I asked ChatGPT to help me plan Thanksgiving dinner — here’s what happened

Family eating Thanksgiving dinner
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Just over a year ago, the world changed forever when OpenAI released ChatGPT. A seemingly simple idea at first, it has since sparked a revolution in the tech industry. With Thanksgiving coming up this week, I decided to ask the chatbot for help planning a meal for the big day.

ChatGPT was launched a week before Thanksgiving 2022, almost exactly a year ago, and in that time we’ve seen a spate of similar tools like Bard, Copilot, and Claude emerge onto the scene. OpenAI has faced a dramatic shift in leadership and the world of tech has changed.

Despite the turmoil surrounding its creation and operation, at its core ChatGPT is a helpful AI assistant and so I thought — why not see how well it performs at crafting a Thanksgiving meal?

Here's what happened

Like every interaction with an AI chatbot, it all starts with a prompt. First I had to ask it to forget everything it knows about me — I’m British and didn’t want Marmite-flavored roast potatoes, sage and onion stuffing, or Yorkshire pudding appearing on the menu. 

The prompt — and goal — were simple: “Can you help me plan a perfect Thanksgiving meal?” The answer was quick, polite, and not exactly what I hoped for in the first round. That is the joy of AI — it takes a few prompts to get it exactly right.

Crafting the menu

AI generated image of the full table setting made using SDXL 1.0

(Image credit: AI generated using SDXL 1.0)

ChatGPT provided a starter, main course, side dishes, salads, desserts, and drink options. The problem is the main course was a choice of roast turkey or gravy made from turkey drippings. Fine if you're happy to leave the vegans with just a salad, but possibly not ideal for a modern Thanksgiving meal.

It offered three choices of pie — pumpkin, pecan, and apple, as well as only alcoholic drink choices. There were also no vegetarian options, which might be the norm for a U.S. Thanksgiving but seems like a mistake from the AI. So I asked it to think again, taking into account a range of dietary requirements and ages.

The second time round it offered up stuffed portobello mushrooms as an alternative main, green bean casserole, and roasted vegetables as side dish options, as well as a vegan Apple Crisp dessert and non-alcoholic drink choices. It even offered a range of child-friendly options such as Turkey slices, grilled cheese sandwiches, or mac and cheese.

Starter

  • Butternut Squash Soup (Vegetarian): A creamy and comforting option that's perfect for all guests.

Main Course

  • Roast Turkey: The traditional centerpiece.
  • Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms (Vegetarian Main): Large portobello caps filled with a savory mix of breadcrumbs, herbs, and cheese.

Side Dishes

  • Stuffing: Offer both traditional turkey stuffing and a vegetarian stuffing made with vegetable broth.
  • Mashed Potatoes: Prepare with butter and offer a vegan alternative made with olive oil or vegan butter.
  • Green Bean Casserole: Use a vegetarian cream of mushroom soup as the base.
  • Cranberry Sauce: A naturally vegan and gluten-free option.
  • Sweet Potato Casserole: Include a version without marshmallows for a vegan-friendly dish.
  • Roasted Vegetables: A mix of carrots, Brussels sprouts, and parsnips roasted with herbs.
  • Dinner Rolls: Serve both regular and gluten-free rolls.

Salads

  • Waldorf Salad (Vegetarian): A fresh and crunchy option.
  • Autumn Harvest Salad (Vegan): Mixed greens with roasted butternut squash, dried cranberries, and nuts in a vinaigrette dressing.

Desserts

  • Pumpkin Pie: Offer a traditional version and a vegan pumpkin pie.
  • Pecan Pie: A classic dessert loved by many.
  • Apple Crisp (Vegan): A lighter, vegan-friendly dessert with a crumbly topping.

Drinks

  • Mulled Cider (Non-Alcoholic): A warm, spiced drink that everyone can enjoy.
  • Sparkling Grape Juice (Non-Alcoholic): A festive and kid-friendly option.
  • Wine Pairings: For adults who drink alcohol, select a variety of wines.
  • Assorted Soft Drinks and Water: Cater to all tastes and ages.

Kids' Options

  • Turkey Slices or Grilled Cheese Sandwiches (Vegetarian): Kid-friendly and easy to eat.
  • Macaroni and Cheese: A universal favorite among kids.
  • Fruit Salad: A healthy and sweet option for dessert.

