Thanksgiving dinner can be stressful, even when you aren’t the person hosting. Whether you’re traveling a fair distance or simply have no idea what to bring, I think we can agree that you don’t want to leave the planning until the last minute. There are Thanksgiving side dishes to organize, family members to please, and cooking skills to take into account.
Relax. We’ve created a flowchart full of tried-and-tested favorites and quirky alternatives to help you make that all-important decision. So, whether you need to impress the in-laws or you’re a disaster in the kitchen, you’ll find tempting ideas for all abilities and eventualities. Now eat, drink, and cranberry!
What Thanksgiving side dishes should you bring?
5 tips to make Thanksgiving dinner easy as (pumpkin) pie
While gathering loved ones together for Thanksgiving is a great tradition, it also means you have to satisfy a lot of different food preferences. Whether you’re cooking several Thanksgiving side dishes or just one, you have to think about allergies and other dietary preferences. Here are our best ideas for navigating this tricky territory.
1. Serve garnishes separately
Tossing on a bit of fresh parsley is fine, but if you plan to use garnishes that are common allergens, consider storing them separately. Candied nuts, for instance, make an excellent topping for dishes like yams and Brussels sprouts, but many people can’t eat them. By serving risky garnishes on the side, you give guests the option to choose what they want (or don’t want).
2. Match the flavor theme
Many people put a spin on their Thanksgiving celebrations by choosing a theme for flavors, ingredients, and seasonings. One year, it’s rustic and herbaceous flavors, while the next year, everything features spicy Cajun seasonings and stocks or Moroccan fusion flair.
Find out what flavor profiles your hosts or guests prefer, and use their suggestions to decide what Thanksgiving side dishes to bring. If you’re having trouble figuring out what to cook, limiting yourself this way makes it easier to narrow down your options.
3. Ditch the traditional options
Are you one of those rare people who doesn’t enjoy traditional Thanksgiving side dishes? Are you attending a big dinner where there’ll be lots of hearty fare? Then, you have more freedom to think outside the box and create something unexpected.
Instead of obsessing over how to please everyone, create a dish you love and consider how you can incorporate some classic Thanksgiving flavors. That way, you can introduce something new to loved ones and possibly make it into a new shared tradition.
4. Volunteer for the vegan dishes
If you’re only making a side dish, consider taking pressure off the host and handling one of the special dietary requirements. Will there be guests who don’t eat meat? Dairy? Gluten? Sugar?
Ask the host about the needs of the people attending, and volunteer to make an awesome dish that satisfies a few of these dietary restrictions.
5. Pre-bake and freeze the dessert
Are you bringing dessert? When your schedule is hectic leading up to Thanksgiving, you can pre-make your side dish to save time on the day of the dinner. Many desserts, such as pecan or apple pie, hold up well in the freezer and are meant to be served warm anyway. Baking in advance also makes it easier to prepare multiple portions if you’re accommodating a large party.
The best thing about Thanksgiving side dishes is that you can dress them up in as many different ways as you like. While many classic recipes are crowd-pleasers, there’s also room to try something new. We hope our flowchart makes this decision easier or gives you a few new ideas to debut this year.
This post was originally published on November 8, 2019, and updated most recently on November 25, 2021.