The centerpiece of contemporary Thanksgiving in the United States and Canada is a large dinner (a.k.a. supper), starring a large roasted turkey. Because turkey is the most common main dish of a Thanksgiving dinner, thanksgiving is sometimes called Turkey Day. The USDA estimated that 269 million turkeys were raised in the country in 2003, about one-sixth of which were destined for a Thanksgiving dinner plate.
Many other foods are served alongside the turkey, so many that, because of the amount of food, the Thanksgiving meal is generally served midday or early afternoon to make time for all the eating, and preparation may begin at the crack of dawn or days before.
Traditional Thanksgiving foods are sometimes specific to the day, and although some of the foods might be seen at any semi-formal meal in the United States, the meal often has something of ritual or traditional quality.
Ideas for a traditional served dishes include cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed potatoes, candied yams, green beans and stuffing. For dessert, various pies are served, particularly pumpkin pie, strawberry-rhubarb pie and pecan pie.
There are also regional differences as to the "stuffing" (or "dressing") traditionally served with the turkey. Southerners generally make theirs from cornbread, while in other parts of the country white bread is the base, to which oysters, apples, chestnuts, or the turkey's giblets may be added. These eating patterns are very similar in Canada.
Foods other than turkey are sometimes served as the main dish for a Thanksgiving dinner. On the West Coast of the United States, Dungeness crab is common as an alternate main dish, as crab season starts in early November. Turducken, a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken, is becoming more popular, from its base in Louisiana. Deep-fried turkey is rising in popularity, requiring special fryers to hold the large bird. Vegans may try tofurkey, a tofu concoction imitating a turkey.
Other dishes reflect the region or cultural background of those who have come together for the meal. For example, Italian-Americans often have lasagna on the table and Ashkenazi Jews may serve noodle kugel, a sweet pudding.