How North America Celebrates Thanksgiving Through Food

How North America Celebrates Thanksgiving Through Food

16 November 2022

From Thanksgiving Turkey to Maple Glazed Carrots and Sweet Potato Casserole, discover how our American and Canadian cousins celebrate their federal holiday through delicious appetisers, meats, side dishes and desserts!
  • Thanksgiving

National Thanksgiving Day is an American and Canadian holiday that started as a way to offer thanks for an abundant harvest. Now, it's celebrated annually with a gathering of close family, friends, and loved ones. Multiple Thanksgiving traditions are in place for most gatherings, such as watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (viewed by 25 million people annually). However, food is the major part of this celebration, with many meal staples, such as a turkey. Generally, the host will prep the main dishes, and the guests will bring an appetizer, side dish or dessert. Here are dishes typical to American Thanksgiving, occurring on the fourth Thursday of November each year.

Starters for a Thanksgiving Meal

Appetizers for this national holiday typically differ depending on the household, with some families serving large charcuterie boards and others offering more casual fare such as bread rolls and soup. The quantity of starters also varies by household, as some families expect more guests than others. As there are no appetizer staples, Americans typically create dishes that match their taste preference. Below are some options that you may see as part of a spread for the annual Thanksgiving holiday.

Bruschetta and Bread

Filling and flavourful, bruschetta on baguette slices is an excellent option for a thanksgiving appetizer. It’s easy to make and only requires a handful of ingredients. Plus, you can whip up this appetizer in less than 30 minutes. 

Tear’n’Share Bread

A great alternative to bread rolls, tear’n’share bread is a delightful appetizer option. Freshly made bread is served with various inclusions, such as cheese, herbs, and seasonal produce. Then, loved ones can gather and pull off tidbits as they please. 

Charcuterie Boards

One of the more popular starters, charcuterie boards, have only become more widely seen at holidays and gatherings in recent years. A smattering of cheese options, cured meat slices, crackers, dried and fresh fruits, veggies, nuts, and dips are arranged on a platter or board for guests to snack on before the main event. 

Main Dishes

While turkey is a mainstay of American Thanksgiving spreads, other main meat dishes are prepared in some households. Below, you'll find information on some popular meats served during this federal holiday. 


It's rare to see a household celebrating this autumn harvest feast without a turkey on the dining table. However, the seasoning and method of turkey preparation vary greatly between households. Some families fry their turkey, while others spend hours baking and basting their bird to perfection. Depending on who is cooking the turkey, there may be a more savoury flavour, like a herby roast turkey or a sweet and savoury combo, like a cranberry glazed turkey breast.


Perhaps some family members do not enjoy turkey; if that's the case, they may serve baked or braised lamb during Thanksgiving dinner. Like turkey, it can be made with a savoury or a sweet and savoury flavour depending on everyone’s taste preferences.  


Chicken is another top contender for households who do not prefer turkey or who want to offer an alternative for guests. There's no standard for the seasoning of a cooked chicken on Thanksgiving, so that it can be a simple roasted chicken or something more complex, like harissa roasted chicken thighs. 


Alongside the main meat dish, various veg is served to help break up the heaviness of the remainder of the meal. Like most other categories, the exact veg dishes served during this holiday vary depending on the preference of each household.   


Various types of salad are served alongside the meal. Like most dishes served for Thanksgiving, the flavours vary greatly in households. In some homes, you'll see a simple salad with a few types of veg and various dressing options on the side. Other homes will prep a more extravagant salad with cheese, homemade dressing, dried fruits, etc.  

Maple Glazed Carrots 

A favourite veg dish for many people is maple-glazed carrots. While not a lighter dish, it does provide a delicious veg option that's slightly sweet to help cut the saltiness of the other food items.  


The list of sides for Thanksgiving celebrations is typically more extensive than the other categories. While there are variations of which sides are offered during the holiday, most home menus include the options below.


Stuffing, made with bread chunks, herbs, onion, and seasonal ingredients (such as chestnuts), is a side dish synonymous with Thanksgiving. It's often served on the same plate as Turkey and sometimes in the turkey's cavity. 

Mashed Potatoes and Gravy

A simple yet hearty dish, you can expect mashed potatoes and turkey (or brown) gravy on the dinner table during this American holiday. This comforting dish includes boiled potatoes, butter, milk, salt, and pepper. Though, you may find some home cooks add cheese and other seasonings to their mashed potatoes.

Sweet Potato Casserole 

While this casserole is on the sweet side, it's considered a side dish and not a dessert during Thanksgiving dinners. Sweet potato casserole is made with brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, and vanilla. It's then topped with miniature marshmallows before cooking in the oven to create a toasty topping.

Green Bean Casserole 

Green bean casserole is another classic dish you'll likely see on the table. It's made with fresh or frozen green beans and cream of mushroom soup. Then, it's baked until the green beans soften. The finishing touch is a heavy sprinkling of crispy fried onions. 

Cranberry Sauce 

More tangy than sweet, cranberry sauce is a side dish that helps cleanse the palate during a holiday dinner. Often, it comes prepared in a can which the preparer will either slice or mash.


There is one typical Thanksgiving dessert which graces most tables – pumpkin pie. However, that does not mean that other desserts are not present. Beyond pumpkin pie, additional desserts such as sweet loaves, cakes, cookies, chocolates, and more are served depending on what the host decides and what the guests bring.  

Pumpkin Pie 

A classic – pumpkin pie is the perfect way to end the meal. It’s a pie that’s not too sweet, made with either canned or roasted pumpkin innards. Some home chefs will offer vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream alongside the pie for a sweeter flavour. 

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