Non-traditional Thanksgiving Dinner Recipes

One of my all-time favorite Thanksgiving meals doesn’t include turkey or traditional side dishes.

Non-Traditional Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday! I love that it’s about getting together with the people you love and having a meal. That’s really all that is involved. Many people will have their traditional fare: Turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. My grandmother was very traditional when it came to her holiday menus, therefore, a big turkey always graced her Thanksgiving table. 

Since I cook for a living and own The Southern Lady Cooks, I’m asked yearly about hosting a traditional Thanksgiving. Many people feel pressured to have all the southern side dishes and the big turkey. However, please know you don’t need to feel pressured about this menu. At the end of the day, it’s about enjoying a meal with your friends and family, and that doesn’t necessarily mean it must be a traditional dish or menu. My advice has always been to serve what you and your guests enjoy. 


You’ll be happy to hear that one of my all-time favorite Thanksgiving meals doesn’t involve turkey or dressing. Can you believe it? Mom started making a non-traditional holiday menu when we were kids, and honestly, I would much rather have it than turkey. Anne and I begged her to make this meal when we were little. When we left for college, it was this meal we wanted whenever we came home. So, if you’re struggling with even wanting to make a turkey, you might want to give this nontraditional Thanksgiving menu a try!


Crockpot Roast Beef and Potatoes

Non-Traditional Thanksgiving

This recipe is perfect for Thanksgiving! First, it’s made in a crockpot, so there’s no standing in the kitchen watching the oven to see if the turkey is done. You place everything in a slow cooker and go about your day. Second,  it cooks the potatoes and the gravy at the same time. That’s super handy when preparing a holiday meal. If you’re cooking for a larger group, get two slow cookers going simultaneously!

Cornbread Muffins

Non-traditional Thanksgiving

Most people will serve rolls on Thanksgiving. I like rolls as much as the next person, but being a Southerner, I’ll always choose cornbread. Mom always made them to go with the roast. These simple muffins come together quickly and are so good. My favorite is to butter a hot cornbread muffin and then pour some gravy over it. Seriously….DELICIOUS!

Funny story, one time Anne and I came home from college for a visit and of course, we brought friends along. Mom made this meal and when we loaded up for the drive back to the University, my friend Amy took a ziplock bag of cornbread muffins for the road.

When we got in the car, Ed yelled from the back seat “how about one of those muffins Amy?” to which she replied “You should have gotten your own muffins Ed, these are mine.” They are THAT good! ?

Macaroni and Cheese

I’ve often told our readers that we have macaroni and cheese on Thanksgiving, and someone always says, “Macaroni and cheese?” Yes, macaroni and cheese! It’s one of our favorite side dishes, so why would I not serve it? I don’t care that it’s not considered traditional. It’s what we like and that is the entire point when you create a meal to share with family and friends.

Snickers Apple Salad

Cranberry sauce is the one traditional side on our table for this meal because I love the sweetness of the cranberry sauce with the onion gravy from the roast. They go together wonderfully. But, maybe cranberries aren’t your thing! If not, you serve another sweet, like this pineapple fluff salad or Snickers apple salad. 

Southern Maple Pecan Pie

Not everyone likes pumpkin, so if it’s not your thing, try this simple pecan pie made with maple syrup. It gets better the next day, so it’s the perfect dessert to serve during the holidays. You can make it ahead of time!

Mississippi Mud Cake

Non-Traditional Thanksgiving

Cake is always a good idea and THIS cake never disappoints. It’s not traditional for Thanksgiving but it’s DELICIOUS and that’s the point! It’s shown up on our table many times.


Remember, preparing a delicious meal for our family and friends should be fun and as stress free as we can make it. If making a turkey and all the sides stresses you out, don’t do it. Prepare what makes you comfortable because a happy host is much more enjoyable than a host that has put to much pressure on themselves to deliver.

Putting a meal on the table that brings back nostalgia means more than anything. For me, I would rather enjoy the dishes that take me back to my mother or grandmother’s table than anything else. Food holds memories. I talk about that here and here. It’s important to remember those dishes and bringing them out on a special holiday is the perfect time to do it!

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