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Millennial Meals

Younger generations are bringing new traditions to Thanksgiving.

Millennial Meals
By Joan Tupponce

Jamie Kohler and Laura Rabideau, both millennials, are already looking forward to a Thanksgiving meal with their families. Kohler is craving mashed potatoes, and Rabideau must have turkey during the holiday.

“My mom would always host Thanksgiving at our house,” says 26-year-old Rabideau, who lives in Henrico. “All of my aunts, uncles and cousins came over. We treated Thanksgiving more like a potluck where each family was responsible for a dish.”

Millennials like Kohler and Rabideau still want their grandmother’s cooking, but “they want more variety on their plate, not just their grandmother’s cooking,” explains Katherine Wintsch, founder and chief executive of The Mom Complex in Richmond.

While traditional Thanksgiving fare is always on the menu, the food on the Thanksgiving table has evolved over the last few years thanks to millennials who range in age from 18 to 33.

“The food is more likely sourced locally. It’s more organic, more ethnic and more diverse,” Wintsch says. “You’ll find less Stove Top stuffing and more Sriracha-flavored stuffing. It’s not the traditional fare.”

Why the change? In part because millennials are likely to travel and are exposed to more cultures than previous generations. “They are picking and choosing new traditions from the people around them,” Wintsch says. “Previous generations were surrounded by people like themselves. Millennials are a little bit more original. They don’t want to follow all the traditions that came before them. They want to make some of their own.”

Whole Foods recently surveyed 900 of its customers on how they plan to celebrate and shop for the upcoming holidays. Sixty-six percent of millennials said they want new variations on traditional or classic dishes as well as more healthful makeovers of traditional dishes. Fifty-nine percent said that brands should actively contribute to a higher cause.

Kohler, 23, who lives in Chesterfield, says the “millennial generation has a more casual outlook on lots of things, which affects holiday traditions.”

Both she and Rabideau have incorporated a new tradition – Friendsgiving – into their holiday meal planning. The twist on Thanksgiving allows people to share a holiday gathering with all their friends separate from the traditional family meal.

“Since a lot of millennials have moved away from their hometown, they have begun to lean on their friends for a support system,” Rabideau says.

Rabideau now has her Thanksgiving meal with family on the actual holiday but also has a Friendsgiving the following weekend.

When it comes to the holiday meal, millennials are likely to turn to the Internet for ideas. “I do think they are influenced by Facebook and Pinterest,” Wintsch says. “They are likely to get ideas from those sites for dishes they haven’t tried before for Thanksgiving. In general I think they are looking to spice it up.”

Stephen Coffelt, event manager at A Sharper Palate Catering Co. in Henrico, finds that pictures of food and beverages that have gone viral via social media are sparking recent holiday meal requests.

He is also seeing many more requests for kale salads, vegan selections and unique ethnic food items. “Specialty food requests we have recently encountered have been for comfort foods from Poland, Cuba and Iran,” he says.

Millennials have a much broader palate than previous generations, Wintsch says: “Food is extremely important to them. They have different cultural influences on their food. They might have Chinese one day and Thai the next.”

Quality of food is more important to Kohler than ever before. “For the first time, I am extra conscious of what I am eating,” she says. “I look at labels now and try to understand what the ingredients actually mean for my body. As for Thanksgiving, I definitely limit myself and try to eat less and not binge.”

Millennials want to keep the holiday simple and alleviate stress during food preparation. “In general people want to keep their traditions but with less work,” says Jo Natale, vice president of media relations for grocer Wegmans, noting that they may order everything from a fully cooked holiday dinner to prepared desserts.

Preparing items in advance of Thanksgiving isn’t something most millennials care to do. “They are not cooking for two or three days,” Wintsch says. “When it comes to millennials, they are more likely to have a potluck-style Thanksgiving. Gone are the days of sweating in the kitchen for 15 days. They are focused on less work and less labor and more quality time with the guests.”