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17 Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner Menu Ideas

No Thanksgiving is complete without these classic dishes and (my favorite) sides!

Thanksgiving is a famous American holiday known as a day of eating, family, being thankful, and, depending on your family, football.

Homemade Roasted Thanksgiving Day Turkey with all the Sides

As a holiday rooted in tradition, everyone celebrates it a little bit differently, but that doesn’t mean the foods are varied widely across American families. 

Most of the foods typically eaten on this holiday represent the type of food the pilgrims ate when they first came to America. Now, there are several variations and new additions to what people include on their Thanksgiving tables.

Whether you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner at your home for the first time, looking for a great dish to bring to Friendsgiving, the office potluck, or are just interested in reading about the food, here are the most popular Thanksgiving foods served for dinner in the United States. 

Thanksgiving Dinner Foods

These are the most common foods served at Thanksgiving dinner, but every family is different! Check out these classic dishes and tell us your favorite Thanksgiving meals.


Roast Turkey

It’s no secret that a roasted turkey is the most popular main dish that people eat on Thanksgiving.

Also known as the national Thanksgiving dish in the United States, it doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving without a delicious roast turkey on the table. 

How people prepare their turkey will vary from person to person, but traditionally, people roast the turkey in the oven for hours before the meal is officially served.

People use plenty of fresh herbs, lemons, and other ingredients to give it the flavor they want. Besides eating slices of delicious turkey, people love to break the wishbone.


Mashed Potatoes

Most people will say it’s not a Thanksgiving meal without mashed potatoes.

This simple dish is a classic for the holiday and pairs perfectly with roast turkey and all the other fantastic side dishes people like to serve. 

The best part about this side dish is that you can prepare them in so many different and delicious ways. 

Mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving can be whatever you want them to be. Some people like to keep them simple with butter, salt, and pepper so they can slather them in gravy. 

Others prefer to make them garlicky, or even create loaded mashed potatoes with cheese, sour cream, and bacon.


Cranberry Sauce

Not everyone’s a huge fan of cranberry sauce, but that doesn’t make it any less of a classic Thanksgiving food.

Cranberry sauce is ingrained in American Thanksgiving culture and dates back to the Civil War when General Ulysses S. Grant had soldiers eat cranberry sauce with their Thanksgiving meals. 

Most people either love cranberry sauce or hate it. Whether you choose canned or fresh cranberry sauce, it’s delicious on roast turkey and stuffing. Some people even like eating cranberry sauce on its own! 

This bright red food is a staple on Thanksgiving, despite how polarizing it might be. 


Apple Pie

Even though people didn’t serve apple pie on the first Thanksgiving, that doesn’t make it less of a Thanksgiving dessert.

Apple pie is about as American as a hotdog, so it feels weird when Thanksgiving is without this pie sitting in the kitchen or on the dessert table. 

You can bake an apple pie or purchase one from a local bakery. Either way, you won’t want to forget this dessert for your feast.

Some people like a classic apple pie but others prefer to add cinnamon and cranberries. People love it served warm with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.


Gravy

There’s nothing like a delicious gravy to pour over your roast turkey, mashed potatoes, or other Thanksgiving side dishes.

It adds so much flavor to already tasty options, and most people can’t picture their Thanksgiving table without a gravy boat or bowl somewhere. 

Some people use the juice from their roast turkey to make gravy which can compliment the turkey exceptionally well, while others make one with flour, broth, and seasonings.

Whether you use a little bit or a lot of gravy, it’s one of the most popular Thanksgiving dishes. 


Green Bean Casserole

Green bean casserole wasn’t a dish eaten on the first Thanksgiving, but now it’s a staple in many homes.

Campbell’s Soup Company created the mouthwatering side dish in 1955; since the 1960s, it’s become synonymous with the holiday season. 

It’s also a great way to sneak in some vegetables without them being boring.

This classic dish features green beans, Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, and crispy onion topping. It’s simple yet so delicious.

