The Harris Poll Reveals Americans' Favorite Things About Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving is just around the corner and Americans across the country are planning what to serve, who they’ll dine with, and where they’ll eat. According to a recent Harris Poll, vast majority of adults indicate they celebrate Thanksgiving (96 percent), but it’s not always all about the food. Nine in 10 Americans agree Thanksgiving is more about who you’re with than what you’re eating (90 percent).

While food may not be the most important part of the holiday, it’s certainly a critical part for many. Nearly three quarters (73%) agree having a fridge full of leftovers is the best thing about hosting Thanksgiving. Turkey sandwiches may be the very thing they’re looking forward to as seven in 10 adults also agree it’s not a proper Thanksgiving meal if there’s no turkey (70 percent).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,037 U.S. adults aged 18 and up surveyed online between Nov. 2 and 4, 2016.

The People

Seven in 10 adults also agree it’s not a proper Thanksgiving meal unless you celebrate with family (71 percent). And along these lines, over six in 10 Americans (62 percent) say they prepare Thanksgiving meals with family, while 15 percent do so with friends. Adults planning to attend a meal with family will have two Thanksgiving meals, on average. This number jumps up to an average of about three meals among those who are part of multi-ethnic/multi-cultural families.

Twelve percent also indicate they celebrate the tradition of “friends-giving” – a Thanksgiving meal exclusively celebrated with friends. “Friends-giving” is particularly popular among 18-34 year olds compared to older adults (19 percent 18-34 vs. 14 percent 35-44; 6 percent 45-54; 11 percent 55-64; 9 percent 65 and up). Those who are planning to attend a “friends-giving” meal will have about two meals with friends, on average.

The Places

A majority of Americans say they typically celebrate Thanksgiving at their own home (61 percent) or a family member’s home (52 percent). The latter is, perhaps unsurprisingly, most common for those ages 18-34 (64 percent) compared to older adults. Those with kids in the house are more likely than those without to host in their own home (67 percent vs. 57 percent), as are those with multi-cultural families (69 percent vs. 59 percent with non-multicultural families). About one in 10 celebrate at a friend’s home (11 percent) or a restaurant (8 percent).

Whether it’s at their home or someone else’s, most Americans prefer the homey feeling of Thanksgiving meal as just 26 percent of adults say they would much rather eat in a restaurant on Thanksgiving than cook dinner. Eating at home has other perks as well as nearly three in 10 (28 percent) say they typically have the television on while eating their Thanksgiving meal.

Diverse Dishes

A majority of Americans indicate their holiday meals typically consist of several “traditional American” dishes including turkey or ham (80 percent), side dishes – like mashed potatoes and green beans – (77 percent), and dessert, including apple pie or pecan pie (72 percent). However, not everyone’s Thanksgivings are as traditional as one might picture. Interestingly enough, nearly three in 10 Americans, prepare these same traditional dishes with an ethnic twist or cooking method from another culture (29 percent). As well, these meals now include side dishes (22 percent), a main dish (16 percent), or dessert (14 percent) from another ethnicity or culture. Some non-traditional, ethnic-inspired dishes that will be served up at holiday meals include kimchi, ceviche, enchiladas, halal dishes, gorton, pierogis, pernil, rutamus, and kishka.

Those who have a multi-cultural family are significantly more likely than those who don’t to serve a culturally-diverse dish: 47 percent serve a side dish from another ethnicity or culture (vs. 18 percent among non-multi-cultural families); 45 percent serve a “traditional American” dish prepared with a cooking method or flavor from another ethnicity or culture (vs. 26 percent); 39 percent serve a main dish or entrée from another culture (vs. 12 percent); and 27 percent serve a dessert from another culture (vs. 12 percent)

While cooking from scratch may be seen as the traditional way, nearly two in 10 (18 percent) say they’d prefer to make Thanksgiving dinner from a meal kit, with ingredients and instructions pre-portioned and delivered to their doors. Younger adults, those 18-54, are significantly more likely than older Americans to be open to the idea of holiday meal kits (32 percent 18-34; 27% 35-44; 16 percent 45-54; 8 percent 55-64; 5 percent 65+). Those with kids in the house are also more likely to agree they prefer meal kits – nearly three times as much as those without kids in house (31 percent vs. 11 percent, respectively).

"Thanksgiving traditions are shifting, affecting everything from how people shop to what they cook to who they’re celebrating with," says Jordan Rost, vice president of consumer insights at Nielsen. "As the U.S. becomes increasingly more diverse and digital continues to transform the retail environment, Americans will start to trade out some of their traditional plans to modernize the holiday, such as opting for click-and-collect grocery purchases to delivery kits to celebrate the festivities this year."

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