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How COVID-19 May Change Your Thanksgiving Dinner

Mark Shrayber
·5 min read
Man Taking Roast Turkey Out Of The Oven.
Man Taking Roast Turkey Out Of The Oven.

Ah, Thanksgiving — the second most wonderful time of year. A time to get together with the people nearest and dearest to us, fight about the political landscape and vow that we’ve gotten it all out of our system and the December holidays will be a quieter, more reflective time.

It’s also a time to put on our eating pants and just go for it. Every year Americans eat millions of pounds of turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing before falling asleep on the couch at 4 p.m. But this year might be different. Due to the pandemic, many of us will be at home with just a few people on Thanksgiving. Or with those people on Zoom. Or by ourselves. And that means what we’ll be spending on food might change.

Here’s what Americans traditionally buy the most of for Thanksgiving and how that might change due to COVID-19.

Last updated: Nov. 16, 2020

San Jose, CA - December 14, 2019: Foster Farms organic frozen whole turkeys.
San Jose, CA - December 14, 2019: Foster Farms organic frozen whole turkeys.


Turkey is Thanksgiving’s most enduring staple — and we buy a lot of it. Americans buy millions of pounds of turkey during the lead-up to the holiday. Then we probably spend an equivalent number of minutes discussing all of the things we plan to do to the turkey on Thanksgiving Day.

The biggest problem? Buying too much or too little meat. If everyone in your family likes turkey, it may feel like everyone didn’t get enough. If you buy too much, eating it for the next week might feel like a chore (#blessed).

Because Thanksgiving may be smaller for many of us this year — as it should be — due to the pandemic, you may want to reassess how much turkey you’re buying. According to Delish, the average person eats about 1 1/4 pounds of turkey at Thanksgiving. So if you’re shopping for a family of four, 5 pounds of meat is probably the right place to be.

Of course, you might need to compromise, too. Because the average turkey can weigh up to 30 pounds, you may want to buy a prepackaged turkey breast to cook and carve up.

mashed potatoes
mashed potatoes

Mashed Potatoes

If there isn’t enough turkey to go around, we can always console ourselves with mashed potatoes, the second most popular — and arguably most delicious — Thanksgiving food. In 2018, 65% of holiday tables featured a hot steaming dish of potatoes lovingly mashed into submission (and loaded with butter).

This year, things might be a little bit different. With fewer people to feed, we may buy fewer potatoes. But since potatoes are cheaper, this might also be a good time to make starch the main event at your dinner. Not only are potatoes cheaper than turkey, but they’re much, much harder to mess up. And if you do, you can just try again!



It may feel like cheating to consider gravy its own dish — some might argue it either belongs on turkey or not at all — but this side is one of the most popular Thanksgiving favorites.

How will it do this year? Considering that gravy is cheap to buy and fairly easy to make, it may either become a standout (try several different recipes and perfect one for next year!) or fall to the wayside if there’s no turkey to lavish it upon.

More To Celebrate: Whole Foods Will Pay You for Messing Up Your Thanksgiving Turkey

pao de queijo
pao de queijo


Americans buy millions of pounds of rolls around Thanksgiving, too. Though these numbers may be bolstered a bit by the fact that rolls are an all-around good time at regular dinners, too, there’s no denying that a ball of carbs is one of our favorite ways to get our calories in.

Though our Thanksgivings may be smaller this year, we shouldn’t worry too much about this nominee for best supporting bread product. According to recent research, we all turned to carbs to help us deal with the stress of the presidential election and there’s no reason to believe that we’ll be ignoring them on Thanksgiving.



Stuffing is curious because, while it’s available all year, we often only really eat at it Thanksgiving. And though we could eat it as often as we’d like if we wanted to, it’s only around the last few weeks of November that this side’s sales figures soar into the millions.

Will stuffing sales be surging this year? That’s a hard one. For those of us who enjoy it on its own, the minor hassle of making it might be worth it. But if you’re not a stuffing fan or prefer to eat it only from inside the turkey (horrifying) then this might not be stuffing’s best year ever.


Canned Cranberry Sauce

Does anyone else feel slightly uncomfortable when the cranberry sauce slithers out of the can? That little bit of discomfort is an easy trade-off for most of us, however. Like it or hate it, cranberry sauce appears at nearly half of all Thanksgiving feasts.

It’s easy to make, but this year might also mark the end of putting up with side dishes that we just can’t love. That doesn’t just apply to cranberry sauce — it applies to green beans and sweet potatoes and any other side that just doesn’t get you excited.

One thing to be thankful for this Thanksgiving is that we only have to eat the foods we like. And who knows, maybe this year we’ll find new favorites to replace the ones we’ve only been keeping around out of a sense of tradition.

Homemade Pumpkin Pie for the Holidays.
Homemade Pumpkin Pie for the Holidays.


Pies have nothing to worry about.

With that being said, if you’d like to help a small business or feel extra fancy on Nov. 26, order a pie from a local bakery, a bakery that ships or from Amazon via Oprah’s favorite things.

New York City, NY/ USA- 5-26-20: New York City Restaurants Reopening Customer Ordering Takeout Food.
New York City, NY/ USA- 5-26-20: New York City Restaurants Reopening Customer Ordering Takeout Food.

Takeout and Delivery

As we’ve all noted during the pandemic, sometimes getting food made and delivered (or driving to pick it up) is the best match for our energy levels. Though many restaurants have had to close, delivery services are doing very well.

That will likely continue to be the case on Thanksgiving, especially considering that it may actually be cheaper and more time-effective to order burritos or a pizza rather than buying all the ingredients for a traditional Thanksgiving meal and spending hours in the kitchen to prepare it.

Don’t forget to tip generously!

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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: How COVID-19 May Change Your Thanksgiving Dinner