my face is to figure out how to make my life easier.

  • Pre-Cooked Turkey Breast.  Yep, I said it. PRE-COOKED. “But Ally, this is a cooking blog.”  LEAVE ME ALONE.  I need my one oven for bigger and better things. Don’t screw up the main event your first time cooking, pay for convenience.  Order a pre-sliced turkey breast ahead of time at Honey Baked Ham or buy one at the store. You’ll have tons of leftovers!
  • Mashed potatoes can be made IN A SLOW COOKER. Rejoice. Find out how easy it is here. One less pot you need to boil and watch. Be extra efficient and ship yourself an awesome programmable crockpot for under $30 here: Hamilton Beach 33473 Programmable Slow Cooker, 7-Quart, Silver
  • Roasted broccoli is one of God’s gift to earth.  All the little tree branches get black and crispy like potato chips.  No real corner-cutting here, but if it’s the only thing I need to deal with putting in the oven, I’m happy.  Salad is also super easy to make ahead of time, and you can buy pre-washed mixed salad and store bought dressing. DONE.
  • Cranberries.  Make ’em ahead of time, they need to be chilled. Pull them out when you eat. No stress here.
  • Mac and cheese isn’t good leftover, let’s be honest, but you definitely CAN cook the noodles in advance.  The cheese sauce takes about 7 minutes when you’re ready to eat.
  • EMBRACE boxed Stuffing. Apparently Stovetop’s Savory Herb stuffing is pre-made magic. And only 5 minutes? Sold.
  • Pumpkin pie and whipped cream are both readily available to buy pre-made. I think I can pull off a homemade pie, (as long as I buy pre-made crust). I think I’m going to use this recipe as inspiration, but keep it simple with store bought crust, no fancy toppings, and substituting pumpkin pie spice for all the individual spices.

Thanksgiving for Two Step 3: Make a Schedule, (actually stick to it)

The keys to creating a no-stress schedule:

  1. Identify the cook and prep times for all food.  Mark items that can be completed ahead of time with an “*”.
    • A pre-cooked turkey breast will need to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.
    • *Mashed potatoes need 4 hours in the slow cooker, plus 10 minutes prep. The beautiful thing about slow cookers is the “warm” feature. This can be done at any time during the day
    • Rolls need 12 minutes in the oven.
    • Boxed stuffing takes about 5 minutes on the stovetop.
    • *Cranberries need about 10 minutes cook time, then can be chilled
    • Roasted broccoli needs 20 minutes @ 400 degrees, plus 5 minutes prep
    • *Salad can be pre-made as long as you add the dressing at the last minute!
    • Mac and cheese needs 10 minutes of ACTIVE cook time (cheese sauce), 20 minutes prep time (boiling noodles)*
    • Pumpkin pie will take 60 minutes in the oven, and needs 3 hours to set
  2. Work backwards. If I’m going to shoot for our Thanksgiving for two on Sunday @ 4 PM, let’s start there. Place active cooking items on your schedule first, then fill in with the flexible, “ahead-of-time” things when you know you’ll have breaks. Add in small details, (like time for oven pre-heating or setting the table) last. Give yourself 5 extra minutes for prep time than a recipe calls for.
  • 4 PM- Take rolls out of the oven and EAT
  • 3:55 PM- Take cranberries and salad out of the fridge for serving
  • 3:50 PM- Remove broccoli from oven, place rolls in oven.
  • 3:40 PM- Make gravy
  • 3:30 PM- Make cheese sauce for mac and cheese, add noodles, keep warm on stove
  • 3:30 PM- Place broccoli in oven at 450 degrees
  • 3:20 PM- Prep broccoli
  • 3:15 PM- Take turkey out of the fridge to allow it to come to room temperature
  • 3:15 PM- Set oven to 450
  • 3 PM- Mash potatoes, and turn crockpot to “warm” setting
  • 2:30 PM- Boil water and cook pasta for mac and cheese. Drain, and set aside. Make sure your cheese is shredded.
  • 2:00 PM- Make stuffing, and keep warm on stove.
  • 1 PM: Set table
  • 1 PM- Remove pie from oven
  • 12 Noon- Place pie in oven at 375 degrees
  • 11:45- Prep pumpkin pie
  • 11:45 AM- Preheat oven to 375 degrees for pie
  • 11 AM- Turn crockpot on “high” for 4 hours to cook potatoes
  • 10:45 AM- Prep mashed potatoes
  • DAY BEFORE: Make cranberry sauce and salad, place covered in fridge.Thanksgiving Timeline

The hour before you eat will be busy, but you got this. Stick to your schedule. Give yourself buffer time. 1 busy hour is better than 5 nervous hours of wondering if you should be doing something.

