5 Ways to Combine Old and New at Your Holiday Meal

5 Ways to Combine Old and New at Your Holiday Meal

This year will be my daughter’s first Thanksgiving, first Hanukkah, and first Christmas. It's got me thinking a lot about what kind of traditions we want her to have around the holidays. Not that she'll be eating a whole lot this year (more like wearing it!), but now really is the time to start those traditions that she'll grow to value and expect as she gets older.

In a recent episode of one of my favorite podcasts, The Sporkful, host Dan Pashman talks about this same feeling. His kids are a little older, and he's stressed about creating the perfect Thanksgiving menu to give his girls the most wonderful food memories (and keep them coming back to HIS table year after year).  But, with the constant barrage of NEW and EXCITING and UNBELIEVABLE ways to cook your Thanksgiving feast on all corners of the internet and TV, there is a ton of pressure to innovate and impress. He calls it "The Wheel of Infinite Thanksgiving Anxiety". 

And it's true! Take a look at your Facebook feed, scroll through Instagram or turn on Food Network. Each year from November 1st to December 31st we are bombarded with cooking mandates. And you start to wonder... should I sous vide my turkey this year? How about unicorn potatoes au gratin? Maybe I'll make my entire meal from food scraps!?!

Keep old holiday traditions? Or make new ones?

There’s something to be said about keeping it simple… making our traditional dishes that we had as kids. Turkey. Mashed potatoes. Sweet potatoes with orange and mini marshmallows. Green beans. Pecan pie with an excessive amount of whipped cream. But, is it TOO simple??

There's arguments to be had on both sides. One the one hand, there is something comforting about cooking the same Thanksgiving meal each year. It's easy for you, the cook, because you already know what you’re doing and how to do it. It brings back memories from your childhood table. But, then, on the other hand, you worry, will my guests find it boring? Where's the razzle-dazzle?!?  I really want to be creative and just try something NEW this year! 

That's why I've come up with 5 strategies for making traditional holiday meals while still mixing it up every year. To me, it's the best of both worlds. Think about it this way. The definition of 'tradition' is "a continuing pattern of culture beliefs or practices". That doesn’t mean you must cook the same recipes using the same plates and with the same decorations. By letting your beliefs frame your traditions, you can have different dishes on your holiday table year after year.


1. Traditional Family Dishes

Do you feel that it's important to honor your family and their favorite dishes? Make your tradition to recreate dishes from all corners of your family. Solicit your relatives for great grandma's long lost recipes. Dig deep into your childhood and attempt your favorite food memories. Don’t feel like you need to use the same recipes year after year, because the fun is in the variety.

2. Kid's Choice

If you value incorporating your kids (and nieces and nephews and cousins and your friends' kids!) into the cooking process, let the kids pick the ingredients. You can have them choose categories (like, spaghetti, or pizza), or let them pick some of the featured ingredients (like carrots, tomatoes, turkey). The kids can help find recipes within their category or using their ingredient, and of course they can help with the cooking too. The meal becomes an adventure and learning experience as kids try new foods, describe what they're tasting, and take pride in their creativity.

3. Pot Luck Style

If you and your guests believe in sharing the work (and if you all LOVE to cook), make your tradition a pot luck meal! Give everyone a specific assignment (potato, stuffing, salad…) to make sure your basic food groups are covered. Pot lucks are a great way to spread the work out, get everyone involved, and let every member at your table show off their culinary skills.

4. International Flavors

Are you a serious food nerd? Do you want to expose your family to way other people eat? Then consider making your traditional holiday table one that celebrates different cultures year after year. This works especially well for New Year's, Christmas or Hanukah, which are celebrated by many different cultures around the world. Keep a map and mark off the countries you've cooked from, you'll be amazed at how quickly the globe gets filled in!

5. A Year Remembered

This is actually our family tradition for New Year's. Every New Year's Eve, we make a meal of finger foods and appetizers that are all symbolic of the year. It's a little sappy, I'll admit, but it's a fun way to remember the best parts of your year. Last year, for example, we made coconut chicken fingers (which were served at our wedding), mini steak frites (that we enjoyed on our honeymoon), hummus with veggies (remembering this killer restaurant we went to), and cupcakes (also from our wedding). 


What are your favorite holiday food traditions? Let me know in the comments!


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