8 New Thanksgiving Recipes and Rituals That Will Break Tradition (in a Good Way)

New recipes and traditions can show you’re flexible and full of surprises. Try one of these tips to shake things up this year.

Photo Credit: GMVozd/Getty Images
Photo Credit: GMVozd/Getty Images

One of my favorite Thanksgivings ever — Boston, 2002 — departed in every way from the ones I grew up with in my Greek-Argentinian family. With two fellow graduate students, Grace and John, who were also too broke to go home for the holidays, I holed up in a shabby old apartment in Inman Square, feasting on a slim store-bought turkey, side dishes from cans, and cheap bottles of wine. Although I missed my Greek grandmother’s cooking (savory plates of moussaka and spanikopita, as well as her meticulously baked baklava and melomakarona), our bland little dinner was stress-free and full of conversation only those in the thick of their studies would enjoy.

That fond memory of breaking with my family’s tradition stayed with me when I got married and started my own family. To keep things surprising, we do something different every year, whether it’s going to a movie and getting takeout or going up to the Berkshires in Massachusetts to chow down on old-fashioned American fare at our aunt Roberta’s house.

It’s an idea that might have pleased the late Nora Ephron, who started a series called “Tell us what you’re cooking for Thanksgiving this year that you didn’t cook last year” with Thrive Global’s founder and CEO Arianna Huffington at The Huffington Post back in 2008. Ephron invited readers to share new dishes they planned to introduce to their Thanksgiving spread to show “that you're up for change, that you're not your mother, that you're open to new ideas, that you're flexible and full of surprises and with-it food-wise.” Starting where Ephron left off, we asked the Thrive Global contributor community to do the same. Here’s what new dishes (and other changes) they plan to add this year:

Brown and wild rice with cranberries and almonds

“I have always made mom's amazing bread and giblet stuffing. This year, I can't get the right ingredients, no one else loves it as I do, most of the family is avoiding bread, and I need to prepare it in advance and reheat it because it takes so long to make. So why not cook something different this year? My contribution to this year's Thanksgiving dinner will be my original recipe of brown and wild rice with cranberries and almonds. (As the old story goes, sometimes you just gotta stop cutting the end off the ham when it already fits into your oversized roaster.) There is no recipe: it’s simply a matter of preparing the rice, adding the cranberries and any other herbs and spices to taste, and topping it all with slivered almonds.”

—Sally L. Wilke, pastor, Winterset, IA

Swapping out the Turkey for Chicken Inasal

“My family members aren’t fans of turkey, so I typically make rosemary-lemon Cornish hens. But this year, I’m trying chicken inasal (Filipino-style) accompanied by: corn cobs covered in butter, queso fresco and cayenne, roasted cauliflower, mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy for my vegetarian sister. There will also be cranberry sauce (frozen fresh since September), and lots of freshly baked dessert options, like leche flan and good ol’ apple pie.

—Beverly Rose, sustainable travel and social media consultant, San Francisco, CA

Cranberry jello salad

“As a child who wanted to be a pilgrim, I pleaded with my mother to switch from jellied sauce to the kind with whole berries. But later in life, I grew homesick for the jellied kind. Recently, I was a guest at a dinner with a sweeter twist — jello added a punch of flavor. As times change, new traditions are in order.”

—Kathryn G., life enrichment/wellness practitioner and writer, Wooster, OH

Bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese

“This year I'm making baked bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese for a Thanksgiving appetizer. My roommate made them this year for our friendsgiving and I wanted to share them with my family because they were so good! And we try to make new creative things to accompany the traditional aspects of the meals.”

—Sloane Forbush, Associate Special Projects Editor at Thrive Global, New York, NY

A garlicky butternut squash

“I love having our entire family at the table for that one time during the year when diets don’t count and you don’t mind listening to Aunt Susan ramble about politics. Thanksgiving fills my heart with love while stretching my pants to the max. This year I’m adding Cookie and Kate’s garlic roasted butternut squash soup to my menu. Cookie and Kate call it roasted butternut squash soup, but I am calling mine garlic roasted butternut squash soup because I’m adding way more garlic. All you need is butternut squash, olive oil, shallot, garlic, vegetable broth, maple syrup and nutmeg. These simple ingredients result in a magnificent soup.”

—Lisa Ingrassia-Neuman, director of events/social media, Freehold, NJ

A healthier take on fried food

“For Thanksgiving this year, I will make fried turkey and other mouthwatering grub without all the artery-clogging grease! I will air fry or pressure cook gastronomic comfort foods such as fried turkey, fried chicken, bacon, sausages, steaks, french fries, potato tots and skins, and lasagna — but in a healthy, guilt-free style for my loved ones!”

—Bev Lim, lifestyle contributor, New York, NY

Focusing on decor and fun and outsourcing the rest

“Thanksgiving has always been a big turkey of a holiday that landed on my ‘To Do’ list! As a people-pleasing, stay-at-home mom, I felt it was my duty and worked myself into exhaustion each and every year, swearing that was the last time. This year, I was feeling such pressure and stress that I called a local restaurant,and for $20 per person, they’re hosting and cooking for our entire party. This year, instead of cleaning, cooking, waiting hand-and-foot on everyone, cleaning some more, and seething with resentment over doing all the work, I bought a fun gratitude table game, pretty leaves, place cards and small gifts to decorate and personalize our table. For the first time in 15 years, I’m actually looking forward to the holiday. I’m excited to be able to sit back and enjoy a nice meal (that I didn’t have to cook), but most importantly, the family I’m so thankful for!”

—Katy Cable, pet and lifestyle blogger, Long Beach, CA

A new “discussion rule”

“Changing up a food dish for Thanksgiving is a good idea. But each child and invited guest has a favorite dish they want to have, so I think I will serve up a whole new type of ‘dish.’ In this political divide, it will be challenging not to have disagreements if we get started on those topics. So my new dish will be a discussion rule. Rather than tell people what we cannot talk about, I will place conversation starters at each place at the table. Here are a few ideas:

  • Name two of the people who influenced the good part of you.
  • Who is the most interesting person you’ve ever met and why?
  • What is the scariest thing you’ve ever done?
  • Tell us about your proudest moment.

P.S., don’t tell anyone who will join us. It’s a secret.”

—Leatha Ritchie, leadership coach and consultant, Raleigh, NC

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