Thanksgiving Day: The Good, the Bad, and the Hungry

Turkey or ham — which dish takes 1st place? What are the most loved and hated aspects of the holiday, and how far will people go — geographically and financially — to celebrate it properly? We conducted a survey and analyzed search data to find out.

Last updated: Nov 1st, 2023
Thanksgiving Day

The holidays are just around the corner, and it seems everyone has an opinion on the best traditions and what to serve at the Thanksgiving dinner table. While some Americans focus solely on the big meal this November, others look forward to watching football or holiday movies with family and friends.

By conducting a survey and analyzing search data, we set out to discover which Thanksgiving foods and traditions people are anticipating most eagerly and which aspects of the holiday they would prefer to skip.

So whether you are one of over 50 million people traveling for the holidays or planning to stay in while consuming a whopping 4,500 calories this Thanksgiving, read on to find out how people across the country will celebrate this year.

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Key takeaways

  • Turkey reigns supreme as the nation’s favorite Thanksgiving Day dish.
  • Most folks think spending time with loved ones is the most important part of Thanksgiving.
  • 88% of people surveyed believe knowing the history of Thanksgiving is important.
  • Hosting is the most dreaded aspect of celebrating Thanksgiving.
  • Four out of every five people love Thanksgiving leftovers.

Favorite dishes by state

Most popular Thanksgiving dishes by state

Photo by Innerbody Research

What dishes are must-haves for the dinner table as North Americans prepare to celebrate the upcoming Thanksgiving Day holiday? It is no surprise that turkey is the overall most popular Thanksgiving menu item in the U.S. (and despite the rumors, turkey alone isn’t to blame for that post-meal food coma). We found that turkey loyalty is scattered across the country, but the bulk of the turkey love is on the East Coast. Meanwhile, southerners like to switch things up — Google Trends data found that the South prefers ham over turkey on Thanksgiving Day.

So, what to pair with your traditional turkey and ham? Nationwide, mashed potatoes are hands down the most popular side item for a Thanksgiving meal. And perennial favorite pumpkin pie is still preferred over sweet potato pie for dessert. We also found that of all 50 states, Montana seems to love Thanksgiving food the most. Folks in this state search online for Thanksgiving food more than anyone else, favoring mashed potatoes, stuffing, and green bean casserole over other menu options.

How people are celebrating

What's most important to people on Thanksgiving Day

Photo by Innerbody Research

For most Americans, Thanksgiving Day is a holiday defined by annual traditions and routines. Our survey revealed that having a meal is still the most common holiday tradition Americans participate in, with Thanksgiving dinner being more popular than lunch. The majority of respondents (37.4%) celebrate the holiday by attending a gathering of family and/or friends, but that isn’t for everyone. Some like to avoid the stress of hosting by eating out (14.9%), while others celebrate by paying it forward and volunteering for a charitable event (7.9%).

We also found that spending time with loved ones is the most important aspect of the Thanksgiving holiday for our survey respondents. Surprisingly, getting time off work is the highlight of the holiday for only 5.9% of people surveyed. And while some love the chance to indulge in delicious foods the most (24.9%), it seems that most people consider the top priority to be the time connecting with the people they care about. This begs the question — is all the frantic house-cleaning and fancy meal preparation worth the stress? Quality time and good conversation may be worth more of our focus.

Another tradition for some: shopping on Black Friday, with all of its deals and wild adventures (and misadventures). However, this much-hyped day doesn’t seem to be as big of a holiday must-do as it has been in the past, with only 7.6% of people we surveyed claiming it as a Thanksgiving ritual. Black Friday is still a huge money maker for businesses, but with the shift to online shopping, further spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic, it may now look different for the consumer. A quick online purchase (possibly waiting for Cyber Monday) isn’t the same as the in-person, waiting-in-line-at-midnight shopping trip of the past.

Lastly, with all of the hubbub around meals, time off work, and shopping, it’s easy to imagine that Americans have forgotten why we have a Thanksgiving Day holiday in the first place. However, more than four out of every five survey respondents reported that they feel the cultural and historical aspects of Thanksgiving are important.

Best & worst parts of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving traditions that people like and dislike

Photo by Innerbody Research

While the holidays can be a sweet time of reconnection and breaking bread, in reality, it’s not all sunshine and roses for everyone. We found that two in every five survey respondents have had one of those dreaded, uncomfortable experiences with family or in-laws during Thanksgiving gatherings. In fact, over 20% of people said that they find Thanksgiving extremely or very stressful.

So, what do people dread the most besides the expense, travel, and awkward political disagreements? Hosting. It seems not many enjoy all the cleaning and preparations involved in having friends and family over to celebrate.

As for making it to their holiday destination, our survey respondents reported traveling an average of 44 miles for Thanksgiving. Folks are also spending an average of $226 on Thanksgiving celebrations, no doubt thanks to the cost of groceries. But what about all of those leftovers? While 80% of people love next-day turkey and fixings, the other 20% are indifferent or hate them. Maybe a creative recipe for using that leftover turkey might sway those who turn their nose up at the idea.

Resources for navigating the holidays alone

It’s important to acknowledge that not everyone will spend the Thanksgiving holiday with loved ones, for whatever reason that may be. If you find yourself alone for the holidays, there are some things you can do to reframe your experience, as well as resources available if you need to reach out for help.

There’s no question that with all the emphasis on togetherness, spending the holidays by yourself can feel isolating and lonely. It may help to recreate the narrative you’ve made around what the holidays should look like, embracing that it may look different this time, and that’s okay. Try to make it a priority to practice self-care and acknowledge that “making it through” may be the only thing you need to consider Thanksgiving a success. Research studies have also found that spending time in nature can help improve depression and anxiety and could provide a welcome distraction.

A special note about grief — if you are experiencing the loss of a loved one, the Mayo Clinic and American Psychological Association have helpful insights for coping during the holidays.

Lastly, if you feel that you are struggling and it’s time to reach out for help, here are a list of resources that are available to you:


We surveyed 808 respondents and utilized Google Trends data to analyze how individuals celebrate the holiday and see which foods and traditions they love the most.

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Innerbody Research is committed to providing objective, science-based suggestions and research to help our readers make more informed decisions regarding health and wellness. We invested time and effort into creating this report to discover insights regarding the Thanksgiving Day holiday and provide resources for those who may be struggling during the holidays. We hope to reach as many people as possible by making this information widely available. As such, please feel free to share our content for educational, editorial, or discussion purposes. We only ask that you link back to this page and credit the author as



Innerbody uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

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