Over the years, people have created customized versions by adding bacon bits, cornflakes, and other toppings to Campbell’s recipe. 

The two things that always stay the same are the green beans and cream of mushroom soup.


Pecan Pie

Another popular dessert dish at most people’s Thanksgiving tables is pecan pie.

This Southern dish features pecans and sometimes other nuts, butter, sugar, molasses, and other sweet ingredients.

The dish has regional variations, but it’s fundamentally made the same way with the same core ingredients.

The history of pecan pie dates back to the 19th century in the Southern United States, but it wasn’t a popular dessert throughout other parts of the country until the 1920s.

It’s more of a fall season dessert than just a Thanksgiving one because the pecan harvesting season runs from September through November. 


Baked Potato

Baked potatoes aren’t the most common potato side dish at Thanksgiving, but they’re still a popular side dish.

Some people aren’t fans of mashed potatoes, so baked potatoes are an excellent substitute to switch things up when you constantly make mashed potatoes. They’re also easy to make.

Potatoes are something the Pilgrims ate, so it’s natural to see them in many forms.

Similar to mashed potatoes, you can prepare baked potatoes on Thanksgiving however you want.

A great way to do so is to bake them and then add butter, salt, and pepper before pouring your turkey gravy over them. 

But, depending on who’s joining you for a holiday, you can prepare them in several ways, like cheese, bacon, and other toppings.


Candied Yams

One of the most popular side dishes for Thanksgiving that is more sweet than savory is candied yams.

This traditional Thanksgiving dish is one for those with a sweet tooth who can’t wait until you serve dessert.

Some people even like serving it as a dessert since eating it alongside your turkey, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole can be a little odd.

Making the dish requires slowly cooking yams with a bunch of brown and white sugar to ensure it gets that thick, candied-like appearance.

Some people add orange peel to provide acidity and plenty of warm spices like cinnamon.

You can add marshmallows on top if you want them to resemble sweet potato casserole, but it ultimately comes down to your preference. 


Cornbread Dressing

Whether you call it dressing or stuffing, Thanksgiving isn’t complete without this savory side dish, even though dressing is made in a baking dish, and stuffing is technically what you put inside the turkey.

Cornbread dressing is another side dish that tastes amazing with turkey gravy and even cranberry sauce. 

As with most Thanksgiving dishes, everyone has their own way of making things. Typically people make cornbread dressing with cornbread, onion, sage, celery, and some broth or stock.

To add different textures and flavors, you can add other types of bread to the dish, but cornbread is always included. 


Mac and Cheese

You can’t have a Thanksgiving dinner without mac and cheese on the table.

Well, you can, but it will probably upset a few people. Not everyone grew up eating mac and cheese on this holiday, but more and more people are opting to include this vegetarian side dish with their spread.

But let’s face it. Everyone loves mac and cheese, not just vegetarians. 

There are thousands of mac and cheese recipes out there that you can make for Thanksgiving.

The best thing you can do is go with something classic, so you don’t overpower all the other flavors scattered throughout the other dishes.

Southern states were the ones to bring mac and cheese to the forefront of Thanksgiving side dishes. 


Pumpkin Pie

In addition to apple and pecan pie, pumpkin pie might be the most universally loved dessert to finish off your Thanksgiving.

When the cookbook, American Cookery, came out in 1796, Americans recognized pumpkin pie as one of the official dishes of the American Thanksgiving holiday. 

This classic Thanksgiving dish is one people try to save room for once they’re done chowing down on turkey and all the delicious side dishes.

The pumpkin spice flavor and vanilla bean create a delightful and creamy pie. It tastes like the fall season feels, and you can enjoy it with whipped cream, ice cream, or plain.


Stuffings and Dressings

Besides cornbread dressing, there are all the classic stuffing and dressing recipes that people love making for the holiday.

While most people use the words interchangeably, technically, it’s only stuffing if you make it inside the turkey, and dressing is what you make in a baking dish. But to each their own. 

You can buy a premade stuffing mix, which is very easy to do, or make your own from scratch.

