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Creating a feast for only a few

Last Modified: 11/21/2020


This post was written by Sarah Mohrman, RDN, PPG – Cardiology.

Thanksgiving 2020 is a holiday that many won’t forget. Due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, we’re being encouraged to keep gatherings small in order to protect ourselves and loved ones. Living in the Midwest typically doesn’t allow for comfortable outdoor celebrations in late November, so instead, let’s take on this challenge and make the most of what we have, by embracing our health, focusing on what’s good and creating a stress-free feast for only a few. By choosing to stay home this Thanksgiving to protect those we love, we are doing what we can to ensure that everyone can be there when we gather again in the future.

Tips for a feast for few
  • Simplify your menu.  Ask your immediate family members what their favorite dishes are and what they would like to enjoy for dinner. Make it fun! Have them complete a survey and tally the results. I’ve added an example at the bottom of this post, but you should create yours based on your family’s staple dishes.
  • Incorporate movement. Before dinner, during the warmest part of the day, bundle up and enjoy a family walk together through your neighborhood or possibly find a trail to hike to enjoy the fading colors of fall.
  • No need to bake a full turkey!  Opt for the breast at the grocery this year. It’s leaner, less work and less money.
  • Choose only one appetizer to limit the overindulging before dinner.  Consider a veggie tray or apples with dip to boost fiber consumption.
  • Set the table in fall décor and make it special.  Try lighting some unscented candles and enjoy your company. 
  • Tune in and toast.  Set a time with your family members for a virtual Thanksgiving toast before or after dinner (depending on time zones) so everyone can be a part of the celebration together.
  • Cuddle up.  After dinner, choose a holiday movie to enjoy or, as we do in my family with three boys, relax and enjoy the football games together.

Although 2020 has left us with challenges, take this Thanksgiving to focus on what you are truly grateful for. Maybe it’s your health, or your career or your loved ones. Make a commitment to encompass healthy lifestyle habits year-round, as these past months have certainly shown us how much our everyday choices matter.  

Meal planning

This menu, grocery list and cooking timeline could feed a family of 5-6 people.

On the menu:

Superfood Salad
Instant Pot Turkey Breast
Homemade Green Bean Casserole
Creamy Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes
Thanksgiving Heart Healthy Gravy
Peach - Cranberry Cobbler

Superfood Salad

3 tablespoons honey
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
8 ounces frozen shelled edamame, thawed
1 bunch of kale, stems removed, leaves chopped (or spring mix if you prefer)
¼ cup red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup shredded carrots
½ cup fresh blueberries
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup shelled sunflower seeds
½ cup cashew pieces
1 small avocado, diced

  1.  Whisk together the honey, balsamic, lemon juice, salt and pepper for the dressing.  Set aside.
  2. Cook the edamame according to the package directions, drain and cool.
  3. Toss salad ingredients together, pour half the dressing over the salad and toss.
  4. Refrigerate 4 – 6 hours to let flavors blend or serve immediately with remaining dressing on the side.

Serves 6

Nutrition per serving: 269 calories; 10g fat; 3g saturated fat; 0mg cholesterol; 66mg sodium; 38g carbohydrate; 7g fiber; 8g protein

Instant Pot Turkey Breast

2 tablespoons olive oil
4-pound boneless turkey breast, completely thawed
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon fresh sage
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
1 whole garlic head, cut in half, crosswise
2 sprigs fresh thyme

  1. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the turkey breast and rub it all around; set aside.
  2. Combine herbs, paprika, garlic powder, pepper, chili powder and onion powder in a small mixing bowl; generously season turkey breast with the seasoning blend, rubbing it all around.
  3. Set Instant Pot to sauté; add remaining olive oil to the instant pot and heat it up, adding a little broth if needed.
  4. Add turkey breast to the Instant Pot and sear on all sides; about 2-3 minutes per side.
  5. Remove turkey breast from Instant Pot and set aside.
  6. Add 1 cup of chicken broth to the Instant Pot and scrape up all the browned pieces with a wooden spoon.
  7. Add halved head of garlic to the chicken broth, as well as the sprigs of fresh thyme.
  8. Add the trivet or wire rack to the Instant Pot, and place the turkey breast on top.
  9. Close the lid and follow the manufacturer's guide for instructions on how to seal it closed.
  10. Set your Instant Pot to the manual setting and set timer for 25 minutes on high pressure.
  11. Let pressure release naturally (NPR) for 10 minutes before releasing the rest of the pressure.
  12. Set your oven broiler on high.
  13. Remove the lid from the Instant Pot. Take the turkey breast to a roasting pan or baking dish and let stand 5 minutes.
  14. Then, put the roasting pan in the oven and broil for 6-8 minutes, or until browned on top. Watch it closely so it doesn't burn.
  15. Transfer turkey breast to a cutting board and tent with foil; let rest for 15 minutes before cutting. If there's butcher twine/net around the turkey breast, remove it before slicing.
  16. In the meantime, prepare the gravy (recipe below) inside the Instant Pot.

If you would like to cook a larger turkey breast, the general rule of thumb for cooking poultry in the Instant Pot is 6 minutes per pound with a 10-minute natural pressure release (NPR).

Slow cooker option

  1. Place seasoned turkey breast in the slow cooker; cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours.
  2. Using a meat thermometer, check for doneness; thermometer should read 160˚F.
  3. For crispy browned skin, broil in the oven for 6-8 minutes. 
  4. Remove from oven and let stand 15 minutes before cutting.

