Thanksgiving Meal Ideas

Try some of these Thanksgiving meal ideas for a stress free holiday.

For many people, the biggest part of their Thanksgiving Day is spent in the kitchen preparing many dishes, basting the turkey and preparing the desserts.

With all the many tasks to be completed on this special holiday, it can leave you feeling stressed and left out of the fun. 

If this sounds like your Thanksgiving Day, then you want to check out these meal ideas so you can get out of the kitchen and get in on the holiday fun.  

Plan Ahead

These Thanksgiving meal ideas for are all about planning ahead so you can spend less time in the kitchen and more time actually enjoying the holiday festivities.

thanksgiving turkey
Advanced Planning

Start early by making a food list at least a week in advance. This year, create a list of the food items that will be on the Thanksgiving table.

Stick to the list and if an item isn’t on the list then it won’t be part of the Thanksgiving dinner.

Cook and Freeze

Cook what you can ahead of time and freeze it for the big day.

Items like casseroles, macaroni and cheese, and rice dishes are easily cooked ahead of time and can be easily frozen.

Don’t forget to let these dishes completely cool before freezing them or it will cause condensation to form.

Once the dish is evenly cooled, place it in a freezer bag or cover it with an airtight lid.

Then on Thanksgiving morning, just pull them out of the freezer to thaw in time for dinner.

If you celebrate Thanksgiving earlier in the day, just take these items out of the freezer the night before and place them in your refrigerator

Eat Fresh

Buy a fresh turkey instead of a frozen one. A fresh turkey has a much better flavor (at least in my opinion) and it’s often awkward finding enough space to thaw a larger turkey. 

When you have a frozen turkey it takes up much of the room in your refrigerator.

This makes it difficult to prepare and store other items.

It can take days for a frozen turkey to thaw.

A fresh turkey can be bought later without the space worries..

Nuke It!

There’s nothing like the taste and smell of a freshly baked pie (yum!). 

We all like to have our pies fresh and hot from the oven, but that is a lot of “perfect” timing for the baker.

In fact, if you are hosting a huge Thanksgiving feast this timing is near impossible. 

microwave oven
Bake your pies before hand and let your friends and family heat their single pieces up after dinner.

This way it's nice and warm when they are ready to eat dessert. 

You gotta love the microwave for just these occasions.

Snack Time

Plan for appetizers by purchasing or making something for munchies.  If you are like many people, the turkey never seems to be done exactly as planned. 

So plan ahead and have appetizers ready for the anxious and hungry crowd. 

These are just some meal planning ideas that will hopefully make your Thanksgiving dinner a smooth process and save you some time. 

In fact, with this extra time you can even do some Thanksgiving crafts with your kids.

Alternate Cooking Methods

This next set of Thanksgiving ideas is all about cooking the big bird

There is more than one way to do almost everything. This includes preparing the Thanksgiving turkey.

We all know just how good a slow roasted turkey from the oven tastes and smells. 

But if you’re looking for something a little different this year, here are some other choices for your Thanksgiving meal. 

Be sure to adjust your meal planning ideas to accommodate the way you plan to cook your turkey.

outdoor grillThanksgiving Meal Ideas - Barbequed Turkey

Grilling isn’t just for summer time.  We put everything else on the grill so why not a turkey? 

Grilling a turkey gives it a unique flavor and texture much like chicken parts grilled to perfection for a family outing.

The difference is that here we are grilling an entire turkey at once.

Instead of putting the turkey on the grill slats, place it in a baking pan over the flames.

This way the turkey can be basted and seasoned during the grilling process. As your turkey is close to being done, add your favorite BBQ sauce to it for an extra kick.

Thanksgiving Meal Ideas - Fried Turkey

Although I love the smell of a turkey baking in the oven, the taste of a deep fried turkey is wonderful. 

Many people think there is not a pan big enough to fry an entire turkey and up until several years ago, they were right. 

Not that long ago we started to see turkey fryers everywhere.

Using peanut oil in a large frying pot, once the oil reaches a certain temperature, a clean and dry turkey is slowly lowered into it.

The turkey can be seasoned beforehand or injected with a marinade to seal in flavor. It takes at least an hour to cook a turkey thoroughly.

Depending on your marinade on the outside, the skin will be crispy and dark, but don’t worry. That crunchy and tasty skin hides the most tender, perfectly cooked meat underneath.

Deep frying a turkey requires attention and care.  Be sure to understand and read all directions for proper heat, amount of oil, etc. 

Your meal planning ideas for this type of turkey will require a spot outdoors.

Thanksgiving Meal Ideas - Smoked Turkey

If you want a turkey fresh off the coals, try a smoker to cook your turkey this year.

guy standing by outdoor meat smokerI loved smoked meat and smoked turkey is absolutely delicious.  The bird is cleaned and seasoned.

It can then be injected with a marinade if you want.

Once the coals have burned hot and come to a temperature that is not so hot it will burn the outside skin, place the turkey on the smoker.

