Great and delicious alternatives for Thanksgiving dinner

By Kelsey Hebert

(Justin Snow/Flickr)
(Justin Snow/Flickr)

With the passing of another Thanksgiving, a gathering of family has presumably resulted in fights, fun and a struggle to accommodate different eating habits, not in that respective order. From turkey to lasagna, rolls to corn muffins or pie to milkshakes, the food on the table should reflect the individual tastes and culture of the family that prepares it, leaving everybody that shares the Thanksgiving table satisfied.

Some family’s holiday meals annually mirror the traditional one depicted in Norman Rockwell’s famous oil painting, “Freedom from Want.” The table is adorned with a large turkey, a slab of cranberry sauce, vegetables and presumably a pile of steaming mashed potatoes hidden beneath the silver chafing dish.

However, for those families who dislike the tryptophan comatose aftermath or have dietary restraints, the typical Thanksgiving dinner is less than ideal. While this holiday is centered on giving thanks, the tradition of Thanksgiving, is equally celebrated through the importance of large portions of food. For this reason, certain alternatives to the original Turkey Day meal must be available for those who cannot or wish not to be in the mainstream.

For meat eaters who prefer not to have turkey on Thanksgiving, turkey alternatives are plentiful. Cornish hens (or just a roast chicken) are a good alternative. Whole chickens cooked can look like small turkeys, making it feel like a typical Thanksgiving meal regardless of the fact that the center plate is a chicken rather than a turkey. If poultry is not your family’s forte, try duck for something new or even smoked sausage links. Beef or pork roasts could also serve as the main dish or even a well seasoned lamb breast. For those who do not mind repeating Holiday meals, the typical Christmas dinner centerpiece – a glazed ham – could take the Thanksgiving spotlight. Using seafood as the main dish, like oysters or salmon, can create a coastal feel to the typical Thanksgiving dinner as well.

Vegetarians have a different obstacle to overcome when it comes to celebrating without the turkey. The most well-known vegetarian alternative is tofurkey – a “turkey” made out of tofu. Vegetarian lasagna, like wild mushroom or butternut squash, can be used as a main dish. A vegetable risotto or gratin suffices as a main dish or even individual vegetable pot pies as well.

Gluten free folks have an even wider set of challenges. Although most traditional dishes can be prepared gluten free on your own, traveling to a friend or relative’s house can prove tricky in navigating what is and what is not prepared gluten free. Many know that pie crusts and dinner rolls are not gluten free unless prepared as such. But what about gluten hidden in some other typical thanksgiving items? Gravy, for instance, usually has wheat flour as a thickener and is not always gluten free. The crowd pleasing side dish, stuffing, often has bread in it too. Therefore, if you have a severe gluten allergy or intolerance, it may be best to host this Thanksgiving so you can control which items are gluten free items on the table.

While the main dishes are settled, the traditional Thanksgiving meal would not be complete without the complimentary side dishes such mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls, stuffing and vegetables in many varieties like carrots, green beans, Brussels sprouts or squash. To spice things up, try corn muffins instead of dinner rolls or rice stuffing instead of traditional stuffing. Maple roasted sweet potatoes or mashed sweet potatoes are an alternative to straight mashed potatoes. Scalloped potatoes or potatoes gratin are fancy alternatives to mashed potatoes. Fruit salad is a healthy addition to the table and a winter-inspired salad or soup, like butternut squash soup, can spice up typical appetizers.

Following the main course, a typical dessert spread would include various fruit pies and the classic, pumpkin. However, non-traditional desserts are also available for those who are not pie enthusiasts. A French-inspired crème brulee is sweet but utterly delicious option. Fall flavors like pumpkin, cinnamon and molasses can also be incorporated into cakes and cupcakes.

Different flavored rice or bread puddings are sure to be a crowd pleaser. A fruit cobbler is a twist on the typical pie and plain old cookies can do the trick for simple sweet toothed family members. Serving a dessert drink after dinner can also fulfill a sugary craving such as pumpkin milkshakes, flavored frozen margaritas or spiced eggnog.

Kelsey Hebert can be reached at [email protected]