A Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner

Hosts put a great deal of time and energy into planning their Thanksgiving dinner each year, from the event invitations to the decorations to the very important menu. As you make decisions about your menu, take a moment to see how the traditional Thanksgiving dinner has evolved over the years.

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The First Thanksgiving Dinner

While many of the popular dishes found around the Thanksgiving table are rooted in Pilgrim traditions, there are a number of other dishes that were introduced much later and some that are missing from the table entirely. Seafood, for example, was one of the dishes that was served at “The First Thanksgiving” in 1621. Specifically, fish, lobster, and clams were served at this iconic meal. This makes sense since it took place in New England where seafood is abundant. Today, however, it is rare to find seafood around a traditional Thanksgiving dinner table. Instead, most families serve turkey, squash, berries, and fruit - all of which were also present at “The First Thanksgiving.”

As for traditional side dishes and desserts, those can vary greatly by region. Staples across the country include green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cornbread. When it comes to traditional Thanksgiving desserts, it’s all about pie! Pumpkin pie, apple pie, and pecan pie reign as the top Thanksgiving desserts.

Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas

While a traditional Thanksgiving dinner is classic and fairly straightforward, you can still be creative and pair new dishes with the annual favorites. During Thanksgiving menu planning, make room for some new ideas. The food and flavors don't need to be completely new, but feel free to put a new spin on some timeless favorites.

Here is a Thanksgiving menu planner to get you started:

  • Drinks: Wine, beer, and apple cider are all classic drinks to serve at your celebration. For an extra kick, add some whiskey to the apple cider (or caramel for the kids), brew some cinnamon spice tea, or serve hot chocolate. You can also have different drinks for different portions of the meal. For example, have wine, beer, and soda available as guests arrive and you make your way through dinner. Then bring out the “fun” drinks to pair with dessert.
  • Appetizers: Before the meal actually begins, be sure to lay out appetizers and cocktail snacks for guests while they wait for the food to be ready. There are no true traditional appetizers, so go for dishes with seasonal ingredients that are easy to eat. Try some simple and delicious Thanksgiving appetizer ideas.
  • Amuse bouche: For a fun spin on a traditional Thanksgiving menu, add a new course! In some restaurants, chefs will give what’s called an “amuse bouche” before any other food is served. This is a very small dish—usually one or two bites—that introduces the meal and opens up the palate. If you are having a sit down dinner, add an amuse bouche of your own! Try adding a shot of a soup with seasonal ingredients, such as roasted yam puree or butternut squash and apple soup. Get creative!
  • Mains: Turkey is obviously the centerpiece of this meal. This year, make a turducken! This interesting dish is a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey. You can make this yourself, complete with stuffing and layers of cornbread. Alternatively, you can order it from some grocery stores, butchers, and specialty stores. Inquire ahead of time to order it.
  • Side Dishes: Side dishes are some of the best parts of classic Thanksgiving fare. This year, spice up the traditional side dishes with interesting ingredients. For example, add some orange zest to your cranberry sauce, make leek mashed potatoes, or used corn bread crumbs for your stuffing. This way, you keep all of the same dishes with new twists on them that guests are sure to love!
  • Dessert: For a new dessert, try incorporating traditional ingredients into new forms. For example, you can serve a pumpkin spice cheesecake, warm baked apples with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce, or cranberry pound cake.
The decision is up to you: you have the option of going with a truly traditional menu for your celebration or sticking to modern classics - either one will be delicious! Still need recipes for your Thanksgiving dinner? Check out the full list of Thanksgiving ideas and be sure to send an online Thanksgiving dinner invitation to set the stage for your event. Personalize your favorite invite, send by text or email, and gather RSVPs in minutes. 

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