The Thanksgiving Foods Americans Forget To Buy Most Often

New data from Instacart reveals the last-minute ingredients purchased just before Thanksgiving.

Even when you're preparing a very simple dish, there can be stress involved in making sure you have the proper ingredients beforehand. How often have we made it halfway through a recipe before realizing we're missing a small but crucial ingredient? In the 21st century, Instacart exists to solve that problem—and in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, it solves that problem for thousands of people at once.

Instacart has released its annual report detailing our ordering habits at the holidays, and needless to say, our purchasing patterns display far different grocery lists than they do the rest of the year. Given that everyone is cooking for a very specific meal on a very specific day, Instacart is able to track which items see their peak sales at the very last minute: the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

Instacart’s top last-minute Thanksgiving groceries

This year's data is gleaned from 2022 ordering habits, and each item on the list carries the unspoken dread of home cooks and bakers who have forgotten just one thing in their Thanksgiving haul. Here are the top ordered foods the Wednesday before the holiday:

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  1. Whipped cream
  2. Pumpkin pie
  3. Elbow pasta
  4. Pie crusts
  5. Evaporated milk
  6. Frozen pies
  7. Vanilla extract
  8. Apple pie
  9. Canned pineapple
  10. Condensed milk

I found myself nodding along to this list knowingly, having been in the position of needing many of these at the eleventh hour. Given that both evaporated milk and condensed milk are on the list, I suspect that many Americans learn the hard way halfway through a recipe that one cannot be substituted for the other, at least not in a 1:1 fashion. You can take some steps to turn evaporated milk into condensed milk, but it requires stovetop space and a bit of time, both of which are at a premium on Thanksgiving Eve. (This is the same reason I suspect that people are buying canisters of whipped cream rather than making their own.)

A whopping four out of 10 items on the list are related to pie, which suggests that shoppers are so focused on the main meal that they often neglect to think about dessert until it's too late. Either that, or they attempted to prep a pie and made a mess of it. If that's the case, then kudos to the resilient folks who are purchasing pie crusts in order to try again. For some tips on pie baking, read our Q&A here. For those who prefer to buy rather than bake, here are the best tasting frozen pies.

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And then, of course, there's vanilla, an ingredient that no one should be surprised to see in the list. Vanilla has a positively mighty presence in home baking, and even if a recipe calls for a scant teaspoon, neglecting to include it can change the whole flavor and balance of a dish. In fact, its uses are not limited to sweet dishes; it can be sprinkled onto root vegetables before roasting for a nice earthy, smoky flavor. We all think we have vanilla on hand, but those little bottles can get depleted pretty quick, so be sure to double-check before beginning any recipe this holiday season.  

Nothing brings me more joy than to see canned pineapple on the list, however. Given its ability to add moisture to baked goods and brighten up salads, pineapple might have a thousand uses on Thanksgiving—but I prefer to imagine that everyone is making a heaping bowl of Green Stuff for their holiday spread. (Yes, it's full of mini marshmallows and Cool Whip and sits alongside the turkey and stuffing. It's not a dessert; it's a main. Get over it.)

Which items have you scrambled to purchase at the very last minute before Thanksgiving?

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