It’s almost Thanksgiving, an important American holiday for spending time with family, eating a traditional meal, and beginning the holiday season. Traditionally, Thanksgiving dates back to the 1620s. The Pilgrims, an early group of English settlers in what is now the U.S., celebrated the harvest with a special feast. Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday on the fourth Thursday in November.

The central activity of Thanksgiving Day is the dinner. Many of the foods we eat on Thanksgiving are indigenous to the U.S., such as turkey, pumpkin, and cranberries. Here are some of the typical foods you’ll find at an American Thanksgiving dinner.




American usually roast a whole turkey, though it’s recently become popular to deep-fry it in a special outdoor fryer. The neck and certain organs of the turkey, called giblets, are ingredients in a turkey gravy to serve at the table. Some families also serve a ham at Thanksgiving alongside the turkey.

Cranberry sauce

Photo by CC BY-SA 2.0

This sweet condiment is a Thanksgiving requirement. Some people make a relish-like sauce from scratch with cranberries and oranges, while others prefer the canned, jelled variety than is easy to slice and serve.

Dressing or stuffing

Photo by Maggie Hoffman CC BY-SA 2.o

Everyone’s grandmother has her own recipe for this dish. It’s made of wheat bread or corn bread combined with broth, herbs such as sage, and finely chopped onions and celery. Some people add sausage, oysters, or other ingredients. It can be cooked inside the turkey (stuffing) or baked in a separate pan (dressing).

Sweet potato casserole

Photo by fletherjsm CC BY-SA 2.0

This super-sweet side dish is the most perplexing part of the Thanksgiving meal for many non-Americans. Cooked and mashed sweet potatoes are mixed with butter, brown sugar, and eggs, then topped with marshmallows and baked. Yes, marshmallows.

Green bean casserole

Photo by lotherington CC BY-SA 2.0

This uniquely American dish contains green beans mixed with a creamy mushroom sauce, topped with crunchy fried onions, and baked.

Pumpkin pie

Photo by Evan-Amos CC BY-SA 3.0 

Pumpkin is the king of autumn foods in the U.S., and before Starbucks served its first Pumpkin Spice Latte, we had pumpkin pie. The filling is spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. Pecan pie and apple pie are also favorites, and all are best topped with whipped cream.