Hosting a small Thanksgiving dinner this year? Try these main dishes

A turkey breast is the most obvious option for those who enjoy the traditional feast but don’t necessarily need 10 pounds of meat for two or four people at the table. However, if the idea of not eating turkey doesn’t ruffle your feathers, let yourself off the hook. You just don’t have to serve it!

As a food professional who personally couldn’t care less about the bird, I have spent the past few years serving anything but an entire turkey at my Thanksgiving dinners.

And even though it’s better for both our health and the planet’s health to eat less meat, you don’t necessarily have to turn to Tofurky or resort to rotisserie chicken as a replacement. Here are some centerpiece meal ideas for cooks who are looking to mix up their Thanksgiving traditions and still keep it festive.
Who can say no to a pot pie? This version is chicken, but you can make yours vegetarian if you'd like.
As a compromise for those who like the idea of turkey and gravy but not the process of roasting a whole bird, pot pie serves up the traditional combination in a different package.
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It’s a highly adaptable dish that can serve a crowd or just a few people — and don’t feel as if you need to stick to turkey or even chicken. A vegetarian pot pie, stuffed with vegetables like potatoes, green beans, squash, corn and peppers, can be just as thrilling and filling.

Try your skills at homemade pie crust or grab a package of refrigerated crusts to make it easy on yourself. For a small group, you can make it even more whimsical with pot pie pop tarts.

Stuffed squash

Stuffed squashes with quinoa, kale, cranberries, and chickpeas are a colorful addition to the holiday table.

Stuffed peppers are for weeknight dinners — stuffed squashes are showstoppers for Thanksgiving! Smaller squash varieties make for a gorgeous individual presentation that would eclipse a turkey even if it were on the table.

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Slice off the tops of round squash such as carnival or acorn, or halve oblong squash like delicata lengthwise, then scoop out the seeds and stringy insides.

Pick a cooked grain, such as farro, wild rice, quinoa or couscous, and mix it with seasonal ingredients like cranberries, pecans, apples, mushrooms and more. Try this apple- and sausage-stuffed squash or mushroom-stuffed squash as a base and adjust to your taste.

Main dish casseroles

Go all-in on stuffing by turning it into a casserole for the main course.

As someone who believes that stuffing is the reason for the season, I’m here to say it’s not a stretch to translate this classic Thanksgiving sidekick into the main course.

It's vegan comfort food. Really.

Think of it more as a savory bread pudding instead of a regular side, with ingredient add-ins that boost its main-meal potential with even more flavor. Like stuffed squash, you can take a stuffing casserole in almost any direction.

A sausage stuffing is a traditional recipe that can be upgraded with cream and caramelized onions. Or try a hearty combination of kale, leeks and bacon with crusty cubes of bread.

Squash lasagna

This chicken and pumpkin lasagna will fit right into your Thanksgiving menu.

In many Italian American families, a slab of lasagna is a traditional starter or side dish alongside the more widely accepted holiday dishes. But why not flip the script and turn lasagna into the main attraction with a Thanksgiving twist?

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A white lasagna layered with roasted squash is a vegetarian option that feels very seasonal, like this acorn squash lasagna. If layers of squash, bechamel and three kinds of cheese don’t seem like enough, you can add in sauteed spinach or other wilted greens as well.

Happy Easter or Passover

A holiday ham is a solid option when you don't want a whole turkey.

If your favorite holiday meal is Easter or Passover, there is no food law that says you only need to eat it once a year. The traditional ham or brisket that takes center stage at those big feasts can easily make its way over to Thanksgiving.

Either of these big-deal roast cuts go well with the usual roster of Thanksgiving sides, from mashed potatoes to green bean casserole to roasted sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce.

So if you’ve got a beloved family recipe for brisket or would just rather have a ham, by all means, make that meal for yourself.

Mac and cheese

Hear me out. When made from scratch, mac and cheese is a dish of indulgence even on a regular day. But if you have the option to make it more special, why not go all the way?

Bake a no-holds-barred mac-and-cheese casserole with real dairy and crunchy breadcrumbs, then top it with something even more decadent, like fried onions — hey, if they’re good enough for the green beans, rest assured they’re going to be great here. Or go Southern-style with barbecue pulled pork or brisket.

In fact, brisket mac and cheese is what my husband and I will be having at our two-person Thanksgiving this year. In a time when all bets are off, why not go in on the comfort food you love the most?

Casey Barber is a food writer, photographer and illustrator; the author of “Pierogi Love: New Takes on an Old-World Comfort Food” and “Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats”; and editor of the website Good. Food. Stories.

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