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Here's How To Have The Safest Family Thanksgiving Dinner Possible This Year

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There’s nothing more beautiful than having a bountiful table full of good food just bursting at the seams with family and friends on Thanksgiving. But while those close quarters might have seemed cozy on holidays past, this year it's all about personal space. Will COVID-19 crush your plans to celebrate this hallmark of a holiday? It doesn’t have to, especially if you follow these tips on how to have a safe Thanksgiving dinner.

By its very nature, Thanksgiving is full of heart and hearth, when everyone (hopefully) has adopted an attitude of gratitude. But the ensuing love fest means that there’s going to be more eating, hugging — and more chances for a potential COVID-19 spread. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are (womp womp) urging Americans to stay home this holiday season. “Thanksgiving is a time when many families travel long distances to celebrate together,” the CDC website stated. “Travel increases the chance of getting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.”

And while most Americans want to abide by the guidelines, well, come on, it’s Thanksgiving. Mask fatigue is becoming a very real thing, and now more than ever, people want to be with their families after most likely spending many months apart. So if you’re going to gather, you’ll need to do so safely. Here’s how.

Hold It Virtually

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When it comes to Thanksgiving, it’s truly the more the merrier— except this year, that is. After all, you don’t want to be responsible for potentially hosting a super spreader event. So if you want to have your entire family together on Thanksgiving (and want to do so responsibly), you can always opt to host a virtual Turkey Day together. You can share the dishes that you’re planning to make (maybe Grandma will finally reveal her recipe for the perfect mashed potatoes), and do an all-day cooking sesh together via Zoom. You can even give out prizes for who cooks the best bird.

Limit The Guest List

There’s no reason why you can’t have a full-fledged Thanksgiving meal with all the fixings. But you’ll need to limit your guest list to your immediate family, especially if you plan to follow the CDC’s guidelines. Why? “People tend to relax more amongst family and friends, which can lead to a lapse in mask wearing and abiding COVID-19 guidelines,” Dr. Ceppie Merry, M.D., FRCPI, Ph.D., a medical doctor and infectious disease expert tells Romper in an email. Although you don’t want your loved ones to feel uncomfortable in your home by constantly reminding them to mask up, you still need to prioritize everyone’s health (and yours), too. That way, you won’t have to do a temperature check at the door when guests arrive — and potentially have to tell Grandpa George that he’s got to go home.

Keep The Meal Short

If it’s going to be tricky to tell Aunt Edna that she can’t come over, you'll need to figure out a way to have everyone gather, but safely. “Thanksgiving means that people will be eating together, and eating means no mask,” says Dr. Merry, who recommends that you keep the meal short and sweet. Sure, you can have a full Thanksgiving feast, just invite people to arrive when the meal will be ready, rather than early so they can hang out in your kitchen eating apps (and, you know, breathing on each other). And after the pumpkin pie has been eaten, encourage everyone to head home — in the nicest way possible way, of course.

Spread Out

You’re going to need to be crazy creative when it comes to seating this year, so that people feel connected but are still far enough apart so that it’s safe. “Eating your Thanksgiving meal together as a family means you’re also going to be in closer proximity than you would be otherwise, which might not be safe,” says Dr. Merry. So instead of seeing everyone gathered 'round the table, look for other ways for everyone to be together. It might mean spreading out the seating into other areas of the room — or even your house.

Open The Windows

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Ahhh, the scents of Thanksgiving are exquisite and unparalleled. And while the aroma of a golden turkey adds to the ambiance of Thanksgiving, you might be better off opening a window… or three, advises Dr. Merry. “Proper air circulation can help reduce the viral transmission,” she says. “That's why you need to ensure adequate ventilation to keep everyone safe.”

Limit The Alcohol

Good vibes abound on Thanksgiving, which may or may not be slightly alcohol-induced. So with an abundance of caution in mind, it might be a good idea to limit the liquor — just for today. “You definitely have to watch how much alcohol is served,” warns Dr. Merry. “Alcohol disinhibition may impair decision making with regards to the avoidance of COVID-19.” Make sure that you have enough booze for your gathering, but avoid having extra bottles to keep everyone safe — and sober, especially if they’re driving home.

Make Sure Everyone Washes Their Hands

Sure, everyone is supposed to wash their hands before mealtime, but that’s even more crucial this year because of COVID-19. “The importance of hand washing can’t be stressed enough,” Dr. Charles Sutera, DMD, a dentist and nationally-recognized oral health care expert, tells Romper in an email. Ideally, guests should wash their hands upon their arrival, and then scrub again before the main mealtime event. "It's also important to minimize hand and mouth contact, apart from eating, and make sure that your child’s fingernails are short, to prevent a plethora of pathogens from collecting underneath," says Dr. Sutera.

Even though we were all hoping that the fall would bring back some semblance of normalcy, Thanksgiving can still happen. With a few modifications, everyone can stay healthy and safe. And that is definitely something to be grateful for.


Dr. Ceppie Merry, M.D., FRCPI, Ph.D., a medical doctor and infectious disease expert

Dr. Charles Sutera, DMD, a dentist and nationally-recognized oral health care expert

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