Today Meal Asks: Which Thanksgiving Side Can You Not Live Without? - Exclusive Survey

As Thanksgiving rolls around, there's one food that's front and center: the turkey. A full 88% of the country expected to dig into a big roast bird this Thanksgiving, according to the National Turkey Federation (via Finder).

But a giant Thanksgiving dinner one turkey does not make. For it to be a true Thanksgiving dinner, you need to have sides: mashed potatoes, corn, stuffing, sweet potatoes, the works. Many of these sides have a long, storied history behind their place at the Thanksgiving meal, such as green bean casserole being the invention of a Campbell's Soup employee in 1955 (per Spoon University) or stuffing going back to the times of the ancient Romans (per Arcadia Publishing). Each side dish, be it sweet or savory, has earned a place at the table to be enjoyed by Americans young and old for generations.

Of course, there are some side dishes that have managed to stand out above the rest. Today Meal asked 601 readers what Thanksgiving side dishes they couldn't live without. And the answer may not be surprising.

Mashed potatoes are the most popular

Out of the 601 readers who answered Today Meal's survey, it seems that 178 readers, or 29.62%, believed mashed potatoes were something that they could go without. In second place was stuffing at 26.79%, cranberry sauce at 14.81%, candied yams at 10.48%, rolls at 9.48%, and, finally, green bean casserole at 8.82%. According to a 2020 poll done by Side Delights (via The Packer), it would seem that Midwestern Americans, or 59% of them, call the mashed potato their favorite Thanksgiving side dish as well. While mashed potatoes are the clear winner, what exactly makes them so popular?

As Mental Floss explains, potatoes were first grown and domesticated in the Andes mountains of Peru and northwest Bolivia before being introduced to Europe by Spanish explorers in the sixteenth century. The idea of mashed potatoes didn't catch on until recipes for potatoes mashed in butter and milk began appearing in English and American cookbooks in the eighteenth century. From there, the mashed potato slowly began to emerge as an easy way to enjoy a serving of vegetables during dinner, eventually becoming a mainstay in kitchens across the country.

Perhaps it's the fact that mashed potatoes can be flavored with just about any dish you want, from gravy to cheese to bacon. Or perhaps mashed potatoes' high carb content diners feel relaxed and comfortable.

Stuffing also has some history behind it

Coming in behind mashed potatoes in Today Meal's survey is stuffing, which 161 or 26.79% of readers found to be a true staple of the Thanksgiving dinner. This bread-based side dish may sound like a strictly American invention, but stuffing actually goes back to the ancient Romans many centuries ago.

According to Delicious History, the first recorded recipe for what would become known as stuffing can be found in the ancient Roman cookbook "De Re Coquinaria," which described how to stuff pigs and chickens with a mixture of vegetables, spices, herbs, nuts, and even organ meat. But when, exactly, the dish known as stuffing (or in some cases, later known as "dressing") became part of Thanksgiving tradition is a bit unclear. Market Basket Foods notes that the first written records of the dish being served on Thanksgiving Day place its introduction sometime around 1836. 

Whenever stuffing became part of the line-up of turkey and pumpkin pie, it's clear that it has no signs of ever leaving the dinner table. FinanceBuzz reports that an average of $96 million is spent on stuffing alone each year. Whether it's the boxed stuff or your grandmother's secret recipe, nothing truly says Thanksgiving like a spoonful of stuffing and some warm, savory turkey.