German Side Dish Ideas for Thanksgiving Dinner

When I was growing up, my mother never made the traditional American Thanksgiving meal of big roast Turkey, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, etc.  We would have a German meal instead (which was fine by me, I’ll take a pork roast any day). Still, after being married to an American, I learned to make the American meal, and incorporate a few German side dish ideas for Thanksgiving Dinner. You may not get out of putting marshmallows on sweet potatoes (I still don’t care much for that), but you can bring some delicious German foods to the table that won’t look so strange (and will compliment the Turkey very well).

Win win…everyone is happy!

German Side Dish Ideas for Thanksgiving Dinner

It doesn’t have to be radical changes… just a few twists on the standards will make your traditional Thanksgiving Meal a little bit German. Remember, Thanksgiving is a celebration to give thanks for the blessings of the year. The early colonists celebrated their success in the New World (fyi… they had LOBSTER on the menu). Like the German Erntedankfest, the idea of giving thanks… for the Harvest, for our blessings, all we have, is about coming together and being grateful. You can eat what you like.

Instead of Butternut Squash Soup- German Kurbis Suppe

To me, German Kurbissuppe or Pumpkin Cream Soup has a much milder flavor than the American counterpart. What makes this really international is the Hokkaido pumpkin (from Japan). Around the world in one soup! Add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar (a good one) if you want it to look fancy. Or maybe sprinkle it with a few roasted shelled pumpkin seeds.
English recipe for Kurbis Suppe
Watch it made here–

Or go ahead and take the short cut with this instant–> Kurbiscreme Suppe

Instead of Salad with Ranch or Italian Dressing- German Salatteller

Creamy German salad dressing

A Green Salad made from Butter Lettuce with a semi sweet Cream Dressing would sit at the center of each salad plate. Around it, little piles of Beet Salad, Tomato Salad, Green Bean Salad, Cucumber Salad, and even Celariac Salad. You could mix and match your favorites. This added a lot of color and veggies to the dinner table!
Find the recipes here –
Green Salad with Sweet Cream Dressing
Rote Beete Salat- Beet Salad
Tomaten Salat- Tomato Salad
Grüne Bohnen Salat- Green Bean Salad
Gurken Salat- Cucumber Salad
Creamy Cucumber Salad
Sellerie Salat- Celery Root Salad

Instead of Stuffing- Semmel Klöße

Semmel Klöße or Bread Dumplings are basically Stuffing or Dressing (Stuffing goes IN the Bird, Dressing is cooked SEPARATELY FROM the bird). Old bread is seasoned and softened… then shaped into balls and cooked until done. Now, a lot of people have serious stuffing/dressing issues, and you might not be allowed to make the substitution, but since everyone loves it so much, why not offer Semmel Knödel as an ADDITIONAL side dish. (The kids will love you, because there won’t be any of the “things” that people are always sneaking into stuffing… like celery).
Learn how to make them here-

Or take a short cut with a Pfanni Mix–> Pfanni Semmel Knödel

Instead of Green Bean Cassarole- Grüne Bohnen mit Speck und Zwiebeln

Green Beans mixed with canned Mushroom soup? Not when you can make them with BACON! The beans are fresh and tasty, and even kids won’t turn up their noses to green veggies if there is bacon involved. (FYI Speck in Germany isn’t quite the same as Bacon in the US, but you can use Bacon as a substitute in this recipe).
Find the recipe in my Easy German Cookbook here–>Easy German Cookbook

Instead of Sweet Potatoes make Potato Croquettes

If you’ve never had them, think of Potato Croquettes as high end Tator Tots. Crisp fried, and super delicious… these will be the first to vanish from the table. Best of all, you can make them ahead of time and freeze until you are ready to cook them up. Croquettes are made with mashed potatoes, egg, seasoning, and some bread crumbs… shaped and fried up! YUM!
Find the Recipe here–> Recipe for Croquettes
or watch it made here–


Instead of Macaroni and Cheese- Käse Spätzle

Macaroni and Cheese is as American as Thomas Jefferson, but you can switch things up a little with Käse Spätzle! (This is also one of those side dish Ideas for Thanksgiving dinner that can work as a main for some vegetarians.) Instead of cheddar, Käse Spätzle uses Gruyere cheese. AND for those who really miss those fried onions from the American Green Bean Cassarole, they make a great topping here! Make the Spätzle yourself, you can even make them ahead of time… or use the ones from a bag (only your Oma will know the difference!).
Find the recipe here–> Käse Spätzle

Watch it made here–

Click to order a quick packet of Cheese Spätzle 

Other ideas for Germanizing your American Thanksgiving….

Rotkohl or Red Cabbage 

Rotkohl or Red Cabbage seems to be part of every German Celebration or Holiday meal, so why not make it for Thanksgiving? It’s a little sweet, a little sour, and pairs well most meat. I’m more used to Rotkohl that isn’t cooked so long.

Side Dish Ideas for Thanksgiving Dinner
This recipe, with less cooking time, is good–> Rotkohl

Rosenkohl or Brussels Sprouts

I’m going on record that I am NOT a fan of Rosenkohl. But I will eat them. HOWEVER, I have never in my life not eaten the food that was put in front of my by someone I love. My daughter roasts them (which isn’t tremendously German, but is good) and This recipe cooks them in Beer–>Bier Rosenkohl


And For Dessert?

