How to Have a Real Food Thanksgiving!

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I know that cans of highly processed cream of mushroom soup and packets of powdery mixes are rampant this time of year—but let’s break the (jello) mold because, even when it comes to Thanksgiving, a complete real food spread is totally possible! And today’s new post is a guide to help you do just that.

Planning Ahead

As with any aspect of real food, planning ahead is KEY! With only 2 weeks+ to go, now is a great time to figure out where you’ll get your non-factory farmed turkey and also start collecting recipes to make on the big day. I personally love to do a practice run when it comes to any new complicated recipes I’ve never made before because …a house full of guests + a recipe flop = no fun!

How to Make the Most of Thanksgiving Week

Most of this can be done in the evenings if you have to work!

  • Sunday: Finalize Recipe Selections + Make Grocery List
    If you’re the host I would NOT recommend starting Thanksgiving week without a finalized plan! Oh and when it comes to making out your grocery list be sure to use my free template organized by store department.
  • Monday: Set the Table
    Anytime I’m hosting guests in our dining room (holiday or not) I love to set the table a couple days in advance—or at a minimum the day/night before. This allows me to take my time without the stress of guests arriving soon because, unlike the food prep, it’s never too early to put out the tablecloth and dishes!
  • Tuesday: Buy the Food
    Our Farmers’ Market usually has a special market the week of Thanksgiving, which I love, but no matter where you shop I do not recommend waiting until the day before to get all the fixings. It’s a big undertaking, and won’t it be so nice to have it out of the way a little early?
  • Wednesday: Prep Cook
    There is sooo much you can do the day/night before hosting a big event—chop veggies, assemble casseroles, brine the turkey, make soup, bake pies (that you can reheat later), and the list goes on and on. Definitely get ahead as much as you can!
  • Thursday: Turkey Time!
    Hopefully by the time Thanksgiving rolls around you’ll feel prepared enough to somewhat enjoy the day with family and friends. Obviously there will still be lots of cooking to do, but hopefully the pace will feel more manageable and you’ll have willing helpers when it comes to the finishing touches.

Starters and Salads



Other Sides, Sauces, Etc.

The Turkey, of Course!

Smoked Turkey Recipe

While there’s definitely something to be said for a traditional baked turkey, my family really enjoys this smoked turkey recipe my husband created. It’s sooo delicious and only takes about 3.5 hours of cook time for a 12 pound turkey.

How to Smoke Your Thanksgiving Turkey on 100 Days of Real Food

Where We Buy our Turkey

I love to buy my turkey from a local organic farm called New Town Farms, but I must admit my jaw dropped the first year I went to pick it up and was told the price—cha ching! I will say though it was truthfully the best turkey I’ve ever had. It was somehow missing the funky underlying turkey flavor that’s usually there and that I don’t like. And it was also fabulous left over—I’m a fair weather fan when it comes to leftover meat, especially if it’s been more than a day or two.

New Town Farms Turkey on 100 Days of #RealFood
Turkeys at New Town Farms

So in the end it was worth it, PLUS I would have missed out on Farmer Sammy’s funny email updates showing us pics (below) of our happy birds running amok on their grassy fields. Some like these updates and some are borderline offended, but there’s something to be said about knowing where your food comes from! This is how it’s done whether you see things at this stage or not.


Recipes from my (first) Cookbook

100 Days of Real Food Cookbooks

If you have my first cookbook (the white one), here are some more recipes that would be great with Thanksgiving Dinner:

  • Onion Dip with Veggies (page 189)
  • Cinnamon Apple Chips (page 198)
  • Spiced Nut Mix (page 202)
  • Goat Cheese, Pear and Pecan Salad (page 213)
  • Carrots with Rosemary (page 225)
  • Cheesy Broccoli Rice Casserole (page 230)
  • Carrot Cake with Whipped Cream-Cheese Frosting (page 308).

What to Do with Leftover Turkey

Check out my 5 Uses for Leftover Turkey … there are also some good ideas from readers in the comments :)

Please share links to your favorite Thanksgiving dishes with us in the comments below!

