For many, the star of the show on Thanksgiving is the turkey; the sides are a close second, and the desserts are essential for finishing off the feast. But what about some special snacks to nibble on before the big meal?
It may seem like an overabundance of eats, but if done right, serving a few small bites before the feast will whet appetites instead of spoiling them. Setting out snacks will kill many birds (to to speak) with one stone: It will keep guests occupied and ensure they don't get too hungry while you tend to the remainder of the meal, provide people with a place to congregate — which helps keep them out of the kitchen (very important!) — giving the holiday host the gift of extra time to put the finishing touches on a show-stopping turkey day dinner.
Remember, though, the only thing that should be stuffed before dinner is the bird. So, try to keep the offerings light and avoid any foods that would be too rich and filling. Try following the two-bite rule when planning the pre-supper menu. Think hors d'oeuvre-sized items and other small, snackable foods. Opt for items that are crunchy, savory, salty and/or airy that will pique the palate but not weigh your guests down.
The following excellent appetizers include terrific toasts, delicious dips, crisp crostini and savory spreads from entertaining experts like Ina Garten, Martha Stewart, Bobby Flay, Sunny Anderson and many more. No one will be able to resist gobbling up these fun soups, light bites, salads and finger foods.
Finger foods and dips
One of Ina's go-to tricks is to keep some dough for slice-and-bake crackers in the freezer that she can throw in the oven when people are coming for drinks. The sharp Vermont cheddar and spicy chipotle chili powder with crunchy sea salt really wake up everyone's taste buds. Fair warning, though: They're addicive.
After making your own glazed nuts, you will never be satisfied with the store-bought variety again. Preparing them yourself allows you to control the levels of sugar and spice, choose the nuts that you like, and leave out the ones that you hate. Also, there's nothing like eating glazed nuts still warm from the oven, toasty and flavorful through and through. They're perfect served with a cocktail for an easy appetizer and will elevate any cheese-and-fruit plate to new heights.
Everything bagel spice gives these pigs-in-a-blanket a more grown-up vibe. This is a great recipe for family snacks any time of year but is especially fun for the holidays to counter the abundance of sweet snacks. The cranberry mustard is also great served with roasted turkey or pork and added to turkey sandwiches.
Giada De Laurentiis likes to whip up these crostini when guests stop by. The poached pears are especially comforting as the weather gets cooler. They're easy to make and always delight a crowd.
The opposing flavors and textures of the crispy, salty bacon and sweet, smooth pumpkin butter actually complement one another perfectly. The savory Brussels sprouts round out the autumnal flavor profile of this seasonal dish.
Whenever Ina has leftover baguette, she likes to slice it diagonally and keep it in the freezer. This way, you can make these cheesy toasts in minutes. Toast the bread slices, then add the garlic and goat cheese. They're perfect to serve with drinks or as a crouton to float on top of a bowl of soup.
This cheesy party pumpkin is the perfect edible showstopper for any festive fall gathering. With just a little mixing, some quick molding and a chill in the fridge, this savory centerpiece comes together with ease. Serve it with cracks and crudité for an easy, interactive appetizer.
We're immediate fans of any recipe that turns food waste into something delicious. If you're making something with gourds (a soup, perhaps?), don't toss the seeds! The texture of the pepitas along with the flavors of the spices make for a wonderful — and nutritious — snack before the big feast.
Ricotta is a great base for various dishes — especially dips and spreads. To celebrate in-season produce like squash, Will Coleman combines the two ingredients to make a velvety, sweet and tangy spread to serve on buttery toast. The flavors of cinnamon, maple and roasted squash are paired with crispy sage to bring it all together.
This elegant appetizer consists of delicata squash rings, roasted then tempura-battered and fried, then stuffed with a simple salad of raw pear, dried cherries, feta cheese and a few sprigs of arugula. The result is a sweet yet savory wonder, perfect for a starter or perhaps a decadent side dish on a holiday table. Feel free to substitute apples for the pear, golden raisins or dried cranberries for the dried cherries, grated Parmesan or pecorino for the feta and/or walnuts for the hazelnuts.
