From charcuterie boards to takeout: Here are the top 5 Thanksgiving trends for 2021
In a lot of ways we’re all learning how to do things again in this "new" world, and the holidays are no exception. If last year was a Zoom Thanksgiving, what will things look like this year as people gather in person again?
To get some insights about what's in store for Thanksgiving 2021, I chatted with Kara Nielsen, director of Food & Drink for WGSN, a global authority on consumer and design trends. Her job is all about spotting and forecasting trends in the food world, and she certainly had plenty to share.
Broadly speaking, last year was more about survival, Nielsen told the Courier Journal, and this year as we return to what we’ll call normal (I guess?), it’s more about comfort — and that definitely means some comfort foods.
So what are the top trends to expect at Thanksgiving this year? Here are five things you might see:
How to do a charcuterie board for Thanksgiving
Charcuterie boards have blown up to an all-encompassing put-it-on-a-board approach to food presentation. A trend that was bubbling up prior to COVID-19, Nielsen says, boards were thwarted by the pandemic when we weren’t exactly serving a dozen people at a time.
“It’s a suspended trend that’s picking back up,” she says. So what does that mean for Thanksgiving this year? Nielsen says we might see everything from appetizer boards to dessert boards as people have fun with beautiful holiday presentations.
What’s behind the trend? Nielsen had one word: Instagram. Boards are undeniably candy to the camera. And they’re an approachable option for anyone who wants to get a little fancy.
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“Not everybody is an amazing pie baker,” Nielsen says. “Not everybody’s turkey is magazine-worthy, but those boards look pretty good!”
There's also a ton of local places that do custom charcuterie boards, so if you're not sure about your own plating skills, make sure to check out places like Board & You, Harvey's Cheese, Cultured and more.
Order a takeout Thanksgiving meal
The coronavirus pandemic changed how restaurants operate and how we think about meals. A takeout Thanksgiving “is being driven by restaurants and food outlets that have gotten really expert at delivery menus during COVID-19,” Nielsen says. “We have, as consumers, delighted in more kinds of restaurant food at home."
There have always been people looking for packaged holiday meals at the supermarket, she says. And “now that we’ve been practicing that [takeout] behavior for so many months,” it will come naturally, especially for people who may not be up for preparing the whole meal themselves, to bring some of that expertise to the holiday table.
That also means more people may explore dine-in options at Louisville-area restaurants as well. This year, more than 20 restaurants and grocery stores in Louisville are serving dine-in or to-go meals for Thanksgiving, including places like Anoosh Bistro, Churchill Downs, Cracker Barrel, Fork & Barrel, Joe Huber's Family Farm and Restaurant, Proof on Main and more. So explore all your options before you make a decision about your holiday feast.
Plan for gluten-free, vegetarian Thanksgiving guests
The days of a big plate of turkey with a few supporting dishes leaning heavily on meat, gravy and traditional stuffing may also be behind us. With the rise in popularity of plant-based foods, we can expect to see meals with something for everyone, Nielsen says, whether that’s vegan options, gluten-free, or other dietary restrictions.
“Everybody feels entitled to have food that works for them,” she says, and meal alternatives have really been picking up steam; it’s not just Tofurkey anymore. Hosts want to make sure everyone has something that appeals to them, and not only do plant-based dishes offer more options, but they can also “show off the delicious vegetables and food items of the season.”
Keep in mind that making a dish gluten-free or vegetarian doesn't have to be stressful or difficult. Often you can sub in things like oat milk for dairy milk in recipes and vegan butter can be swapped for regular butter.
Plus you can rely on things like vegetable stocks and gluten-free bread for your stuffing and gravy dishes as well.
Whatever you decide, try something new this Thanksgiving that will please everyone, Nielsen says, even the most restricted eater.
Apples are the trend for holiday drinks, desserts
How about drinks? Apples aren't just for pie anymore, and it’s here in a big way, Nielsen says, along with pear, when it comes to both alcoholic and alcohol-free holiday drinks. Apple is showing up everywhere from spiked seltzer to beer and cocktails, and pear is making a strong showing as well. They make sense from a seasonal perspective; how yummy does a whiskey cocktail with a spiced pear syrup sound in chilly November?
Speaking of whiskey, another growing trend is fancy holiday treats with whiskey flavor profiles. Think bourbon-flavored maple syrup, for example, or bourbon in jam or pie.
Showcase regional, indigenous foods at Thanksgiving
Societal shifts are also causing us to look anew at the Thanksgiving tradition, Nielsen says, “with a new lens of respecting Native Americans and Native American tradition ... also, as part of this, recognizing their contributions to the table and also [recognizing] the contributions of Black cooks to the American table and the holiday table.”
Nielsen went on, saying that “a lot of people are reconsidering our food culture in America and kind of looking past some of those lessons that we were taught or myths of the table."
And that isn't reserved just for the holidays. “All year round, [people are] really looking at ‘where did this food come from, can I dig in a little deeper, where should credit be, and how can I then be inspired by that?’"
November is Native American Heritage Month, "so I think that people will be reading about this ... there are new recipes out, new cookbooks, new chefs, and that will inspire some people to think a little bit harder and to maybe look for new inspiration.”
Leaning into local foods can be one outcome of this process, she says. And supply chain disruptions can also prompt many diners to look at sourcing more ingredients locally so we may see more heritage turkeys and even foraged ingredients on the tables this year.
If you're looking for a farm-to-table turkey, try Dutch Creek Farms, Groce Family Farm or Skinner Farms, which are all raising turkeys for Thanksgiving. Plus there are still winter farmers markets across the area where you may be able to find locally-grown produce perfect for your holiday table.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Contact Dana McMahan at email@example.com and follow @bourbonbarbarella on Instagram.