Planning for Thanksgiving: Family and Food

Yep. Thanksgiving is right around the corner, folks. Although it may seem like several weeks away, rest assured that the holiday will rear its head before we know it. To help us get into the spirit of giving thanks and family togetherness, we’re presenting the first of several Thanksgiving articles that will make this year’s holiday better than ever before.

Thanksgiving is a great time of feasting and fellowship–one without the other would render the holiday incomplete. This year, we decided to bring you a series that covered both family and food as it relates to Thanksgiving with the hope that it might help make your time together a little more special.


The trick-or-treat candy is either eaten or hidden; the costumes are in the closet, saved for another Halloween for another child; the carved pumpkins are headed for the compost or trash; and thoughts for most of us are headed towards the holidays. Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away and, sadly, it is a holiday often overshadowed by Christmas. Already the Christmas decorations and merchandise are beginning to appear in stores, a commentary on our consumer ethos. And how unfortunate, because Thanksgiving is a day that we are in desperate need of in our culture–a day to stop and give thanks, to remember our freedoms and our benefits, to appreciate family and friends. As parents, how do we plan for Thanksgiving beyond creating a menu and making a grocery list?

Thoughts of planning often turn to family traditions which can be very good for children, as they can ground them in the values you hold dear and give them a sense of family, security, and comforting familiarity. Traditions can also become weights that restrict both kids and adults, creating obligation rather than celebration. How can we encourage the former and avoid the latter?

Don’t just make a ‘to do list.’ Envision a holiday that will help your kids think beyond themselves. The first Thanksgiving wasn’t about the food–the first Thanksgiving was a celebration of friendship, of survival, of the future that lay ahead. Think about what you would like to celebrate this Thanksgiving. Plan with your kids, not for them. Include them in whatever process you use to create your traditions. And if you find that your traditions are stressing you out, eliminate them. This was a joyous day for those first survivors and it should be a joyous day for you, too. Kids always follow the lead of their parents, and if you celebrate with appreciation and gratitude, they will learn to as well.


Unlike any of the other holidays throughout the year, Thanksgiving is the one holiday that takes place almost entirely at the table. People have been celebrating with food and bounty for thousands of years. Because the meal takes such a prominent place, it should be properly handled and planned.

Everyone has a favorite dish at the meal, whether it is the stuffing, green bean casserole, or the sweet potatoes topped with crusty marshmallows. Family traditions are great. However, sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down by the traditional favorites. Think about mixing it up. Try a theme dinner. The Pilgrims won’t mind. So go Cajun, fry your turkey this year, and serve it up with some red beans and rice. Or there’s Southern Style: smoke your turkey and try a nice red eye gravy with those mashed taters. Jerk turkey, turkey Parmesan, turkey fricassee–they all could be good. Think about it this way: you are giving thanks for the diversity that is afforded to us in this country.

Once settled on the theme, start thinking about where you might purchase your turkey and whether or not there will be other meats on the table. Turkeys are plentiful and cheap at your local grocery store. Your generic, fresh turkey will sell for about a dollar a pound. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s will sell cage free birds and organic birds ($2.50-$3.50 a lb). If local and all natural are of the highest importance, heritage turkeys still exist, but they require some quick decisions and a fatter wallet (these birds retail for upwards to $6 a pound, but those who buy them swear by them).

Planning for the big dinner means thinking ahead, and it is more than just getting a bird. It’s putting away stale bread for stuffing. It’s ordering turkey stock from Belmont Butchery. It’s ordering Sausage Craft loose sausage through Ellwood Thompson’s. It’s calling Ettamae’s about their pies. It’s hitting up South of the James and getting those herbs ready. Don’t wait to the week of the Thanksgiving, those items will be more difficult to find and you will be forced to face the judgment of the grocery store gods.


photo by joebeone

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Matt Sadler

In the hopes of experiencing the perfect meal, Matt “The Marinara” Sadler searches the foothills of Manakin, the barrios of Chesterfield, and the corners of Oregon Hill only to realize that he is easily satisfied.

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