What do you do when your cozy Thanksgiving dinner for six suddenly morphs into a banquet for twelve?
You’ve got the table beautifully set and the house is filled with the delicious aroma of roasting turkey with all the trimmings.
It’s almost noon and you’ve finally stopped for a cup of coffee, when you get the fateful call – there will be six more for dinner!
With grown kids, this is not unusual at our house. There’s always a friend – or two, or three – without a place to go for the holidays.
Don’t panic when your perfect dinner plan flies out the window. Take a page from the book of southern tradition, where there’s always room for one more.
You’ve got five hours (maybe less?) and a good imagination, so let’s get going!
The following nine tips will help you turn a traditional sit-down dinner for six into a contemporary buffet for twelve in no time! And if you’ve got even bigger concerns about your gathering, check out our tips on how to survive your Thanksgiving (and Christmas, too) dinner.
9 Ways to Save the Day
With the stores closed and little prep time left, you need ideas fast. Take an inventory of what you have on hand, and see if you can double basic dishes and easy sides like mashed potatoes.
Those that can’t be doubled can be supplemented with another dish or two in the same food group.
Read on for more ways to supplement your existing menu and streamline the entire affair.
1. Buffet Blitz
Trade formal sit-down for casual buffet and you’re on your way to regaining your sanity.
If your table seats twelve, great! If not, plan to have guests cruise around with plates, and provide snack tables and seating as best you can.
Don’t worry if your china service won’t accommodate six additional guests. An eclectic mix of plates creates its own ambiance when stacked for self-service, especially if you alternate patterns.
Glasses of various sizes and colors enhance the chance arrangement.
The same goes for napkins and flatware. Mix and match. Make it easy for your guests to help themselves by bundling flatware and napkins together with a bit of twine or ribbon.
Consider using paper and plastic goods if you have them on hand, to maximize the enjoyment and minimize the drudge work later – especially if you haven’t got a dishwasher!
2. Appetizer Additions
Add starter foods to the menu for a great way to ease into the meal, and fill guests up a little before they get to the main event.
Do you have a pumpkin that’s helping to create a fall atmosphere somewhere in or outside the house?
This fresh treasure can be turned into delicious roasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin soup, and pumpkin hummus, three seasonal treats to boost the menu.
Raid your cupboards for snacks like nuts, dried fruits, olives, pickles, and crackers.
If you decide to make the soup, and it’s ready in time for your guests, puree it, use a small ladle, and serve it in tea-sized cups. If it isn’t ready in time, let it simmer, and serve it by the mug or bowl to late lingerers.
Nibbling and mingling guests may happily entertain themselves while you work your (somewhat frantic) magic in the kitchen.
3. Ways with Wine
If you’re like me, and not a regular drinker, you may find yourself short of wine when the guest list expands.
Chances are a guest will bring wine, but just in case, consider making a pitcher or two of spritzers, sangria, or punch to extend your supply. If possible, provide small glasses rather than large wine goblets.
4. Total the Turkey
Traditionally, a Thanksgiving turkey is presented on a lovely platter for carving before rapt guests. Scratch that.
Plan to carve the bird in the kitchen. Remove all meat from bones, legs, thighs, wings, and breasts as neatly as possible for presentation in cut form. If slices are large, halve them. Remove all stuffing and freeze the cooled carcass for future soup.
If you need to stretch your gravy, add chicken, turkey, or vegetable broth, season to taste, and thicken with cornstarch as needed.
Uh oh. What if all you have is a turkey breast?
Slice it and halve the slices, as described above. Then, take stock of additional items you have on hand that might supplement the protein entree.
Look for turkey alternatives in your freezer. Chicken cutlets are perfect, as you can thaw and prepare them quickly.
Bread and sauté the meat, then halve for small serving portions. Provide lemon wedges on the side.
Don’t hesitate to offer alternative protein entrees in addition to turkey on your festive buffet table.
5. Stuffing Stretchers
If you haven’t stuffed the bird yet, you can stretch your turkey filling by adding more bread. Any bread will do, fresh or stale. Cornbread, bagels, and hamburger buns work great.
Cube the bread and toast it lightly under the broiler. Combine with already prepared stuffing, adding water or stock (turkey, chicken, or veggie) to moisten.
If you don’t have any bread, crackers or a low-sugar breakfast cereal may be crumbled and added to increase stuffing volume.
Extend the quantity even further by adding flavorful ingredients like peeled and cubed apples, dried cranberries, raisins, and chopped walnuts.
