9 Quick Tips to Stretch Thanksgiving Dinner

What do you do when your cozy Thanksgiving dinner for six suddenly morphs into a banquet for twelve?

You have the table beautifully set, and the delicious aroma of roasting turkey with all the trimmings is beginning to fill the house.

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.

Vertical image of a beautifully decorated fall feast, with family members holding hands.

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 have about five hours (maybe less?) and a good imagination, so let’s get going!

You need ideas fast with the stores cleaned out of essentials and little prep time left. Take an inventory of what you have on hand, and see what you can do.

Read on for nine tips to help you turn an intimate holiday dinner for a small handful of guests into a big feast for an even bigger crew in no time at all by strategically supplementing your existing menu.

Here’s what’s in store:

You’ve got this!

1. Buffet Blitz

Trade formal sit-down for a casual buffet, and you’re on your way to regaining your sanity.

Horizontal image of four family members gathering holiday food on platters.

If your table seats enough people to accommodate all of your extra guests, 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 additional guests. An eclectic mix of plates creates a unique ambiance when stacked for self-service, especially if you alternate patterns.

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 of cleaning up later – especially if you don’t have 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.

Vertical image of a hand scooping some bright orange hummus in a wooden bowl onto a thin slice of bread.
Photo credit: Felicia Lim

Pumpkin Hummus – Get the Recipe Now

This is a perfect opportunity to use up any crusty bread leftover from your stuffing to make assorted crostini.

Do you have pumpkins or other winter squash creating a fall atmosphere in or outside the house?

Turn this fresh treasure into delicious roasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin soup, and pumpkin hummus, three seasonal treats to boost the menu.

Other winter squash varieties like acorn squash can easily be cut in half or into wedges and roasted with herbs and maple syrup.

You’ll also find our roundup of butternut squash recipes particularly helpful in this case!

Raid your pantry for other nibbles like nuts, dried fruits, olives, pickles, and crackers.

In my household, there is always a stash of cheese and charcuterie in the fridge. Make an impromptu meat and cheese board with what you find.

3. Ways with Wine

If you’re like me and not a regular drinker, you may be short of wine when the guest list grows.

Horizontal image of young people toasting with wine at a holiday table at home.

Chances are at least one guest will bring wine or champagne as an appreciative gift to the host, but consider making a pitcher or two of spritzers, sangria, or punch to extend your supply.

Provide small glasses rather than large wine goblets as a smart way of serving more guests.

4. Total the Turkey

Traditionally, a Thanksgiving turkey is presented on a lovely platter for carving before rapt guests.

Scratch that.

Vertical image of sliced turkey breast on a wooden board in front of dishes of cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans, and salt and pepper mills.

There’s no time to waste, and you don’t need the pomp and circumstance of the holiday to distract you from your mission of divvying up the meat to feed many more mouths at the table!

Plan to carve the bird in the kitchen. Remove all meat from bones, legs, thighs, wings, and breasts as neatly as possible. If the slices are large, halve them. You might even be able to divide some particularly bigger pieces into thirds.

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.

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 a perfect time-saving protein, as you can thaw and prepare them quickly in your electric pressure cooker.

Don’t hesitate to offer alternative protein entrees in addition to turkey on your festive buffet table – there should be no judgements or complaints coming from any last-minute guests!

5. Stuffing Stretchers

If you haven’t yet stuffed the bird, you can stretch your turkey filling by adding more bread.

Horizontal image of a white casserole dish filled with a bread stuffing.
Photo credit: Fanny Slater

Oyster Dressing – Get the Recipe Now

Any bread will do, fresh or stale. Cornbread, bagels, and hamburger buns will work splendidly.

Cube the bread and toast it lightly under the broiler. Combine with your already-prepared stuffing, adding water or stock (turkey, chicken, or veggie) to moisten the mixture.

If you don’t have any bread, crumble and add plain or simply seasoned crackers or low-sugar breakfast cereal like cornflakes to increase the stuffing volume.

Extend the quantity further by adding flavorful ingredients like peeled and cubed apples, dried cranberries, raisins, and chopped walnuts.

And if there is a group of seafood lovers surrounding your table, treat them to an oyster-filled stuffing.

You can also grab a skillet, and saute chopped leftover vegetables with diced celery and onion for tasty additions.

Do you have some cooked breakfast sausages in the fridge? Crumble them and mix them in. Even some cold-cut ham that is lightly browned and shredded makes a great add-in.

6. Vegetable Variations

It’s easy to stretch your supply of vegetables by converting the whole version to a mashed iteration.