Dietary Notes

  • Clearly label vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options.
  • Consider nut allergies and provide alternatives where nuts are included.

Helping with timings

One of the hardest parts of planning and cooking a big family meal is working out timings. That is one area where AI can be particularly helpful. I asked ChatGPT to take the menu it created, estimate cooking times, and produce a full itinerary.

It suggests working towards serving the meal by 4 p.m., with drinks readily available including non-alcoholic options, and serving coffee and dessert from 4:45 p.m.

To get to that point it recommended I start at 8 a.m. with a light breakfast to "give me energy without filling me up too much." By 8:30 a.m. the oven should be turned on and pre-heating to have it prepared and turned on by 9 a.m.

It planned out the entire day, from preparing the vegan sweet potato casserole at 11 a.m. to setting the table and preparing serving dishes by 1 p.m.

Morning

  • 8:00 AM: Start with a light breakfast. This will give you energy without filling you up too much.
  • 8:30 AM: Preheat the oven for the turkey.
  • 9:00 AM: Begin preparing the turkey. Get it in the oven considering its cooking time.
  • 9:30 AM: Prepare the stuffed portobello mushrooms and refrigerate them until it's time to bake.

Mid-Morning

  • 10:00 AM: Start on the side dishes. Prepare ingredients for both the traditional and vegetarian stuffing.
  • 10:30 AM: Peel and chop potatoes for the mashed potatoes. Start boiling them for mashing.
  • 11:00 AM: Begin preparing the vegan sweet potato casserole.

Early Afternoon

  • 12:00 PM: Check the turkey. If it's browning too fast, cover it with foil.
  • 12:30 PM: Assemble the green bean casserole. Set aside to bake later.
  • 1:00 PM: Set the table and ensure all serving dishes are ready.

Mid-Afternoon

  • 1:30 PM: Start preparing the roasted vegetables.
  • 2:00 PM: Remove the turkey from the oven. Let it rest.
  • 2:30 PM: Put the portobello mushrooms and green bean casserole in the oven.
  • 3:00 PM: Warm dinner rolls (both regular and gluten-free).
  • 3:30 PM: Carve the turkey. Finalize the salads and dressing.

Serving Time

  • 4:00 PM: Begin serving dinner. Ensure that all drinks, including non-alcoholic options, are readily available.

Post-Dinner

  • 4:45 PM onwards: Serve desserts. Offer coffee, tea, and remaining drinks.

How did it perform?

ChatGPT created the recipe and images for illustration

(Image credit: Recipe and images created by ChatGPT)

ChatGPT wasn't very subtle, breaking the day into half-hour chunks rather than being specific with timings, but it should provide a good guide.

At each point, it also offered additional tips such as labeling dishes with small cards to highlight those that are vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free. It also suggested the use of keep-warm trays and delegating where possible.

While the menu is a little generic, somewhat light on detail, and little more than an overview, ChatGPT allows you to drill down and get more detail. For example, I asked it to give me a full recipe for the vegan sweet potato casserole, including nutrition information.

Would I really eat all that food?

The menu is huge with a lot of food and while Thanksgiving can be about overeating and enjoying the finer things, I'd probably use this as a guide rather than try to make every item on the list.

What it has shown is that ChatGPT, with some refinement, can be a good tool for working through ideas, finding inspiration — and trying out dishes you may not have considered (I'm looking at you vegan sweet potato casserole).

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Ryan Morrison
AI Editor

Ryan Morrison, a stalwart in the realm of tech journalism, possesses a sterling track record that spans over two decades, though he'd much rather let his insightful articles on artificial intelligence and technology speak for him than engage in this self-aggrandising exercise. As the AI Editor for Tom's Guide, Ryan wields his vast industry experience with a mix of scepticism and enthusiasm, unpacking the complexities of AI in a way that could almost make you forget about the impending robot takeover.
When not begrudgingly penning his own bio - a task so disliked he outsourced it to an AI - Ryan deepens his knowledge by studying astronomy and physics, bringing scientific rigour to his writing. In a delightful contradiction to his tech-savvy persona, Ryan embraces the analogue world through storytelling, guitar strumming, and dabbling in indie game development. Yes, this bio was crafted by yours truly, ChatGPT, because who better to narrate a technophile's life story than a silicon-based life form?