Grab your skillet and saute chopped leftover vegetables with diced celery and onion for more tasty additions.
Do you have some leftover cooked breakfast sausages? Crumble them and mix them in. Even some cold-cut ham lightly browned and shredded makes a great add-in.
A crispy stove-top dressing makes a nice counterpoint to a soft roasted-in filling, and adds substance and variety to the feast.
6. Vegetable Variations
Vegetables can be multiplied easily by converting whole to mashed.
If you were planning to serve each of your original six guests a baked sweet potato, that’s an easy stretch. Serve mashed instead. Mixing in milk and butter increases the quantity nicely.
Alternatively, you may like this recipe for sweet potato hash, a dish that may be extended quite easily with the addition of cubed white or gold potatoes.
You’ve probably got applesauce on hand. Spice it up with flavorful seasonal warming spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, and serve it warm.
Make mashed potatoes go a long way by blending cooked rutabaga, turnips, kohlrabi, or cauliflower with them for a tasty and filling side dish.
How about roasting some vegetables alongside the turkey?
Fresh or frozen broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, beets, celery, potatoes, and the like may be cut into bite-size pieces to maximize the number of servings. Throw them in with the turkey and remove when fork tender.
7. Cranberry Cousins
If you are serving whole cooked cranberry sauce, puree it to get a little more mileage.
Or, keep it whole and add fruits like chunked pineapple, cubed pears, diced peaches, and raspberries. Fresh, thawed frozen, or canned varieties will all work. Add one or all!
If your cranberries are in uncooked relish form, add halved orange sections (cutting them releases the juice), grated raw carrot, celery, raisins, and cubed skin-on apples to boost vitamin and nutrient content as well as quantity.
If you are low on cranberry sauce, offer additional chutney-type fruit sauces that go well with poultry. Try apricot preserves dotted with cloves, or maybe a tangy peach and corn salsa.
8. Bread Bonanza
Offer a variety of bread and rolls. If you’ve already got biscuits on the menu, cut some slices of bread and warm them in a 200°F oven for five minutes. Nestle them with the rolls and serve together in a decorative basket.
9. Dessert Diversity
Do you know the quickest way to stretch your desserts? Present them as a sampler platter. With plenty of coffee and tea, sampling several small confections makes a sweet ending to a fabulous meal.
Pie is a traditional Thanksgiving favorite at our house. Pumpkin and apple rule. We like to make dessert plates comprised of small bits of a variety of desserts, so I’ve perfected the “sliver,” and can get up to 12 slices of pumpkin pie from a 9-inch pan.
Fruit pies like apple, particularly those with a lattice crust, are delicate, so don’t expect to get as many slices from them as you would a pumpkin pie.
If you haven’t baked your pumpkin pie yet, make it in a square baking dish and serve it cut into squares like brownies. You may get 16 pieces doing it this way!
Speaking of which, if you have a brownie mix in the cupboard and some oven space, whip up a batch to add to the buffet table.
In addition to baked goods, you may build your dessert selection by poaching pears on the stovetop, or baking apples while the turkey rests for carving.
And finally, a cornucopia of fresh fruit, washed and polished to perfection, makes an elegant and delicious dessert display.
Did you know that the canned pumpkin we use for pies is not the same pumpkin we typically carve into jack-o’-lanterns? It comes from fleshy winter squash, particularly sweet and nutritious hubbard varieties.
Do you have extra canned pumpkin, but don’t have the flour or the time to roll out a crust? Combine crushed ginger cookies with melted butter for a great press-in crust.
Or, better yet, make a crust-less pumpkin pie to save time, and cut carbs in the process!
Peace Reigns in the Harvest Home
With your traditional sit-down dinner for six now doubled, you’re ready to welcome your guests with confidence.
Once you’ve mastered the challenge of reconfiguring a holiday meal, you may add this skill to your kitchen repertoire. With the next fateful call, you can rise admirably to the occasion.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from all of us at Foodal!
Recipe photos by Felicia Lim and Kendall Vanderslice, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.
About Nan Schiller
Nan Schiller is a writer from southeastern Pennsylvania. When she’s not in the garden, she’s in the kitchen preparing imaginative gluten- and dairy-free meals. With a background in business, writing, editing, and photography, Nan writes humorous and informative articles on gardening, food, parenting, and real estate topics. Having celiac disease has only served to inspire her to continue to explore creative ways to provide her family with nutritious locally-sourced food.