We go to my sister’s house for Thanksgiving every year. It’s a big mess of extended family and kids. It’s loud, it’s rambunctious, and it’s a really good thing my sister has two huge ovens because there is also a TON of food.
Last year when we woke up on Thanksgiving morning, I gave my daughter a good morning hug, and knew immediately she was running a fever. There would be no Thanksgiving treks for us that year—we did Thanksgiving on our own as a little family of three. As I scrambled to pull together a somewhat decent Turkey Day dinner last minute, I decided right then and there that there has to be an easier way to do a small-scale, quick, and easy Thanksgiving dinner.
The thing no one tells you about cooking Thanksgiving dinner is that no matter if you’re serving two people or 22, it’s still the same amount of work. The volume is different—you have to peel a few more potatoes—but the actual number of steps and dishes? The same. I’ve been working for the past few months on perfecting a recipe that I think will change that!
Say “hello!” to my Sheet Pan Paleo Thanksgiving Dinner—it’s done, start to finish, in 90 minutes. It’s all done on one sheet pan. It perfectly serves two people (with a few leftovers—it worked perfectly for our family of three) and it can easily be doubled to serve 4-6. It is also grain-free and paleo—because that’s the way I happen to be eating right now. But I think it’s delicious enough to serve to anyone!
This paleo Thanksgiving dinner has five parts: Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast with Easy Bone Broth Gravy, Coconut Candied Sweet Potatoes, Roasted Cauli-Rice Pilaf, Rosemary Pomegranate Roasted Brussels Sprouts, and Cranberry Orange Sauce.
Everything, minus the cranberry sauce and gravy, is made on one single sheet pan. This makes post-dinner cleanup a breeze! It might take you less time to clean up than it will to eat the meal, which is almost unheard of on Thanksgiving Day. You’ll be in your jammies and watching Elf before you know it (anyone else do this on Thanksgiving evening?).
The full printable recipe below walks you through the entire meal step-by-step. I highly recommend reading through the whole recipe (maybe more than once) before you actually dive in on Thanksgiving Day. It’s not complicated, but getting the timing right—so everything is warm at the same time—requires a little bit of organization.
I did want to go over each dish below to give you tips and suggestions that might make it go easier for you on the actual day of. Let’s dig in!
Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast
- A half turkey breast is the way to go if you’re wanting to cook turkey for a small group! At about three pounds apiece, you’ll have enough turkey for a decent dinner-sized serving, plus some great leftovers for a sandwich or two.
- You’ll usually be able to find frozen turkey breasts next to where the whole turkeys are at your local supermarket or from your local butcher shop. Some will carry half breasts, but if you can only find a full frozen breast, go ahead and grab it. Defrost it and use a sharp knife to remove the breasts from the bone (here is a good video that shows this method—this video shows a chicken, but it’s the same process). Leave the skin on the breast, and reserve the bones for making bone broth later. I recommend roasting both halves to have leftovers (for soup, perhaps?).
- When you’re cooking a full turkey, the white meat often dries out before the dark meat is cooked. That’s why I always recommend brining when cooking a full turkey. But since we’re only cooking one type of meat (white breast meat) and only at a high temperature, you don’t need to worry about drying out nearly as much. It won’t hurt if you are itching to brine, but it’s definitely not needed.
- The gravy I recommend with the turkey is a simple bone broth gravy made on the stove. Since turkey breast is a pretty dry meat, you won’t have many pan drippings to turn into gravy—premade (either by you or from the store) bone broth will make excellent gravy!
Coconut Candied Sweet Potatoes
- These sweet potatoes fill both the dessert and side dish slot on the plate! They are sweet, but not too sweet, and are reminiscent of your favorite marshmallow-covered casserole.
- The topping for these sweet potatoes can be made ahead of time and stashed in the fridge. Just make sure to bring it out about 30 minutes before cooking so it can soften to room temperature.
- To get the timing right here, it’s important to use not-too-thick sweet potatoes. You know those behemoth sweet potatoes that could feed an entire family? Yeah, those aren’t the ones you’re looking for here. You want sweet potatoes that are about two inches wide. Or, if you prefer using the big ones, I recommend piercing them with a fork and parbaking them (either in the microwave or the oven) for a bit to soften them up before putting them on the sheet pan.
Roasted Cauli Rice Pilaf
- This roasted cauli rice is my favorite dish out of the whole sheet pan! It’s fluffy, flavorful, and fills that carby void that’s left when you cut out white potatoes. It’s a beautiful and colorful addition to the plate!
- I prefer to use a fresh head of cauliflower here just because it seems to make the end result a little fluffier and more rice-like, but if you’re short on time, the bags of frozen riced cauliflower will do just fine. Just defrost it enough to break it up, and then mix it with the rest of the ingredients as the recipe instructs you to do with the fresh cauliflower.
Rosemary Pomegranate Brussels Sprouts
- You gotta have some green on your plate, and these roasted Brussels sprouts are the perfect way to get your green veggies in on Turkey Day! If you aren’t a Brussels sprouts fan, broccoli is also excellent in this recipe.
- Fresh pomegranate seeds (arils) add color and a fruity burst to this dish. I recommend deseeding your pomegranate ahead of time and stashing the arils in a covered container in the fridge. That way you aren’t trying to wrestle with a pomegranate right before dinner hits the table!
- You can use dried rosemary here, but fresh rosemary has such a better flavor and texture. If you’re going to spring for fresh herbs, I think Thanksgiving is the time to do it! Better yet: grab a rosemary plant, keep it happy on your windowsill this winter, and then plant it in your garden in the spring.
- I tried to figure out a way to make cranberry sauce in the oven, but I’m afraid this is the one dish (other than the simple gravy) that had to be taken off the sheet pan and made on the stovetop. If you really want to stick with one sheet pan, you can buy a can of whole berry cranberry sauce—easy peasy!
- Cranberry sauce needs to be made ahead of time to gel up and for the flavors to meld. You can make this as many as two or three days ahead of time and keep it stashed in the fridge.
Phew, are you still with me? I know this is a lot of information, but I promise once you get to cooking, the time sails by! This really is the easiest way to make a full, hearty, satisfying Thanksgiving dinner. I hope you enjoy! Happy Thanksgiving!