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Is mac and cheese a common Thanksgiving dish?

Mac and cheese is a classic American dish that seems to go with any occasion. Its creamy, cheesy goodness is hard to resist! But is it actually common to see mac and cheese served at Thanksgiving dinner? Let’s take a closer look.

The History of Mac and Cheese

Mac and cheese traces its origins back to 14th century Europe. The earliest known recipe was published in the Italian cookbook Liber de Coquina in the 1300s. It called for sheets of pasta boiled and layered with parmesan cheese.

Mac and cheese made its way to America in the 1700s, with the earliest known recipe published in The Virginia Housewife cookbook in 1824. The classic American version used elbow macaroni and a cheese sauce made with cheddar cheese.

Kraft first introduced their boxed mac and cheese in 1937 during the Great Depression. It became an economical and easy dinner staple for families. Sales really took off during World War II, when boxed mac and cheese was included in soldiers’ rations. After the war, Kraft’s marketing helped make it a classic American comfort food.

The Tradition of Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving as we know it traces back to 1621, when English Pilgrims held a harvest feast with members of the Wampanoag tribe. However, it did not become a national holiday until 1863 when President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.

Traditional Thanksgiving dinners tend to center around roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. These dishes reflect the fall harvest and traditional New England cuisine. Many of them date back to the original Thanksgiving feast.

Over the centuries, regional and family favorites have made their way onto the Thanksgiving table. But the core dishes remain the same, with turkey as the centerpiece. Mac and cheese is not typically considered part of a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Is Mac and Cheese Actually Common at Thanksgiving?

Mac and cheese seems to straddle the line between a classic and non-traditional Thanksgiving dish. Surveys and polls over the past decade give us some insight into its prevalence:

Grocery Store Data

  • A 2015 survey of major grocery chains found that mac and cheese was one of the top 5 items showing the biggest sales increase around Thanksgiving.
  • However, turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls, pie, and other classic sides still dominated Thanksgiving grocery purchases.

Opinion Polls

  • In a 2019 poll by YouGov, only 21% of respondents said mac and cheese was a Thanksgiving staple.
  • A 2011 Allrecipes poll found that mac and cheese ranked outside the top 10 essential Thanksgiving dishes.

Google Search Trends

  • Google search volume for “mac and cheese Thanksgiving” peaks in November but is still far below searches for traditional dishes.
  • From 2004 to 2022, search interest remained relatively flat, not showing a strong upward trend.

Recipe Sites

  • On Allrecipes, mac and cheese Thanksgiving recipes make up less than 3% of all Thanksgiving recipes.
  • FoodNetwork and Epicurious have a small handful of mac and cheese Thanksgiving recipes among hundreds of traditional options.

So while interest in mac and cheese around Thanksgiving has increased slightly over the years, it still seems to be relatively uncommon compared to classic turkey day dishes.

When is Mac and Cheese Served at Thanksgiving?

If mac and cheese does make an appearance on the Thanksgiving table, when and how is it typically served?

As a Side Dish

Some families, especially those with kids or picky eaters, serve it as a side dish alongside classics like mashed potatoes and stuffing. It can provide familiar comfort and appeal to less adventurous eaters.

As an Appetizer

A few hosts serve mac and cheese cups or baked bites as an appetizer before the main Thanksgiving feast. This can be a fun, casual starter for guests.

As Leftovers

Leftover mac and cheese makes for an easy late night snack or next day meal after all the Thanksgiving cooking is done. Families may prepare it after Thanksgiving for this reason.

Instead of Green Bean Casserole

For hosts that want to mix up their side dish options, mac and cheese can provide a creamy, cheesy alternative to green bean casserole.

As a Dessert

Sweet variations like maple bacon mac and cheese are sometimes served as a unique dessert alongside pumpkin and apple pie.

Regional and Demographic Differences

Mac and cheese appeal at Thanksgiving appears to vary somewhat demographically and by region. Here are a few noticeable patterns:

Households with Children

Homes with kids under 18 are more likely to report mac and cheese as a Thanksgiving tradition. It’s a favorite dish many children enjoy.

Younger Generations

Millennials and Generation Z seem more likely than Baby Boomers to want non-traditional or nostalgic comfort food at Thanksgiving, such as mac and cheese.

African American Families

Soul food style mac and cheese is especially popular in African American communities, making it a common sight on Thanksgiving tables.

Southern and Midwestern States

Interest in mac and cheese sides for Thanksgiving is much higher in Southern states like Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina as well as Midwestern states like Iowa and Illinois.

So while mac and cheese may not be considered a national Thanksgiving staple, its popularity in certain regions and demographic groups boosts its overall presence at Thanksgiving meals.

The Verdict

After reviewing trends in grocery sales, opinion polls, Google searches, recipes, and regional differences, the verdict is in on mac and cheese as a Thanksgiving tradition:

While interest has increased slightly in recent years, mac and cheese still only makes it to a minority of Thanksgiving tables compared to staples like turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and pie. It seems to complement, rather than displace, traditional Thanksgiving favorites.

Mac and cheese appeals for its nostalgia, comfort, and kid-friendliness. But America’s Thanksgiving palate still skews more traditional than trendy. That said, there’s no right or wrong way to do Thanksgiving dinner. Whether enjoying long-held food traditions or making new ones, the holiday spirit is what matters most.


Mac and cheese may never reach the same levels of Thanksgiving popularity as turkey or pumpkin pie. But its versatility as a side, appetizer, late night snack, or regional favorite will likely keep it on the radar for a subset of Thanksgiving hosts. Interest in non-traditional Thanksgiving dishes rises and falls over the generations, so mac and cheese may oscillate between trendy newcomer and nostalgic staple indefinitely. One thing is certain – regardless of what dishes grace the table, Thanksgiving dinner provides us all an opportunity to embrace gratitude.