As everyone knows, turkey is the traditional staple of the Thanksgiving table. But there isn't a rule that says you have to cook a turkey for the holiday. The same is true for stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and any of the other traditional holiday foods that you may find yourself preparing without even a second thought.
The tradition of having a holiday meal doesn't mean that the meal itself has to contain traditional foods. In fact, choosing less common and more imaginative Thanksgiving dishes can be an excellent way to add some unique diversity to your day—and help lower holiday-prep stress at the same time! Sound too good to be true? It's not; just explore our suggestions and choose a few options to make your Thanksgiving the easiest one ever!
Main Dish Alternatives
Looking for a turkey alternative? Try these!
1. Rotisserie chicken. What's better than an easy, "out-of-the-box" Thanksgiving main dish? Keep the guests happy—and your own stress levels down—by serving a smaller (but still delicious!) rotisserie chicken. It still packs that “what a beautiful bird!" visual punch at the Thanksgiving table while also simplifying your day. Expecting a crowd? Serve multiple chickens. Who said Thanksgiving had to be a challenge?
2. Lasagna. Lasagna for Thanksgiving? You bet. With vast flavor options and combination, you can create a dish that fits both the season and your own taste preferences. Lasagna is often quicker to prepare than a large meat dish, and it can potentially be prepared the day before—saving time and freeing you up on Thanksgiving Day! Lasagna can also be prepared as a meatless dinner, perfect for any vegetarian guests at your party. New traditions are only a dish away.
3. Ham. You might think of baked ham more in connection with Easter—or Christmas—but don't overlook this tasty main dish as a centerpiece for this year's Thanksgiving table. In addition to its good looks and delicious flavor, a large ham provides plenty of meat for your gathering and sidesteps some of the hassles and challenges that go along with preparing a turkey of a similar size. A fully-cooked ham has the potential to be another good “out-of-the-box" option that requires less prep time.
4. Salmon. Let's face it: fish might not be on your Thanksgiving radar, but perhaps it should be! A well-prepared salmon can not only be a pleasant surprise for Thanksgiving dinner, it can be a tasty and unique alternative to the other meats that we enjoy on this day each year.
5. Lamb. Is it possible to achieve that impressive “wow!" look without a giant turkey? Indeed it is, and lamb can be an excellent option. Remember, lamb provides wonderful flavor and can be a very healthy choice. It can be another of those "easier-to-prepare-than-an-entire-turkey" options.
6. Turkey. (And you thought we were going to ignore turkey as a possibility for the traditional main course!) What happens if you—or perhaps the folks on your holiday guest list—just can't let go of the idea of a turkey on the big day. Does that mean you have no choice but to follow through with a traditional bird? Absolutely not. All you have to do is expand your own idea of what a Thanksgiving turkey needs to look like.
Your Thanksgiving turkey doesn't necessarily need to be as elaborate as an enormous bird requiring hours (even days) of preparation and planning. Instead, de-stress your holiday preparations by considering simpler, faster and less complicated turkey options. Consider sliced turkey breast; yes, there may be a couple of kids at the table who complain about missing out on the drumsticks, but prep is much simpler than an entire turkey and still gives everyone the classic turkey taste.
Another option is turkey stew. How many people have you heard complaints about the turkey being “too dry"? You can silent that chorus by creating a wonderful Thanksgiving stew with that turkey meat. Once your turkey stew is surrounded by a sea of Thanksgiving side dishes, you just might hear more murmurs of approval than you'd expect.
Side Dish Successes
That main dish may be the star of the table, but it's the supporting cast of side dishes that really make the meal feel whole. Searching for alternatives here as well? Consider these:
7. Squash. If you're skipping the traditional mashed- or sweet-potato route, then baked acorn and butternut squashes can be great options for filling in. Plus, these side dishes have the ability to add that “harvest time" feel to your Thanksgiving table. If serving squash, you may find yourself at the table with a reluctant guest or two, but the right accompanying glaze just may win them over.
8. Green bean alternatives. Green beans are wonderful. They really are. But they can be overused at the table, especially at Thanksgiving. Looking for other veggies you can switch them out with? Think broccoli, spinach and cauliflower instead of green beans, along with roasted Brussels sprouts and roasted cabbage. Alternative side dishes using these vegetables don't have to be difficult, but can still shake up the standard Thanksgiving flavors into something perhaps a little more memorable.
9. Baked potatoes. It's Thanksgiving—so the potatoes have to be mashed, right? Wrong. How about making everyone a baked potato this year? Butter, sour cream, bacon bits, cheese—is there even a way to go wrong here? You can add to the holiday fun by allowing guests to choose their own toppings, and even pick out their own potatoes! And when surrounded by other Thanksgiving-ish side dishes, a well-prepared baked potato is always a star.
You might expect everyone to be full by the time the main meal is over, but wouldn't you know it? People expect dessert, too! Don't assume you have to be elaborate here either. Instead, consider:
10. Apple crisp. Apple crisp can be an easy dessert solution, and a great way to use up any excess apples you have on hand. You also have the ability to get creative with the flavor of the topping, along with adding “extra" ingredients like blackberries. Apple crisp helps recapture the “harvest" aspect of Thanksgiving and is perfect served with ice cream.
11. Mashed sweet potatoes. Wait—shouldn't this be a side dish? We argue no—mashed sweet potatoes are tasty enough to warrant a space on the Thanksgiving dessert tray, so defy the routine and place them here instead of on the side. Plus, you can't ask for much more of a holiday-themed dessert flavor.
12. Pumpkin pie ice cream. Everybody loves ice cream and everybody loves pumpkin pie, so if you want to skip the oh-so-familiar pumpkin pie on your dessert table, why not combine the beloved pumpkin flavor into a creamy, homemade ice cream? It's an easy way to add some (pumpkin) spice to your table while also exploring a more innovative holiday dessert option.