Most stuffing and dressing dishes combine bread pieces, celery, onion, garlic, and other savory spices that pair excellently with turkey, mashed potatoes, and especially cranberry sauce.


Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet potato casserole is one of those sweet side dishes that most people love to eat on Thanksgiving!

This root vegetable has always been popular in the South. 

Still, even people throughout the country started loving them when a cookbook was published in 1917 showing the sweet potatoes topped with melted marshmallows. 

Some people know this casserole as its more common name “candied yams,” but actual yams are different from sweet potatoes.

Now, most people cut the sweet potatoes into small cubes and then bake them with plenty of brown sugar and other fragrant spices before topping them with gooey marshmallows. 

Most people include this dish as a side to the Thanksgiving meal, but you can still enjoy it as a dessert if you choose to since it’s super sweet. 


Brussels Sprouts 

Thanksgiving isn’t the most health-conscious holiday out there, but if you’re looking to add a green veggie to your holiday meal, Brussels sprouts are a wonderful addition.

They’re common to see at many Thanksgivings around the country, prepared in various ways like baked, broiled, and roasted. You can even air fry them!

Some of the best ways to prepare Brussel sprouts that will fit into a more Thanksgiving mold are to add maple syrup, bacon, and pecans before roasting them in the oven.

If that isn’t something you prefer, you can make them more simple with salt, pepper, onion, and garlic powder. They taste good with balsamic vinegar too. 


Rolls

Some of the most simple Thanksgiving foods people have on their tables are the dinner rolls.

There’s something about a delicious, hot, buttered wheat roll to enjoy with your meal. 

You can purchase premade rolls and heat them in the oven, or if you have time on your hands, you can make homemade rolls that are sure to impress the crowd of hungry people. 

Dinner rolls are great buttered or not. You can eat the rolls on their own, but most people prefer to dip them in the extra gravy floating around on your plate. 

For a great pairing with salty ham, try some sweet Hawaiian rolls like from King’s Hawaiian – the secret sweetness is a pineapple glaze!

My Thanksgiving has always included rolls, so you won’t want to forget them on this holiday. 


Butternut Squash Soup 

There’s nothing wrong with including a soup with Thanksgiving, and butternut squash soup is one of the best options.

Butternut squash soup is a traditional fall soup that seamlessly fits into this holiday. 

Since butternut squash is harvested around this time of year, it’s the perfect time to make fresh soup and enjoy it with rolls before feasting on all the other Thanksgiving foods. 

One of the best ways to prepare butternut squash soup is an excellent option for vegetarians joining you for dinner.

Even if you’re not a vegetarian, this soup will be a favorite, and you’ll want to keep including it every year. 

Most people make it with veggie broth, butternut squash, maple syrup, and a slew of delicious spices before blending it all and serving. 


Thanksgiving Dinner Foods

  1. Roast Turkey
  2. Mashed Potatoes
  3. Cranberry Sauce
  4. Apple Pie
  5. Gravy
  6. Green Bean Casserole
  7. Pecan Pie
  8. Baked Potato
  9. Candied Yams
  10. Cornbread Dressing
  11. Mac and Cheese
  12. Pumpkin Pie
  13. Stuffings and Dressings
  14. Sweet Potato Casserole
  15. Brussels Sprouts 
  16. Rolls
  17. Butternut Squash Soup 

Final Thoughts

Thanksgiving is one of the best holidays throughout the holiday season. You get to spend time with friends and family and eat delicious food!

Whether you love the roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy or are just there for the pumpkin pie, there’s no doubt you won’t be in a food coma after feasting on any of the above foods.

Complete your Thanksgiving meal with some fall cocktails or cranberry infused cocktails to fit the flavors of the season!

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Written by Erin Elizabeth

Erin lives in East Passyunk and enjoys checking out the local restaurants in South Philly and beyond. Her favorite restaurants are those with spicy food and outdoor seating so that she can bring along her dog, Miss Piggy.