Some of us are pretty protective of our long-standing holiday standards. We don’t want anyone messing with our green bean or sweet potato casseroles. And Heaven forbid anyone but Aunt Bertie dare to take on the cornbread dressing. Lord, what would the world come to?
If it’s your turn to host a holiday meal, it can be a tricky task making sure that everyone’s favorites make the buffet line and bring back all those precious memories of Thanksgivings and Christmases past the family has been anxiously waiting to relive all year.
Sometimes, suggesting having something new or different at a holiday gathering can cause all sorts of hoopla. When all of the cooking shows come out with their holiday menus, you can almost hear the collective response, “Hey, food lady! Keep your oven mitts off our Thanksgiving!” The nerve. Close to sacrilege. Why can’t they just let holiday meals be the way they’ve always been?
There are other (and quite tasty) ways of honoring our precious food memories than just eating exactly the same thing in exactly the same way every single holiday. Stay with me now. It’s true.
You can still evoke family, tradition, and heritage even if you throw in something new, as long as you do it the right way.
There are 3 keys to successfully adding something new to a holiday meal without taking away from what your family loves most.
1. Choose one or two dishes that aren’t the star of the show and replace them with other foods that fall into the categories of traditional and/or family-style.
There are always those dishes that show up on the menu every year that everyone could do without. Maybe for your family, it is the jello salad or the macaroni and cheese. They are not the favorites, and no one really touches them. If this is the case, consider replacing them with something else one year to see what happens.
For my family, it’s the turkey. Gasp! I know, right? But by the time we finish the Thanksgiving leftovers, then it’s time for Christmas and turkey again and then those leftovers, and there is just so much turkey one person can consume before there is permanent tryptophan damage.
So yes, sometimes we switch out the turkey at holiday meals for other traditional options- pork loin, pork crown, and this year… prime rib. Prime rib is a natural for the holiday table. It is the choicest of beef cuts (it is called prime, after all), rich, tender, elegant… but still very traditional, harkening back to the golden days of large Sunday dinners. So come holiday time, it can figure as a perfect turkey substitute.
2. Any time you decide to substitute one dish for another or add a new dish, maintain the flavor profiles of the season or the flavor profile of the dish you are replacing.
What better way to honor an old dish than by breathing new life into it and falling in love with it all over again? For instance, instead of green bean casserole, a hostess might find that green bean bacon bundles with stuffed mushrooms might be more up her alley. Or maybe a spinach salad with cranberries, pears, and candied pecans sounds like a good choice. While the bundles stay true to the elements of the original casserole dish, the salad simply highlights the flavors of the season. With this method, even a new dish can have a comforting familiar feel and be a welcome addition.
3. Don’t mess with family favorites! Keep those passed-down family dishes that everyone loves the best.
Have you ever heard the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water?” Don’t get carried away and start changing everything. If your family is expecting a traditional holiday meal, not everything needs an upgrade. Keep those dishes that speak the loudest of your Thanksgivings past and preserve what your family holds most dear about the meal. Even the grumpiest of family members will be more open to trying new things when the heart of the meal stays the same.
Sample Alternative Holiday Meal Menu:
Holiday Prime Rib (Easier than you might think! Use the link to check out this gorgeous holiday recipe.)
Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Green Bean Bundles and Stuffed Mushrooms
Cranberry Pear Salad with Candied Pecans and Molasses Vinaigrette
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Looking for more Thanksgiving inspiration? Check out these ASD favorites!
This was originally published November 2016.