What’s the best time for the holiday meal?

You’ve set your Thanksgiving (or other holiday) menu, gathered the ingredients, cleaned the china and linens, and are all set to start your feast. Now the question remains: what time should you serve the meal? The Washington Post’s Becky Krystal recently explored this question, and found the time periods that met with the most approval.

Accidental turkey from Food Network Magazine by Ina Garten

Krystal took an informal poll of friends and family to determine what the best time was for eating Thanksgiving dinner. The poll responses varied from noon to 9:00 p.m. Those opting for the earliest time felt that you could get a second meal much easier that way, but eating at noon is a challenge when cooking a large turkey and all of the sides. For those who opted for a much later mealtime (7 to 9 pm), tradition played a huge role.

The two most popular time periods were 2 to 4 pm and 5 to 6 pm. For the former, this allows cooks enough time to get all of the food cooked without starting in the pre-dawn hours while still allowing guests time for a postprandial walk or more socializing. For the 5 to 6 pm crowd, the ability to work at a more leisurely pace in the kitchen was a key benefit, as were increased chances to socialize both before and after the meal.

My family always opted for a midafternoon Thanksgiving dinner. Since we lived in a far north latitude, this meant that everyone would arrive well before the sun’s rays had vanished, and it might even be light for a bit after the meal if anyone wanted a breath of fresh air (given how many people we stuffed into my grandparents’ house, that was a common occurrence). This timing has carried through for me and my husband even though our family members are now scattered across the country and we no longer host or attend such huge gatherings. How about your families – what time do you like to eat your holiday meals?

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  • cookbookaddict2020  on  November 23, 2022

    we used to do “dinner”, like 5, but more recently we switched to a casual midday setup and it’s so much better. Folks eat; the kids run around in the daylight; when folks get bored they walk to the park, leaving the house quiet while hostess rests, there’s a regroup later in the afternoon for more pie and coffee, and folks go home. The kids don’t get crabby, the whole day is easy and leisurely, it’s perfect. And I don’t understand the problem with the turkey. I’ve never done a turkey that needs to be in the oven more than 3 hours… I guess there are some monsters that go longer, but so what, they should be in the pan the night before anyway, just stick them in the oven when you get up.

  • Indio32  on  November 23, 2022

    For us it’s Christmas and the plan is always to get the festive meal ready for 1pm even if it means a really early start. Then in the evening it’s just about picking.
    Evening sittings seems odd IMHO….. you have to spend the whole day ‘hungry’ waiting for the main event or you eat and spoil your appetite. Then a few hours after eating a large festive evening meal its bedtime. Not conducive to a good night’s sleep.
    I wonder if this is a UK/US thing as I think everyone I know eats at lunchtime with desert in front on the TV to watch the Queens speech.

  • Rinshin  on  November 23, 2022

    When my mom and my brother was still with us, we normally had 8-12 people gathering. Sometimes more people if other relatives and friends joined us. We did lots of appetizers, snacks, and dips so people can relax and eat while mom and I did all the cooking. My SI L did some chopping etc, while my dad and my husband sit the table. Our meals were usually around 3:30 to 4:30-5 PM. Now, it is much less people. I usually like to keep it to 6 people and under and eating about 4PM.

  • LeilaD  on  November 24, 2022

    Since it’s just my husband and I at the table, I start cooking whenever I get off my duff (usually after the Macy’s Day Parade) and we eat when it hits the table- but usually between 1-2.

  • lkgrover  on  November 25, 2022

    Lately, my family has had Thanksgiving & Christmas dinner starting between 12:00 and 2:00. If my sister-in-law hosts, she begins appetizers around 11:00 and dinner around 1:00. My mom does not serve appetizers, but begins dinner earlier. Dessert is served about 2 hours after dinner. Then a second meal of leftovers is served around 6:00 p.m. (I just show up wherever the celebration is, usually providing the desserts.)

    As a child, holiday meals depended on my father’s work schedule. If he was off work, we celebrated as above. If he had to work, dinner was often delayed until 6:00-7:00 p.m.

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