Nontraditional Thanksgiving dinner ideas from Iowans

Preslie Hirsch/Unsplash

By Nikoel Hytrek

November 22, 2023

Turkey, mashed potatoes, some kind of casserole, stuffing, rolls, pumpkin pie: That’s the equation for a “traditional” Thanksgiving meal.

But is it? Does it have to be?

We asked the Iowa Starting Line audience—on Facebook and in the newsletter—how they break the traditional equation and bring some creativity and newness to their Thanksgiving tables. Here are some of their answers.

By far, the answer with the most reactions was Darrin N Lesley Squire’s about setting up a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving meal for the kids alongside the traditional meal. Yes, that meant serving toast, popcorn, pretzel sticks and jelly beans.

Anne Marie Gruber called the idea “genius” and Chris Espersen said their family does popcorn and jelly beans too, though Hal Jordan said it looked better than it tasted.

Facebook comment thread

Another popular dish is party potatoes—cheesy, creamy hashbrowns baked for an hour. A few readers have had them ready-to-go in the freezer for days now.

Instead of turkey, Cindy Doering Lotzer’s family does, “Steak on the grill. Baked potatoes. Mixed Vegetables. Crescent rolls. We call it Steaksgiving.”

Another turkey alternative mentioned and endorsed was Cornish hens. “Personal. Turkey-looking. All dark meat. No waste,” Marci Eilers Koreneberg said.

“When my kids were little, we had Cornish hens every year,” Julie Vollmer added. “They loved having their own little turkey.”

More people shared their non-traditional traditions of turning different dishes into Thanksgiving food, like lasagna, tacos, egg rolls, sticky rice, tamales, papaya salad, oyster dressing, sauerkraut and dumplings, and Dutch onions.

Facebook answer about Dutch onions

Shea Lloyd-Cook said their family is tired of turkey, so they do a spread of Mexican food and have for the last few years.

Main dishes weren’t the only ones made creative. For dessert, a few people offered caramelized pecan cheesecake and tres leches cake as options.

This year, my own family is doing a pretty standard menu, but we’ll have some nontraditional desserts: apple cider bundt cake, chocolate pecan dessert and bite-sized cheesecakes. Tell us yours.

  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].

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