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Snacking Is the Best Part of Thanksgiving

Consider this permission to go ham on that cheese plate

Cornucopia containing various snacks, including a  ham, grapes, and bagels. Heedayah Lockman/Eater
Jaya Saxena is a Correspondent at, and the series editor of Best American Food Writing. She explores wide ranging topics like labor, identity, and food culture.

Once, I went to a Thanksgiving where no one was allowed to eat before dinner. Everyone was expected to mingle around the kitchen, cooking what would be on the table that evening, with nothing to sustain them. I still don’t understand it. Yes, the big dinner is the reason everyone RSVP’d, but who doesn’t know that snacking is the best part of Thanksgiving?

My Thanksgiving is filled with snacks, many of which I tend to only enjoy during the holiday. There’s usually a plate of Boursin and crackers (don’t sleep on the cracked black pepper flavor), a spinach artichoke dip with truly the best tortilla chips, or a plate of fried kielbasa from the Polish butcher around the corner. There’s always a Honey Baked Ham sitting on the table long before the meal is served, cousins ripping bits off to dip in mustard as everyone vies for oven space, or yells that someone needs to go out for more ice, more lemons, more wine.

Embracing holiday snacking is practical. No one wants to fill up precious stomach space before the meal that everyone spent hours, sometimes days, making, but no one wants a hangry dinner table either. You need to be strategic, eating just enough to keep your stomach expanded and ready for dinner.

But more than that, snacks are a different kind of comfort food from what’s served for the main meal. It’s more casual, less fussed over, and often extremely familiar — as opposed to the once-a-year enjoyments of the dinner table. Warm stuffing is a comfort, but so is a bagel platter brought over that morning or a tray of fudgy Silver Palate brownies. And it’s a place where family members can experiment. Maybe it seems like Too Much to introduce a new dish to the sacred dinner table, but bringing a plate of arancini or a new dip you wanted to try out for everyone to nosh on eases the pressure.

When I think of my favorite Thanksgiving moments, it’s always over the pre-meal snacks, when all hands are on deck to cut vegetables, but there’s a tray of brownies or a plate of samosas out. It’s in this time, anticipating the meal but also beginning to partake, where memories are made. Family members catch up and gossip, people putter through old photo albums, everyone is just bustling. It makes it feel like a party, rather than an obligatory holiday. So let this be an excuse to buy your favorite cheeses, some fancy fruit, or maybe even make your own crackers, even if you have a 20-pound turkey coming. Your party will be better for it.

Heedayah Lockman is a Glasgow-based illustrator and designer.