Messing around with a meal as traditional Thanksgiving dinner is likely to prompt plenty of questions, and a few complaints. “Where’s the green bean casserole?” “Why didn’t you make our usual stuffing?” “Did you forget to make Grandma’s pie?” I’m not suggesting that we completely toss aside the turkey or pumpkin pie, but, preparing the same Thanksgiving menu year in and year out can get, well, a bit boring—especially for the cook. What to do? Inject some life into that traditional, but tired, menu by employing a few strategies and using some culinary creativity. Who knows, maybe you’ll find a new holiday food tradition!
Keep essential favorites
Nobody wants a Thanksgiving mutiny. If you have recipes that have been handed down through generations, or dishes that guests expect to be on the table, then by all means, keep them on the menu! These kinds of favorites typically fall into the categories of dessert, stuffing/dressing, and side dish/casserole. This means that appetizers, beverages, salads, breads/rolls, and vegetables are fair game for a refresh. There’s plenty to work with there! For inspiration, check out Guiding Stars’ recipes—it’s an extensive collection of star-earning recipes (so you know they are nutritious, as well as delicious). You can search by category, such as breads, salads or appetizers.
Add a twist
People want comforting, familiar foods at this holiday feast, so if you switch it up, riff on something familiar. Save fancy preparations and obscure ingredients for later in the holiday season. Focus on the small changes to make staple menu items sparkle in a new way. Get creative by utilizing a wider range of spices, incorporate edible garnishes, or change how you serve a familiar item. Here are a few ideas:
- Make a layered mashed potato bake (alternate whipped sweet potatoes and white potatoes)
- Incorporate roasted vegetables into a salad or grain-based side dish instead of serving them on their own
- Serve something in a food “container”
- hollow out a pumpkin to hold soup or vegetables,
- split a small acorn squash and serve as individual bowls for wild rice dressing or other vegetables,
- use bread “bowls” as a fun option (see if a local bakery has a good option for those to save you time)
- Use a different type of pie crust for a new take on your go-to dessert—crushed cookies, a nut-based crust, or a crust with lemon zest or warm spices added (cardamom is nice and a bit different)
Here are a few recipes for familiar dishes that have tasty twists:
Add something new to your usual menu
There’s no rule that says you can’t add a new dish or two to your traditional feast. If you are inspired to prepare a new type of dish, go for it! The old favorites will still be there for everyone (and you might be surprised at how receptive folks will be to a new option). A new veggie recipe is always a good idea. Opt for trying a different green veggie or other non-starchy vegetable, since Thanksgiving tends to be heavy on the starchy foods. How about Holiday Slaw instead of a regular salad? Maybe start the day out differently with a Cranberry Smoothie station? Or, keep it simple and just offer more options. For example, consider serving Pumpkin Sage Muffins alongside the usual dinner rolls.
Make an appetizer board
Regular cheese and cracker plates are boring. Instead, create a beautiful, plentiful appetizer board. Going this route allows you to bring in some food variety and get creative with presentation. You can find lots of ideas for charcuterie and cheese boards online. In addition to the usual cheese and meats, I’m partial to dried fruit, spiced or candied nuts, pickles of all types, and carrot or cucumber “planks” (as an option to crackers as a base for the cheese, etc.). Putting together a variety of tastes, textures, and colors is a fun challenge for the cook, and the self-serve aspect makes it easy.
Assign guests dishes
The potluck approach can be helpful whether you’re planning a Friendsgiving or a family gathering. Spreading the work around gives the cook a break, and ensures that some items will be different than the usual—even if the general menu is the same. Make sure your assignments are easily portable and it’s best if they don’t require oven space at your house once they arrive—you know how that’s always at a premium just before serving time.
Lastly, when shopping for the big feast, don’t forget to utilize the free Guiding Stars nutrition guidance program. Look for the Guiding Stars icons on shelf tags and products throughout the store to help you find nutritious choices faster and easier. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! Have fun cooking!