ANSWER: In my humble opinion, skip the turkey for something smaller and better. Limit your sides, too — but make sure they’re all make-ahead-friendly for one important reason.
For large Thanksgiving gatherings, it’s easy (albeit low-key depressing) to slip away into the kitchen and cook without being noticed or missed, really. But for a smaller, intimate group, connecting with your guests in a meaningful way should be your number one priority, along with making sure you’re not preparing a mountain of food that you won’t come close to finishing.
In order to accomplish this, pick a select few dishes that taste great when made in advance, and won’t require you to babysit them as they reheat:
• To start, set out some snacky things (chips, crackers, veggies) with a make-ahead dip that doesn’t have to be reheated.
• Unless you’re a Thanksgiving purist, opt for a smaller, easier-to-manage roast chicken to minimize food waste. If you are a Thanksgiving purist, go for a turkey breast instead of the whole bird. (But listen, if it were me, I’d rather have roast chicken leftovers.)
• Most importantly, pick no more than 3–4 sides that you can prep in advance, even if the limitation kills you. Something bready (like regular or cornbread stuffing), something with potatoes (preferably mashed, for microwavable heat-and-eat ease), something fresh-tasting and green (like sautéed green beans you can whip together just before serving), and a wildcard that easily reheats in the oven or doesn’t need to be reheated at all.
• Align on one pie, and one pie only. I know it’s hard.
If you follow the above formula, you’ll minimize your food waste while ultimately spending more time with the people you actually want to socialize with on Thanksgiving…instead of babysitting 14 different side dishes that’ll ultimately just get stashed as leftovers you may or may not get around to.