It's cloudy with a chance of mouthwatering meatballs! If you're looking for a new saucy spin on the beloved meatball, this recipe is it. The meatballs are moist and scrumptious, but it's really the sauce that takes these up a notch. While it's a combo of simple ingredients, it hits just the right notes — the Dijon brings zip, the mayo lends creaminess and the maple syrup provides a touch of gentle sweetness along with the light and flavorful broth. Everything comes together lickety-split, and it's ready to be served over pasta, skewered with toothpicks for pass-around hors d'oeuvres or you can make a meatball grilled cheese!
What could be better than a gooey dip with three kinds of melted cheese? That dip served in a hollowed-out pumpkin! The rich queso is flavored with fresh and dried herbs, but also gets infused with loads of pumpkin flavor while it cooks.
Shrimp cocktail and a martini so cold it hurts your fingers: It simply does not get much better than that — especially when kicking off a holiday. The classic cocktail sauce is always a winner, but if you're looking to shake things up, try Molly Baz's dilly horseradish cream — you won't regret it.
Talk about an easy way to impress guests! These pear and brie tarts (which, crucially, use store-bought puff pastry) are great on their own or as part of a larger charcuterie board.
Appetizers are a staple for any gathering, and these deviled eggs are a perfect pre-meal snack to whip up. Classic deviled eggs can feel a bit a played-out, but with this garlicky, cheesy and bacon-packed recipe, deviled eggs become exciting again. If you're ever left tasked with bringing an appetizer, these come in handy because you can make them ahead of time, they take under 30 minutes to put together and you can customize them to your own tastes.
This is one of Siri Daly's go-to appetizers for holiday entertaining. Pair roasted butternut squash with creamy ricotta and caramelized leeks and serve the combination on crusty toast. Drizzled with thick, balsamic glaze for a little edge, you are left with a satisfyingly rich appetizer that will certainly please all.
Classic spinach and artichoke dip gets a flavorful revamp. Chicken seasoning and queso fresco add extra savory flavor and rich texture to this comforting dip. It still packs in all the creaminess and nostalgic flavors of the original, but with a pepped-up taste everyone will love.
Egg rolls are one of the all-time most versatile foods! It's so fun to change up the fillings and switch around the flavor profiles. And it's always a great surprise to bite into a crispy roll and find a smoky, cheesy filling inside.
This dish is ideal for parties because it is fast, easy to make, affordable, super light, full of flavor and perfect for any time of day. The flavors are subtle and elegant giving the crostini a sophisticated flair. The toasty hazelnuts, creamy ricotta, sweet honey with earthy truffles and piney rosemary make these perfect for autumn entertaining.
Joy Bauer makes Brussels sprouts are so cute, they're nearly irresistible. She's served them to super finicky eaters, and even they wind up popping more than a few in their mouths. This can be a side dish or an appetizer, and it's a cinch to make — only three ingredients (and one of them is turkey bacon!). You can't beat that.
Swapping butternut squash for potatoes makes these fries more nutritious and flavorful. The savory citrus lemon-Parmesan aioli pairs perfectly with the natural sweetness of the crispy squash. An impossibly light and crunchy coating will keep guests coming back for more.
These crostini are perfect served warm or at room temperature. They can be made eight hours in advance and just stored lightly covered at room temperature. You can pop in the oven for two minutes just to reheat or crisp up, if needed just before serving. Plus, the bacon can be made several hours in advance.
Sunny Anderson spices up nuts with cranberry and rosemary for the holidays. A simple glaze and quick roast elevate the flavors of toasty pecans. It's a simple snack to set out any time and also makes a great edible gift.
Set out a selection of breads and crackers, whipped feta and caponata, so that guests can make their own fun bites. Its interactive snacking at its best! The layers of flavor from the caponata are simple but great, while the salty bacon and capers and sweet raisins provide a variety of textures.
Ina tops goat cheese toasts with homemade fig preserves. "OMG, this may be the best thing I've ever made!" she says. "Whenever I serve these at a get-together, my guests always insist on taking the leftovers home!
What could possibly make crispy sweet potatoes better? How about a topping of candied bacon (aka "pig candy")? The mingling of smoky, sweet, salty and savory flavors is so good it's almost intoxicating.
Most marinated feta consists of cubes of feta swimming in a large jar of olive oil, which can make the feta oily. Instead, Ina slices it and sprinkle it with thyme, fennel, crushed red pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. The flavor is much cleaner and brighter. Serve this with toasted pita triangles or on a Greek mezze platter with hummus, olives and stuffed grape leaves.
