If you can’t visit family due to the COVID-19 pandemic, host a virtual Thanksgiving dinner instead.


Zooms-giving season is upon us.

Whether it’s a full Thanksgiving dinner to be shared virtually or just a quick FaceTime to check in, people around the country plan to turn to video calls to catch up with family and friends they’d otherwise visit during the recent COVID-19 surge.

For many, that may mean cooking a Thanksgiving dinner alone for the first time. And others may not be seeing loved ones they typically only catch up with once a year.

But a Thanksgiving Zoom doesn’t have to be the same old video conference like the ones at work.

“Plan something that is a little bit entertaining or fun, and it will make it more memorable because people are definitely getting Zoom fatigue,” said Joanne Brooks, president of the event planning company Creative Impact Group in Illinois.

What’s ‘Zoom fatigue’? Here’s why video calls can be so exhausting

Nancy Newsom, 70, of Richardson, Texas, said her family will be convening for a Thanksgiving blessing over Zoom, rather than their usual in-person dinner at her cousin’s house.

“We wanted to be connected. That’s our family tradition,” Newsom said. “If we can’t share a meal together, we can share a blessing.”

Why you should consider a Thanksgiving Zoom

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said people should “really think twice” about hosting and attending large indoor gatherings, particularly in the holiday season with people who are not in their immediate “bubbles.”

“Many of the infections now today are in innocent family and friend dinner gatherings at home,” Fauci said during a recent meeting with USA TODAY’s Editorial Board.

As for his own plans, Fauci said his family, with daughters living around the country, is opting for a virtual call this year instead of their typical gathering.

“We’re going to have a meal. We’re going to get on Zoom. And we’re going to chat for an hour or two with the girls as we eat and drink together in the house,” Fauci said. “But having said that, every family unit needs to make their own decision based on their own special circumstances. I don’t think everybody needs to do what I am doing.”

Dr. Joseph Khabbaza, a pulmonologist and critical care medicine specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, said that while people might feel safe around family and friends, an event like Thanksgiving dinner outside an immediate circle is high risk given the current levels of the virus’ community spread in most places.

“You will never regret being too cautious during a pandemic,” Khabbaza said.

Family members who typically host the gatherings have an opportunity to “set the tone” for the rest of the family and opt for a virtual-only gathering, Khabbaza added. “It has the potential to really cause a nice ripple effect through the family.”

“As someone who is calling family members every day of loved ones that are very sick in the ICU, there is a tremendous amount of guilt among the family members who feel like their gathering at an event contributed to a loved one getting sick,” Khabbaza added.

Gather for a moment before dinner

Newsom’s family plans to gather around noon on Thursday on a Zoom meeting that she said her son has planned.

Family and friends will have about 15 minutes to log in and chat before her son plans to lead the group in a prayer. People will then have a chance to share what they’re thankful for.

The short gathering will allow for people to call in from all over, including family members who are not always able to attend the in-person gatherings of years past, Newsom added. After the blessing, everyone will be able to have their own dinners with their immediate families.

Know your camera set up and plan for technical glitches

Elizabeth Hooper, 36, said she and her fiancé will be calling into his family’s dinner via a selfie stick set up at the end of the table.

Hooper, who lives in Richmond, Virginia, had one sent to her fiancé’s family in New York, too. “If anything it will just be a hilarious memory we all have together. ‘Remember when we all FaceTimed for Thanksgiving?'” she said.

Hooper said she knows that the conversation may have some hiccups and blips with spotty Internet, but despite the occasional pause, she’s staying positive about executing the plan. “It’s going to be hilarious and noisy. I’m sure the kids will love it,” she added. “You can do this.”

More on planning a Zoom Thanksgiving: Here’s what you need to know

It’s time to share family recipes

Jennifer Clair, founder of the home cooking school Home Cooking New York, said a Zoom Thanksgiving provides the perfect opportunity to share recipes.

“So much of what is important in Thanksgiving is tradition. If there’s family recipe in someone’s home, it’s time for everyone to learn,” she said.

Rather than one person cook their famed mashed potatoes or stuffing for everyone, families on a video call have the opportunity to cook cherished recipes together, with the owner of the recipe leading the class, Clair said.

Clair suggested pie as a dish to make over a Zoom. They’re hands on and you don’t need a lot of equipment. No rolling pin? Use a wine bottle. No pie plate? Make it a galette instead.

Play a game or have an activity

Brooks suggested scheduling at least one activity or game during the call. Try creating a game show online or setting up a scavenger hunt in your house.

If there are children on the call, Brooks said you have to make sure to keep them entertained, too. Having the kids paint pictures of turkeys or doing other Thanksgiving-themed crafts can keep them entertained, she added.

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If you’re cooking for one or two, just skip the turkey

For some, 2020 may be the first year cooking a Thanksgiving meal for themselves. Don’t stress, and make it easy on yourself, Clair said.

“What I find with people when they think of Thanksgiving is they have a panic attack and they think they have to make a whole meal,” she said. “You do not need to make a turkey if there’s only two of you.” Cook just a turkey breast, instead, or go with chicken, Clair said. 

People should also be selective about what dishes they know they want to make from scratch and which ones will be too labor intensive or they don’t care as much about, she added. Clair challenged people to make at least one dish from scratch this year. Cranberry sauce, for example, is “embarrassingly simple” to make, she said.

Some parts of dishes, like pie crust or the dry components of stuffing, can be made in advance to make Thursday’s cooking a bit easier.

But if cooking just isn’t your thing, get your meal from a local restaurant that might need support during the economic hardships of the pandemic, Clair suggested.

Keep the conversation positive. 2020 has already been enough of a year.

In some families, Thanksgiving dinners feature the occasional awkward remark, tense moment or political argument.

Rather than asking about when someone is planning to find a new job or have children, avoid the subjects that are sure to cause tension, Brooks said. Those moments could be further exacerbated by technical difficulties of virtual gatherings. 

This year also comes after a particularly divisive election year, too. As much as possible, Brooks said, “keep the chat positive and looking forward to a future that will be bright.”

Follow USA TODAY’s Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller


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