Print out your schedule, tape it to your cabinets, and cross things off as you go.

Thanksgiving for Two Step 4: Create Your Shopping List

Write out all the ingredients for all your recipes organized by sections of a grocery store.


Thanksgiving for Two Step 5: Make sure you have all the equipment you need

And if you don’t have it all, order it on Amazon NOW so you don’t fret about it later! Here are some great deals:

Thanksgiving for Two Step 6: Have some wine, put on some music, and enjoy yourself.

Fact: cooking can be stressful.

Fact: wine and music while cooking will lower your stress. Happy Holidays 🙂

Printable Recipe: Full Thanksgiving for Two

5.0 from 2 reviews
Ally's Full Thanksgiving for Two
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Thanksgiving
Serves: 2 servings
  • For the potatoes:
  • 1 lb yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced into 1" pieces
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ⅛ tsp black pepper
  • ¼ cup warm milk
  • .
  • For the pumpkin pie:
  • 1 pre-made pie crust
  • 1-15 oz can pumpkin puree
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1¼ cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ⅛ tsp black pepper
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup milk
  • Whipped cream, for serving
  • .
  • For the cranberry sauce:
  • 12-oz bag frozen cranberries
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • .
  • For macaroni and cheese:
  • 1 box shell pasta
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar
  • ½ cup shredded parmesan
  • .
  • For the broccoli:
  • 1 head broccoli, cut into florets
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt & pepper
  • .
  • For the turkey & gravy:
  • 1 pre-cooked turkey breast, (2 lbs)
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • salt & pepper
  • .
  • For the salad:
  • 1 bag pre-washed salad mix
  • Dressing of choice
  • .
  • For the rolls:
  • 1 tube crescent rolls, (or your favorite)
  • .
  • For the stuffing:
  • 1 box Stovetop Savory Herbs stuffing mix
  • 3 tsp butter
  1. The day before, make your cranberry sauce. Empty a 12-ounce bag of fresh or frozen cranberries into a saucepan. Add 1 cup sugar, 1 strip orange zest and 2 tablespoons water to the pan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the cranberries are soft, about 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and cook until the cranberries burst, about 12 more minutes. Chill, covered, in the fridge until ready to serve.
  2. Around 6 hours before you plan to eat, begin prepping your mashed potatoes for the slow cooker. Peel the potatoes and dice them into 1" pieces. Mince 2 cloves of garlic. Add the potatoes and ½ a cup of chicken stock to a slow cooker. Cover with minced garlic and 2 tbsp butter. Cover and cook 4 hours on high.
  3. Preheat your oven to 375. Around 4 hours before you plan on eating, make your pumpkin pie filling. Whisk the canned pumpkin, 3 eggs, and brown sugar together until combined. Add the cornstarch, ½ tsp salt, 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice, ⅛ tsp pepper, 1 cup heavy cream, and ¼ cup milk. Whisk until everything is combined. Fill the pie crust ¾ way with pie filling. Bake the pie until the center is almost set, about 55-60 minutes. After 25 minutes of baking, be sure to cover the edges of the crust with aluminum foil or use a pie crust shield to prevent the edges from getting too brown. Remove from oven and let rest 3 hours before serving.
  4. Make the stuffing according to box directions and keep warm on stove until ready to serve.
  5. To make the mac and cheese, cook pasta shells 2 minutes less than box directions. Drain, and set aside. For the cheese sauce, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large pot. Add 3 tbsp flour, and whisk continuously for 2 minutes. Add one cup milk, and continue to whisky until there are no lumps and the mixture starts to boil. Add in all the shredded cheese, and stir until melted. Stir in the drained shell pasta, and keep warm over low heat until ready to serve.
  6. After the potatoes have cooked 4 hours in the crockpot, use a potato masher or an electric mixer to mash the potatoes to your desired consistency. Stir in the sour cream, salt, and black pepper. Add your desired amount of warm milk, until the potatoes reach your desired level of creaminess. Keep on "warm" crockpot setting until ready to serve.
  7. Take the turkey out of the fridge to allow it to come to room temperature.
  8. For the broccoli, pre-heat your oven to 450. Toss the broccoli florets with the olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper on a baking sheet. Spread them out and then roast, without stirring, until the edges are crispy and the stems are tender, about 20 minutes.
  9. Bake rolls in oven according to package directions.
  10. Heat 3 tbsp of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Whisk in ¼ cup of flour, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. Add in the chicken broth, salt, and pepper, and whisk until smooth.
  11. Take cranberries and salad out of fridge. Serve!

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Written by Ally