Apfel Kuchen instead of Apple Pie!

You can go with the classic Vesunkener Apfelkuchen (Sunken Apple Cake), Apfel Streusel Kuchen (Apple Streusel Cake!), or (best of all) the Gedeckter Apfelkuchen (covered Apple Cake). This hybrid of cake and pie will make everyone at the table happy! It’s juicy and delicious.

gedeckter apfelkuchen recipe

Find more German Recipes for a Perfect Thanksgiving or Christmas Meal HERE

My Easy German Cookbook contains 80 Classic Recipes from across Germany… including loads of holiday meals like Roast Goose and Rouladen.


Easy German Cookbook: 80 Classic Recipes Made SimpleEasy German Cookbook: 80 Classic Recipes Made SimpleEasy German Cookbook: 80 Classic Recipes Made Simple


6 thoughts on “German Side Dish Ideas for Thanksgiving Dinner

  1. I’ll be sure to Germanize my Thanksgiving!


  2. When I lived in Germany, I never heard of Thanksgiving. We of course have Ernte dank Fest. Its a church holiday. The farmers laid some of the products they grew on their Land, laid them in front of the Altar. Then a priest blessed the offerings. Never ate Turkey either. Like you Karen I’m not that fond of Turkey. I’m cooking a Ham tomorrow, and my children asked for a green Bean casserole. I make it the same way the Americans make it with cream of Mushroom soup with roasted garlic in the soup. While I was still living in Germany, my husband a American, brought home a Turkey. I couldn’t read English and had no clue what to do with it.. Didn’t knew the English temperature for the oven in German. Some of my family members were there. My mom, two of my sisters, and some American friends. I ended up having a total disaster cooked. In the first place, I didn’t take off the plastic that Turkey was wrapped up in, inside the foil the bird came in it. I put my German oven on 175 degree, stuck the Turkey in the oven. My husband was still stuck at the Base, so he couldn’t help me. I checked on the Turkey every hour. Never looked like it was being baked. 7 hours later everybody were very hungry and kept asking me, when is that bird going to be done. I had no answer, just kept checking every hour. Mind you I had put the Turkey into the oven at 10am. Its now 7pm and the Turkey didn’t looked much changed from when I put it in the oven. My husband came home around 8 or 9 pm. He hindered the oven heat, and we ended up eating at 10 that night. I was very embarrassed, because my husband had bragged about my cooking. Well yes, I always cooked German dishes. He translated the instruction on the Turkey into German for me. The next time I made a Turkey, I made it right. I’m now pretty good at making the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. I make a dressing for the stuffing that is the best, so I been told. I also make one hell of a cranberry salad. Its not a salad, its a dessert, made with nuts, some mayo, whip cream and a few more ingredients. Americans also eat cranberry sauce, I don’t. What is cranberry called in German? Now to pumpkins. My family never cooked anything with pumpkins. It was unfamiliar to us. I do not like Pumpkin Pie. I also never ate sweet potato,s in Germany. Did we Germans ever ate them? I won’t eat them here either. My husband loved them with baked Marshmallows on top. Give me a real potato, and I could eat them every day. I certainly remember Advents Kalenders. As a child that was a exciting time for me. After you light the first candle on the Advent Kranz, 3 more and Christmas was here. On Dezember the 6th, St, Nikolas came and if you had been good, you got some Oranges, nuts, and some cookies. Christmas eve, the Christ child came and left some presents for you under the tree. My mom made me lay down for a bit. Then by 5 or 6 pm I heard the tinkle of a little bell. That was the sign that the Christ Child had flew by and left gifts. I could tell so much more about Christmas times in Germany. Over here its different. I miss the German Christmas so much. Wished I could turn the time back to when I was a child. My mom would still be there and I so felled the love she had for me. RIP Mutti. Hope you have forgiven me for leaving and going to America. I always loved you so much meine Mutti.

  3. Sorry, I got carried away. My comment almost could be a book.
    Happy Thanksgiving everybody. Gigi.

    1. Gigi, that was beautiful. I wish you were near me. I’d love to hear more of your stories and share some recipes. Thank you.

  4. I defiantly will have some of the side dishes from Karens book. I’m still waiting on it, but she was kind enough to show us the recipe for some I will make. I can forget about making red cabbage. My children refuse to eat it. Me being German born to German parents I’m used to red cabbage. I’m having a spiral smoked ham. I learned to make a mean bread dressing from my Sister-in-law, now deceased. I will use the same ingredients from her bread dressing and make Semmel Knoedel. I believe my children will love it. I also will make the fresh green beans with Speck, well here with bacon. No Pumpkin pie for me. My children will eat one. I am so thankful for my one and only grandson. He tells me daily how much he loves me. Every Sunday is our family day. My grandson and I are very close to each other. He actually is a miracle baby. He is such a polite and caring young man now. His mother gets often jealous of how great and close we are to each other. He will confide in me more then he does his mom. My health is very poor, but his birth made him my sunshine. I’m not bragging, but he also is very handsome. Thank you Karen for posting some side dishes. Enjoy the closeness you have with your family and be thankful that you still have your parents. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Sincerely Gigi.

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