What Time Should You Eat Thanksgiving Dinner?

The earlier, the better.

November 23, 2020

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Photo by: Daniel Grill/Getty

Daniel Grill/Getty

It’s the biggest debate in my house every year: What time should we serve Thanksgiving dinner? Typically, the biggest feast of the year begins at 3 p.m. for me. It’s certainly a strange time to eat, but there are some good reasons why my family chooses to dine early.

The Earlier the Better

I’m all for Thanksgiving dining earlier – it can be 2 p.m., 3 p.m. or even 5 p.m. in your home, but should certainly start earlier than your usual 7 or 8 p.m. dinner. Here are a few things to keep in mind when figuring out what time, exactly, to schedule the big meal.

Younger Kids

You do want to make this traditional meal a memorable and pleasurable one. Little ones go to bed early, and you want them to sit with the family, discuss what they’re thankful for and be on their best behavior. Scheduling your meal later in the evening at a time that may interfere with bedtime just makes for cranky kids and unhappy adults.

Make It Lunch and Dinner

There are many, many calories that are consumed during your Thanksgiving meal. Have a well-balanced breakfast and healthy snack. Then, enjoy the meal as a late lunch and early dinner (think of it as two meals in one). If you’re still hungry later at night, there are always leftovers.


Having a huge meal late into the night can certainly lead to heartburn. High-fat foods like all those yummy pies, cakes and creamy dishes can lead to a burning sensation you feel when stomach acids jump up into the esophagus. And when you eat a feast-full of foods and top it with multiple alcoholic drinks, it can also trigger heartburn. Alcohol relaxes the muscle between the stomach and esophagus and makes it easy for acid to escape. Lying down to go to bed makes this much worse.

A few ways to minimize heartburn is to start early and eat smaller amounts over several hours. You can also cut down on alcohol or stick with one glass of your favorite cocktail, beer or wine. Wear loose-fitting clothing, as tight clothes can press against your stomach and make it feel worse. Lastly, avoid lying down after eating – this means starting your meal early so you can sit and chat (via Zoom or not, as appropriate) with family and friends after your meal to allow the food ample time to digest. If you do need to take a snooze after the dinner, use a reclining chair that can elevate you about 30 degrees to minimize the heartburn.

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