These inventive bites turn a classic bloody mary cocktail into a delectable appetizer. They're a refreshing departure from the usual party fare, are so fun to dip and they're vegan-friendly. The skewers and dip can be prepped ahead which is always a wonderful time-saver.
Candied bacon is always a home run. Keep the bacon strips whole and stuff them into a mint julep cup to make the perfect nibble for any cocktail party or festive occasion. The whole process, including cooling, will take no more than an hour. Just make sure you remove the bacon-wrapped bread sticks from the foil immediately after removing from oven or they will stick like glue to the foil.
Martha Stewart's show-stopping, gooey baked brie is perfect for cocktail hour. Your goal is to welcome guests with nibbles, not fill them up too much before the main event. Start with store-bought puff pastry (a great time-saver!) and roll in ground pecans, which add a nutty note to this mouth-watering appetizer. Sliced baguette and tart apple wedges, along with a compote of fruit, balance out the buttery richness. Also, you get to express your artistic side with the pastry leaf decoration!
This recipe takes cream cheese and sausage dip to a whole new level by stuffing it into bite-sized mushrooms. It's a portable pick-up guests will love. For a vegetarian option, omit the sausage and add the chopped the mushroom stems to the dip mixture.
Lidia Bastianich coaxes the fruity flavor out of olives by roasting them. Big green Castelvetrano olives are delicious prepared this way, but any meaty olive will do well. Just change the baking time according to the size.
Laura Vitale gives the classic, creamy butternut squash soup a fragrant, textural twist with crispy sage leaves.
Tortilla soup is a slightly spicy Southwestern staple. It is one of a handful of soups that you might associate with warmer weather — but not when there is pumpkin involved. Tortilla soup can be made in a few ways. Some prefer it brothy, with bite-sized bits of vegetables, tomatoes, chiles and corn tortillas. Others like to blend the soup into a creamy, sippable mixture that’s thickened by the starches in the tortillas. This recipe is more like the former but can easily be blended if you prefer a creamy soup.
Fresh garlic, onions and ginger build the foundation of this nourishing sweet potato soup. The coconut milk brings richness, and the miso paste provides a well-rounded depth of flavor that can't be beat!
In addition to being a gorgeous, festive dish, this sweet, earthy carrot soup is really healthy and will boost your guests up with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory ingredients before a heavy meal.
Charring the cauliflower gives this creamy, luscious soup a wonderfully smoky flavor. It's easy to make and can even be made ahead of time and frozen so when it's time to entertain, all you need to do is heat it up and ladle it out.
Make something that's hot and sweet this season: butternut squash soup with fiery, smoky chipotles and sweet maple syrup to tame the flame.
This sneakily healthy starter is both comforting and unique. We love the crispy quinoa topping because it's like mini croutons that coat each vegetable. For extra crunch, use the seeds from the squash.
Traditionally, collards are braised and simmered, but in this unique and refreshing preparation, JJ Johnson keeps the greens raw and balances their natural bitterness with a bright, sweet and spicy dressing for a delightful change.
This salad hits on all the textural and flavor elements you want in a great side dish. It has tender braised beets, crunchy quinoa, crumbly cheese and crunchy sunflower seeds. It's a little salty, slightly sweet and each bite keeps you coming back for more.
Sunny Anderson's Brussels sprout salad has the big flavors of the holidays — cranberries, pecans, rosemary, nutmeg — while still being fresh and light. It's a refreshing reprieve from all the heavy eating of the rest of the meal.
A nourishing yet light salad, this easy side or main dish has protein-rich nuts, nutritious squash and a piquant vinaigrette that gently coats the tender greens.
Forget the romaine and make this incredible salad with charred broccoli bits. This nontraditional dish borrows ideas from three different countries. The Caesar salad was invented in Mexico, the migas (toasted seasoned bread) hails from Spain and the dressing has a dollop of Japanese miso in it.
Hearty kale finely chopped, flecks of salty pancetta and sharp bites of pecorino cheese give this simple salad appetizer an inviting blast of savory flavors.
What's better than a warm, bread salad on a crisp autumn night? Well, one that features fall ingredients, such as squash, sprouts, sage and maple syrup. This is a Daly family favorite to serve during the months before winter.