Why We Eat These Dishes on Thanksgiving

From turkey to tamales — here's how four dishes became Thanksgiving staples. 😋

How did these 4 foods become staples of this U.S tradition?

Everyone knows the story of the First Thanksgiving, but what about our modern idea of Thanksgiving dinner? How did staples such as turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and pumpkin pie come to grace our tables? What is the history of the foods we eat on Thanksgiving?


It might be the only food Pilgrims and Native Americans shared at the 1621 celebration — considered the first Thanksgiving — that we still eat. Historians say while they ate some turkey, venison was the main course.

Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows

Marshmallows were invented by the French in the mid-1800s. The roots of the marshmallow plant's gummy roots were beaten with egg whites/sugar to make the chewy treat. The marshmallow root was later substituted with gelatin. In 1917, the Angelus Marshmallows company distributed a recipe booklet that taught Americans ways to use marshmallows in dishes.

Cranberry Sauce

It's not clear if cranberry sauce had been invented by the time of the first Thanksgiving — sugar was a luxury at the time. But in 1663, visitors began commenting on a sweet sauce made of boiled cranberries with sugar that accompanied meats.


A new tradition in some American households, this maize dough is wrapped in corn husks, banana leaves and plantain leaves. With a name derived from the Nahuatl word “tamalli,” “wrapped,” tamales are an everyday food in Mexico and Central America.

Thanksgiving is famously a time to be grateful for all of the wonderful things in one's life. It’s a special holiday synonymous with reconnecting with family, watching football, and, of course food. Yes, while it’s important to remember to give thanks on the third Thursday of November every year, Thanksgiving dinner is the hallmark of the holiday. It’s a feast that requires days of preparation but is one of the best meals of the year.