Overhead closely cropped shot of a round white ceramic serving dish and a blue and white plate of roasted vegetables, with a fork, on a folded and gathered light blue and white checkered cloth, on a dark brown wood table.
Photo credit: Meghan Yager

Roasted Fall Vegetables – Get the Recipe Now

If you were planning to serve each of your original six guests a baked sweet potato, that’s an easy stretch – serve the sweet potatoes mashed instead!

Mixing in milk and softened butter effectively increases the quantity.

You can also make mashed potatoes go a long way by blending in cooked rutabaga, turnips, kohlrabi, or grated soft-cooked cauliflower for a tasty and filling side dish.

Alternatively, you can try this recipe for sweet potato hash, a dish that can be effortlessly extended with the addition of cubed white or gold potatoes.

Or how about roasting an assortment of vegetables?

Cut fresh broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, beets, celery, potatoes, and the like into bite-size pieces to maximize the number of servings. Toss them on a baking sheet with olive oil and freshly cracked salt and pepper, place it in the oven as you are roasting the turkey, and remove from the baking sheet when they are fork-tender.

7. Cranberry Cousins

If you are serving canned cranberry sauce, or preparing it from scratch, add fruits like diced pineapple, pears, peaches, and apples, orange segments, or whole raspberries.

A gray stoneware bowl of oven roasted whole cranberries with a gold serving spoon, on a blue cloth with decorative gourds and oranges in the background.
Photo credit: Meghan Yager

Easy Roasted Cranberries – Get the Recipe Now

Fresh, frozen and thawed, or canned varieties will work.

Add a single type of fruit, or a mixture! These additions will boost the vitamin and nutrient content of this tangy side dish, and will also increase its quantity.

If you’re making a fresh cranberry relish instead of a cooked sauce, it’s easy to boost the volume with similar additions like orange segments, grated raw carrot, celery, raisins, and cubed or shredded apple with the skin on.

If you are low on canned cranberry sauce, offer additional chutney-type fruit sauces that go well with poultry. Serve our mango chutney or cranberry chutney that you canned earlier this month!

And you probably have some jarred applesauce on hand, right? Spice it with flavorful seasonal warming spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, and serve it warm as an alternative to the tangier condiment.

No one will ever know that you didn’t make it from scratch!

8. Bread Bonanza

Offer a variety of breads, biscuits, and rolls.

A silicon brush being used to brush vegan butter over the top of a roasted garlic dinner rolls (twisted into knots).
Photo credit: Raquel Smith

Vegan Roasted Garlic Dinner Rolls – Get the Recipe Now

If you need a creative way to use up some ends of a loaf, cut the slices and warm them in an oven preheated to 200°F for five minutes.

Nestle them with the rolls and serve them together in a decorative basket.

Begging the pardon of carb watchers, bread remains a filler at meals in many homes and adds bulk to the buffet table.

9. Dessert Diversity

Do you know the quickest way to stretch desserts?

Present them as a sampler platter!

Horizontal image of three different fall-themed pies divided.

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 consisting of small bits of various desserts, so I’ve perfected the “sliver” and can get up to 12 slices of pumpkin pie from a 9-inch pan.

Chilled pies are easiest to cut, especially with a sharp knife.

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 small 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.

Place assorted pre-cut pie slices and brownies in a decorative arrangement on a serving platter, and provide small dessert plates for self-service. Provide vanilla ice cream or whipped cream for a filling dessert.

In addition to baked goods, you can build your dessert selection by roasting any leftover apples and pearsor baking stuffed 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.

Do you have extra canned pumpkin or some other type of plain roasted squash puree, but you don’t have the flour or the patience to roll out a crust?

Combine crushed ginger cookies or graham crackers with melted butter for a quick press-in crust. Or better yet, make a crustless custard dessert!

Our spiced kabocha squash custard needs some time to set in the refrigerator after baking, so this is the ideal option if you were given a fair warning in the morning that you will have more company in the evening.

Peace Reigns in the Harvest Home

Although your guest list has unexpectedly doubled, you’re still ready to welcome everyone confidently.

You can now stretch a sit-down Thanksgiving meal into a diverse and delicious buffet that can feed many more guests!

Add this skill to your kitchen repertoire, and when the phone rings at the last minute on a holiday, you’ll rise confidently to the occasion.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from all of us at Foodal!

Horizontal image of a beautifully decorated fall feast, with family members holding hands.

Do you have some holiday meal stretching suggestions? Please share them in the comments section below.

If you enjoyed this article, we recommend the following how-to guides to preparing expert holiday fare:

Photos by Felicia Lim, Fanny Slater, Meghan Yagher, and Raquel Smith, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos via Shutterstock. Originally published on November 10, 2016. Last updated on November 4, 2023.

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.

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