It will take several hours for this turkey to cook, but placing a pan of water on the smoker will help hold in moisture and create a juicy yet well smoked turkey for everyone to enjoy.

Review your grocery list and adjust your meal planning ideas to compliment a smoked turkey taste

Thanksgiving Meal Ideas - Turducken

What the heck is a turducken? It sounds like something that rises out of the graveyard on Halloween night.

Actually it is a combination of various de-boned fowl: turkey, duck, and chicken. They are all put together and layered with stuffing to create this newest addition to the Thanksgiving table.

The turducken looks like a turkey on the outside, but all you have to do is cut into it to see that it is anything but. Those who have tried them, say that turduckens taste great.

Regardless of which method you select to prepare your turkey, you and your guests will be pleased with the results.

No Turkey?

This next set of Thanksgiving ideas is all about skipping the traditional turkey and trying something new.

cartoon turkey holding eat beef signTurkey has been a tradition for many households for many years for Thanksgiving dinner.

At one time Benjamin Franklin suggested that the turkey be the national bird instead of the bald eagle.

Honestly, Tom the Turkey doesn’t always want to be the center of attention - especially at dinner.

Tom the Turkey is happy to see many people substituting other dishes as the main dish.

Here are some alternatives to Turkey to use for your Thanksgiving meal ideas.

Thanksgiving Meal Ideas - Fish

One alternative to turkey is fish. Fish like salmon are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Fish like salmon and tuna are good for lowering “bad” cholesterol in your body.

A main dish of salmon with wild rice and green beans not only tastes great but is a well balanced and healthy meal for you to celebrate the holiday.

To jazz up that salmon, add a pecan or parmesan crust.

TThanksgiving Meal Ideas - Chicken

What about chicken? A roasted chicken is smaller than a turkey for a more intimate gathering.

chicken dinnerA small whole chicken can be barbequed or fried, or both, depending on your taste buds.

There is less cooking time as well which is always a plus if you ask the cook.

You can even prepare the chicken earlier in the day and then warm it up for the full fledged dinner.

Thanksgiving Meal Ideas - White Meat Only 

For some, Thanksgiving just would not be the same without turkey. For one reason or another they don’t need or want a big 20 pound turkey.

Instead, select a roasted turkey breast or turkey cutlets. They bake up quickly and leave less of a mess to clean up after dinner.

Thanksgiving Meal Ideas - Vegetarian

There doesn’t have to be meat on the table at all as vegetarians will tell you. Set the table with a variety of casserole dishes.

Rice and broccoli casserole, macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, and other vegetable dishes can fill you up and keep you from missing the turkey.

Some vegetarians create a tofu turkey as their centerpiece as well to help set the “mood” for the occasion.

The menu for Thanksgiving is not set in stone so go over your meal planning ideas and try something new this Thanksgiving.

Remember, Thanksgiving is all about giving thanks with friends and family regardless of what you set on the table.

Reduce Stress for the Cook

For all of you who generally prepare the meals, this set of Thanksgiving meal ideas are for you. They are all about ways to reduce the stress of preparing the holiday.

Here are some ideas to help you feel less stress and give you more time to get it in on the fun.

Clean up Early

Clean your home before Thanksgiving Day.

We all want the place to look great for our guests but the same day as the meal is not the best time to do it.

If everyone chips in and takes a different section of the house, it’ll get straightened out in no time.

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate!

kids wearing chef hatsDelegate duties. There is no written rule that says mom has to cook it all.

The kitchen is everyone’s place on Thanksgiving Day.

Even the kids can do their share by peeling potatoes or slicing up fruit and vegetables for a salad.

For younger ones, stirring and adding ingredients prior to cooking is a fun task they are sure to delight in.

Just be careful that they aren’t tossing in army men or dolly shoes while you’re basting the turkey.

Get Set Before Turkey's Done

Set the table. We always leave that until last but there really is no reason to. If dinner will be buffet style, arrange the buffet servers, utensils, sterno jars, and the dinnerware a day or two ahead of time.

Make your List

Make a list and check it twice. Don’t end up with more turkey than you need. Write the names of everyone who is coming so that there is enough turkey for a full serving for each person. This cuts down on leftovers which seem to take over the refrigerator for at least a week.


Use disposable pans. When roasting the turkey, ham, chicken, and/or other meats, do so in disposable roasting pans.

The last thing anyone wants to do is wash dishes after eating a big meal.

These pans come in various sizes including ones perfect for side dishes and even breads.

When it’s all over, throw them in the trash can instead of spending the evening washing every pot, pan and casserole dish in the house.

Plan Ahead for Leftovers

Buy containers for leftovers. No one ever has enough to store food in so they use the pans that they cooked in. Choose smaller rather than larger containers so there is no space inside the container that is not occupied by food.

The cheaper ones are disposable as well so once the food is gone, get rid of the container without worrying about anything being wasted.

With these tips your Thanksgiving day will be enjoyable for everyone.  In fact, you may find yourself with a bit of extra time to enjoy some family activities.

For more Thanksgiving meal ideas, try searching for some new recipes with this recipe search tool.

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