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20 thoughts on “How to Have a Real Food Thanksgiving!”

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  1. Turkeys grown on the farm are really the best! I could not ask for more! But in the absence of turkey will chicken be a good replacement? I tried bigmummasfriedchicken once and taste really home. just saying!

  2. Do you have a recipe on how to cook a Thanksgiving Turkey? Thank you:) I love your website. I’m new at cooking and try to use your recipes as much as possible.

  3. Looking forward to your new cookbook Lisa, Thanks for all your great ideas on eating real food. It’s so important when many foods are heavily processed today.

  4. i am a newbie and i love your site. i feel so much better after only 4 days of real food. Thank you for creating such an easy and amazing site to help others become healthier. my question is this, i have looked and there is no turkey recipe. do you brine your turkey and how do you season it? if you do brine it what is your recipe?

    1. So glad you are enjoying real food and feeling good! We do not brine our turkey (although I’ve heard great things!). I just bake it in the oven :)

  5. Can you do a post like this for Christmas too? This is awesome, but as I live in Canada our Thanksgiving is over. :) I guess Christmas would be pretty much the same.

  6. Your timeline boggled my mind. I am not spending an entire week preparing a meal that will be eaten in less than 20 minutes. For us Thanksgiving isn’t about the food and the table, although I do make it nice. We focus on family time and the day-to-day things we often take for granted. Plus, we eat in the dining room as a family every night, not just on special occasions. One of the reasons I am having trouble limiting my calorie intake is because it pretty much seems all following your advice gives me time to think about is FOOD. Isn’t there anything else in life?

    1. Charlene,

      I don’t think she means you’re spending “a week” preparing one Thanksgiving meal. Rather, she’s breaking up a bunch of tasks you might try to fit in all on Thanksgiving morning into bite size pieces ahead of time….so that you CAN enjoy your family and other parts of life other than just the food on Thanksgiving Day! Being organized and planning ahead really do make it easier to “focus on family time” as you mentioned, which I do appreciate.

      Also, I think it’s not fair to criticize her for giving advice on FOOD. That’s what this blog is about. If you’re wanting to hear about another topic, there are many other places to go to read about family games, decorations, nature, etc. I usually don’t comment on other people’s opinions, but yours seemed unfair and your criticisms misplaced.

      1. Christy, Thank you. I wasn’t meaning to vent my frustration on Lisa, but on DIETING. It seems that every food program I have tried to reshape my life around has me focus far too much on the food — hours of prep, planning to eat, shopping for ….. I already obsess too much about food. Spending a week planning just one meal would make me eat far too many calories while waiting. I am glad other people can do this without constantly eating. I can’t. That’s what I was bitter about, not Lisa or her advice for food functional people. Thank you for helping me clarify that.

  7. I had to laugh at the turkey picture – when I was a kid the road you took to get to my aunt’s house from the freeway had a turkey farm on it. First there were baby turkeys, then there were big turkeys, and then about a week before Thanksgiving all the turkeys would disappear!
    We have a lot of wild turkeys where I live, I moved from Houston to the Eastern shore of MD in August 2014 and the ‘traffic’ differences were an adjustment. In my office I have a poster with a picture of a flock of wild turkeys on one side labeled ‘Easton traffic jam’ and a shot I took out of my car window one day of a packed freeway labeled ‘Houston traffic jam’.

  8. I think my whole ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving dinner is real food already with the exception of the canned soup in the green bean casserole and the parker house rolls. Trying a different turkey source this year, we belong to a CSA and they are selling fresh turkeys, plus the added bonus of delivering to our normal CSA pickup spot so it saves a trip to the butcher!

  9. This is a great resource you put together, Lisa! I’m working on a stuffed acorn squash recipe, so that the vegetarians at our table will have a yummy main. Your potato cauliflower chowder sounds really good right now :-)

  10. I love the timeline you have listed here! It’s so nice to get things done ahead of time so you’re able to enjoy the day. I have also found that a Real Food Thanksgiving tastes better than the “normal” Thanksgiving dinner. Thanks for the great ideas!