3 smart ways to scale those big family recipes to fit this year’s strange, shelter-at-home reality

By Stacey Ballis
Updated April 06, 2020
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Okay, it’s time to have a serious conversation about scale. Because Easter is fast approaching, and unless you have isolated with your entire extended family, this year’s celebration is likely to be smaller than your usual gathering. But since, as the old joke goes, eternity is a ham and two people, how do you cut back on your favorite standard recipes for a meal that still honors your family traditions, but doesn’t require you spend the entire week following Easter Sunday consuming the leftovers. Here are 3 ways to make this Easter a special—but sane—celebration.

1. Create a portable potluck

If the people you usually celebrate with are in reasonable proximity to you, and it is safe to do so, think about asking your usual guest list to each pick one dish for the celebration. The day before Easter, pack it up in rational portion sizes for the affected households and do contactless drop-offs. That way everyone is sharing the same meal and no one is trying to cook the whole thing by themselves.

In this version, you don’t have to scale back on any of your recipes, and everyone can feel really connected. Set a time for virtual dessert after the meal on an online platform so that all the cooks can get their public credit, and the family can connect. If your people are not nearby, consider reaching out to local friends or neighbors to see what their plans are; you all might be able to use the holiday prep as a way to support each other and build community.

Lastly, if you know of folks who are sheltering alone or in difficult circumstances—particularly those who might be elderly, infirm, or single parents—offer to drop off a meal to them for the holiday. No recipe downsizing needed, and a really special offer: the comfort of a homemade meal at a time when we could all use extra kindness.

2. Make and freeze

If the recipe in your Easter repertoire is one that freezes well, and you have room to store, then make the full dish, and pack up a portion to freeze for future meals. Use your family size as your guide: If the scalloped potatoes usually serve 12, and you are a family of four, you’ll get Easter potatoes and then a killer side dish for two more future meals.

Baked goods can be very difficult to scale downwards, as the science of baking is complicated and just because a recipe can be easily halved, doesn’t mean it should be. Most baked goods freeze well if wrapped properly. If a lovely three-layered cake is part of your Easter tradition, consider this: Bake all three layers, prepare one on Easter for a lovely single-layer dessert to feed two to four people, and wrap the other two layers well and freeze for a fantastic two-layer cake somewhere down the road!

3. Downsize recipes

A lot of holiday recipes in the non-baking realm are designed to feed anywhere from 8-12 people, and you might be just 2-4 at your house this year. Many dishes can be successfully halved, or even quartered for really large-format recipes. Take a look at your recipe and see if it easily divides by two or three or four. (This is potentially a great mathematical homeschooling project for any kids in the house!) If you don’t have to do things like figure out a half of an egg, it is likely that you can cut back. Be especially careful around things like cooking time, since usually less volume will mean shorter cooking times, and smaller vessel size. You don’t want to halve a recipe and cook it in a dish twice as large as it needs.

Here are some dishes that can be easily scaled back:

Let’s start with the centerpiece: the Easter ham. This recipe for Glazed Ham with a mango chutney, mustard and brown sugar glaze is an easy one to scale back. As written, this recipe serves up to 16 people, but mostly, this is about the size of ham you have. Spiral cut hams are usually on the bone and will be large. Look for smaller, boneless hams that are perfectly sized for fewer people.

To serve 4 people, with some for leftovers and sandwiches, buy a small boneless ham or half a ham, of about 3-4 pounds.

To serve 2 people, there is a cut called the “picnic” ham, that is usually a small, 1½-2 pound beauty that will keep two people happy for a couple of days without feeling trapped in that eternity we discussed above. The glaze can be halved, and any leftover glaze is great on sandwiches or drizzled over sweet potatoes. Add some white wine vinegar and a little canola oil for a sassy salad dressing. There is also this Ham for Two recipe that is a great option.

Deviled eggs are one of the most classic Easter offerings, and we love this Buttery Deviled Eggs recipe, which downsizes easily.

To serve 4 people, halve the recipe to make only 4 eggs’ worth, which is a perfect serving for four people as an appetizer.

To serve 2 people, I still recommend making the halved recipe, then slicing and filling two eggs for your holiday meal, then dicing the remaining egg whites and mixing them into the deviled filling for a killer egg salad! Holiday appetizer and next day lunch sandwiches all in one!

Salad is one of the easiest things to scale downward. If you don’t dress all of it at once, the ingredients will last for a couple of days. This All the Green Things Salad is a celebration of spring, and can also easily be downsized.

To serve 4 people, halve this recipe, which is easy to do.

To serve 2 people, make the halved salad, and then store half of it undressed for up to two days.

Beans are a classic accompaniment to ham, lamb, or any other Easter protein, and this recipe for White Beans With Sorrel Pesto is easily halved.

To serve 2 or 4 people: I recommend making all the beans, and then just dressing half with the pesto, and leaving the other half for later use in salads or other dishes. If you can’t source sorrel, you can substitute baby spinach.

Dessert at any holiday should bring wonderful comfort, and I can vouch for this recipe personally. My godmother Susan’s Banana Cake with Chocolate Frosting is a centerpiece of any holiday gathering in my family. The best part is that it freezes beautifully, both frosted or unfrosted, to serve smaller crowds.

To serve 2 or 4 people: Bake the cake as directed and make the full amount of frosting. One layer can be frosted and served, and the other frozen for a future indulgence. There are two ways to prepare the second layer for storage in the freezer:

1. Frost the second layer, put on a sheet pan in the freezer uncovered until frozen solid and then wrap in plastic and put in a zip-top bag.

2. Wrap the cake layer unfrosted and put the leftover frosting in a plastic bag and put both into a large zip-top bag and freeze to assemble later.

Bonus tip: Make this recipe into a dozen cupcakes instead of a cake; enjoy as many as you like for the holiday (eternity is sounding pretty good now, right?), then either freeze or give away the rest.