Serves 6

Nutrition per serving (without gravy): 188 calories; 8g fat; 1g saturated fat; 53mg cholesterol; 620mg sodium; 4g carbohydrate; 0g fiber; 24g protein


Thanksgiving Heart Healthy Gravy

3 cups low sodium vegetable or chicken stock
4 ½ tablespoons flour
3 cloves garlic
1 ½ teaspoons onion powder
1 ½ teaspoons light soy sauce
1/3 teaspoon sage
1/3 teaspoon thyme
1 ½ packets Herb-Ox sodium free chicken bouillon packets (Walmart)
Pepper, to taste
Salt, to taste

  1. Put all of the ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth.
  2. Pour into a medium pot or Instant Pot. Heat on medium heat. Bring to a simmer.
  3. Let simmer for about 3 minutes, whisking frequently.

Serves 6

Nutrition per serving: 41 calories; 0g fat; 0g saturated fat; 0mg cholesterol; 177mg sodium; 5g carbohydrate; 0g fiber; 4g protein

Mashed Potatoes

Quick and Easy Creamy Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes

3 pounds gold potatoes – about 6 medium
Water, enough to cover potatoes
1/3 cup light plant-based butter (Earth Balance, Pure Blends Avocado spread etc.)
1/3 cup unsweetened almond milk, or as needed
1 ½ teaspoon garlic powder
1/3 teaspoon pepper
Salt, to taste

  1. Peel and cut potatoes into quarters.
  2. Place the potatoes in the Instant Pot. Add enough water to cover the potatoes by a half-inch or so.
  3. Put the lid on and turn the valve to seal. On manual mode, set the Instant Pot to 8 minutes. It will take about 10 minutes to pressurize before it starts the countdown from 8 minutes.
  4. When the timer goes off, manually release the pressure. Remove the lid when the pot is fully depressurized.
  5. Strain the potatoes. Put the potatoes back into the pressure cooker.
  6. Mash them with a potato masher or fork.
  7. Mix in vegan butter, milk, garlic, salt and pepper.

Serves 6

Nutrition per serving: 253 calories; 6g fat; 2g saturated fat; 0mg cholesterol; 90mg sodium; 15g carbohydrate; 0g fiber; 0g protein

Green Bean Casserole

Homemade Green Bean Casserole                           

¾  pound fresh green beans, rinsed and ends trimmed
1 tablespoon light butter
½  small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large Portobello mushrooms, chopped
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ cup low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
½ cup fat free evaporated milk or unsweetened almond milk
¼ cup breadcrumbs
3 ounces French fried onions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly spray an 8 x 8 casserole dish, set aside.
  2. Blanch the beans: In a large pot, bring about a gallon of water to a boil. Add the green beans and boil for 8 minutes. Drain in a colander and immediately plunge the beans into a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain and set aside. (If you’re using no salt added canned green beans, drain green beans completely and set aside.)
  3. Melt butter in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and onions, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to soften, about 4-5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper and continue to cook for another 1-2 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle in the flour and stir to combine. Cook for 2 minutes. Add the broth and stir to combine. Then add the half and half and simmer until the mixture thickens, stirring occasionally, approximately 6-8 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in all of the green beans. Transfer green bean mixture to prepared casserole dish.
  6. Top with the bread crumbs and then layer the French fried onions on top. Place casserole in the oven and bake until bubbly, about 15-20 minutes. If your onions start to brown too quickly, cover the casserole with foil. Serve immediately!

Make ahead: You can prepare the casserole up to two days in advance. Just stop at step 6 in the directions above. Do not top the casserole with bread crumbs and French fried onions. Instead, wrap cooled casserole tightly with foil or saran wrap and store in the fridge. When ready to bake, remove from refrigerator and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking. Continue with the directions from step 6.

Nutrition per serving (makes 5 servings): 128 calories; 5g fat; 2g saturated fat; 0mg cholesterol; 127mg sodium; 16g carbohydrate; 3g fiber; 4g protein

Peach-Cranberry Cobbler

⅓ cup pure cane sugar or regular sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 16-ounce packages frozen unsweetened peach slices, thawed (or 6 cups sliced fresh peaches)
1 cup fresh cranberries


1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup rolled oats
¼ cup pure cane sugar or regular sugar
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup unsweetened almond milk
¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
¼ cup cashew butter

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large saucepan, combine the ⅓ cup sugar, the cornstarch, and ¼ cup water. Add peaches. Cook and stir over medium until slightly thick and bubbly. Stir in cranberries. Transfer the hot mixture to an 8 x 8 baking dish.
  2. For topping, in a medium bowl stir together the next six ingredients (through cinnamon). In a small bowl whisk together milk, applesauce and cashew butter. Add milk mixture all at once to flour mixture; stir just until combined. Spoon over peach mixture.
  3. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until filling is bubbly and topping is golden.

*Enjoy leftovers warmed up for breakfast!

Serves 7

Nutrition per serving: 278 calories; 6g fat; 1g saturated fat; 0mg cholesterol; 57mg sodium; 51g carbohydrate; 8g fiber; 6g protein

Helpful resources

We've taken the guesswork out of menu planning, shopping and cooking with these helpful printables. 

Grocery list



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