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What to make for a non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner

St. Jude friends and family share some non-traditional Thanksgiving (or Friendsgiving) recipes to give your holiday a unique flavor.

Thanksgiving Turkey by St. Jude patient Cooper

Art by St. Jude patient Ethan


For many, a traditional Thanksgiving dinner revolves around a juicy turkey, delicious stuffing, cranberry sauce and potatoes (sweet and/or mashed). But with the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s holiday may be different for many families: socially distanced gatherings or fewer friends and family to keep everyone safe.

So you may be asking yourself: “What should I cook for Thanksgiving?”

Why not take the opportunity to forgo the customary meal and try some alternative Thanksgiving meals? St. Jude offers you a few recipes from patient families and some celebrity chefs that you can use to cook up a fresh and satisfying non-traditional Thanksgiving meal.

And this holiday season, please consider donating to St. Jude to help families of children being treated for cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Your gift helps ensure families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live. Why support St. Jude?

What appetizers to make for Thanksgiving dinner?

  1. This Corn and Poblano Dip is as favorite snack of celebrity chef Lorena Garcia and is a great non-traditional way to whet your Thanksgiving appetite. She first shared this recipe during our Music Gives: Together #forstjude livestream event in August.

    Chef Lorena makes her Corn and Pobalno Dip


    • 6 ears of corn, husked
    • 4 poblano chili peppers
    • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
    • 1 garlic clove, finely grated
    • 8 oz. crème fraîche/Greek natural yogurt
    • 8 oz. sour cream
    • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
    • 1/4 cup sharp cheddar
    • 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese
    • 3 tablespoons hot sauce, plus more for serving
    • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • Pork rinds or corn chips


    1. Prepare a grill for medium-high heat.
    2. Grill corn, turning occasionally, until well charred, 10–12 minutes. Cut kernels from cobs and place in a large bowl.
    3. Grill peppers, turning occasionally, until skins are blackened, 12–15 minutes.
    4. Transfer peppers to a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let steam 15 minutes.
    5. Preheat oven to 450°.
    6. Remove skin, stems, and seeds from peppers; chop flesh into ¼" pieces. In a sauté pan, cook the onions and garlic until translucent (3 min), add the lime juice, sour cream and crème fraîche (natural Greek yogurt), then add both cheeses (cheddar and mozzarella). 
    7. Serve with pork rinds or corn chips.

What side dishes to make for Thanksgiving dinner?

  1. Every holiday season for the past 14 years, Chef Adrianne Calvo comes to St. Jude and cooks up a Thanksgiving meal for all the St. Jude families. Her holiday stuffing is one of the signature dishes.

    Chef Lorena makes her Corn and Pobalno Dip


    • 1/4 cup canola oil
    • 1/2 cup bacon, thinly sliced
    •  1 pound andouille sausage, diced
    •  1 cup yellow onion, minced
    • 1 cup green onion, minced
    • 1/2 cup celery, minced
    • 1/2 cup green bell pepper, minced
    • 3 tablespoons garlic, minced
    • 1 tablespoon jalapeño, minced
    • 1 cup green apple, small dice
    • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
    • 6 1/2 cups corn bread, crumbled
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
    • 5 cups chicken broth
    • 6 tablespoons melted butter


    1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
    2. In a large skillet, add canola oil and bacon. Cook over medium high heat for 3-5 minutes until bacon renders fat. Add sausage. Stir.
    3. Add onions, peppers, garlic and jalapeño. Cook just until onions become translucent, about 5 minutes.
    4. Add diced apple and cranberries. Set aside.
    5. In a large bowl, add cornbread crumbles and mix. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne. Moisten with stock and butter. Place in a baking pan.
    6. Bake for 45 minutes or until edges and top begin to brown.
  1. At St. Jude, just the act of eating can help patients in their recovery. But sometimes they may not feel like eating at all. Or they have a certain craving and only one food sounds good to them. In those times, our chefs strive to get a patient exactly what he or she craves. Even if it’s a special family recipe, like Grandma’s Mac and Cheese.

    Macaroni and cheese


    • 3 tablespoons of plain dry breadcrumbs
    • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
    • 1 3/4 cup whole milk, divided
    • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    • 2 cups grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese (6 oz)
    • 1 cup fontina cheese
    • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
    • Freshly ground pepper to taste
    • 8 oz. elbow macaroni or penne



    1. Put a large pot of lightly salted water onto boil.
    2. Preheat oven to 350°F.
    3. Coat an 8-inch square (2-quart) baking dish with cooking spray.
    4. Mix breadcrumbs, oil and paprika in a small bowl.
    5. Heat 1 1/2 cups milk in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until steaming. Whisk remaining 1/4 cup milk and flour in a small bowl until smooth; add to the hot milk and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce simmers and thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Cheddar until melted. Stir in fontina cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
    6. Cook pasta until al dente, or until not quite tender. It will continue to cook during baking. Drain and add to the cheese sauce; mix well. Spread the pasta mixture in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture. Bake until bubbly and golden, 25 to 30 minutes.

What desserts to make for Thanksgiving dinner?

  1. What's "nutriolicious" you ask? It's a cooking class at St. Jude to help our patients and families improve their nutrition while teaching them about healthful food choices. St. Jude patient Dakota (pictured below) offered to share one of his recipes: Nutriolicious Muffins.

    Chef Lorena makes her Corn and Pobalno Dip


    • 1 1/2 cups flour (mix 50/50 whole wheat and white or use whole wheat pastry flour, for fiber)
    • 3/4 cup sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce (takes place of oil)
    • 1 egg
    • 1 cup fresh blueberries
    • 1/3 cup milk or non-dairy alternative


    1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). 
    2. Grease muffin cups or line with muffin liners.
    3. Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 tsp baking powder
    4. Place apple sauce into a 1 cup measuring cup; add the egg and enough milk to fill the cup. Mix this with flour mixture. 
    5. Fold in blueberries. Fill muffin cups right to the top, and sprinkle with crumb topping mixture.
    6. Cook @ 400 degrees, bake for 20-25 minutes
  1. Follow up Chef Calvo's savory Andouille Sausage, Cran-apple Cornbread Stuffing with the sweet delishishness of her Cuban Flan, one of the staple desserts of her annual holiday meal she and her team cook for St. Jude families each year.



    • 1 whole egg
    • 5 egg yolks
    • 1 (12 oz.) can evaporated milk
    • Pinch of salt
    • 1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 


    1. Make your favorite caramel recipe in a saucepan, then pour into the bottom of a casserole dish. As you prepare the custard, the caramel will cool. 
    2. In a separate bowl, using a whisk, beat the 1 whole egg and 5 egg yolks together. 
    3. Add the evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk to the eggs and mix together. 
    4. Add the vanilla extract and the pinch of salt.
    5. Pour the custard mixture into the casserole dish over the hardened caramel. Place your flan on a baking pan and fill with hot water to about halfway up the sides. 
    6. Bake in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. Turn off the oven and let set for another 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and the water bath and let cool. Run a butter knife around the outside edge of the flan. Place a plate large enough to handle the liquid caramel over the flan and invert. Chill the flan for at least an hour before serving. Serves 8

    This cuban flan recipe appears courtesy of Chef Calvo, and was originally published in her third cookbook, #MaximumFlavorSocial: Food, Family & Followers.


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