The Correct Time to Eat Thanksgiving Dinner

What of an evening mealtime? Dining at, say, 7 p.m., while standard on a regular night, precludes one from experiencing the vital activities that follow a feast: a genuine nap and ample time to digest before reheating a plate of leftovers later in the evening. Just as practically, if guests traveled any significant distance and are not staying the night, a late dinnertime means an even later return home.

Eating at 4 p.m. tidily resolves these concerns. A leisurely meal would then end at 5:30 or so, which is still plenty early in the day for an hour-long nap and a return to leftovers, in the form of a pre-bed snack, at 8:30 or nine.

One counterargument to 4 p.m. I have encountered is that it introduces the problem of lunch, a meal that 2 p.m. feasters need not consume and thus need not worry about taking up undue stomach space, not to mention organizational effort. My response is quite simple: Have a salad or something.

That is the crux of the argument, but there is plenty of other evidence to marshal in favor of a 4 p.m mealtime. To start, some very smart people whose job it is to think about food agree with me. Alison Roman, the author of the cookbook Dining In and a former editor at Bon App étit , said four is her preferred time. “Anything earlier is lunch,” she wrote in an email, “and anything later is a recipe (no pun intended) for a sleepless, unfortunate heartburn/acid reflux/restless-too-much-wine kind of night.”

Dan Pashman, the host of the podcast The Sporkful , is also on Team 4 p.m. “2 or 3 is too early,” he says. “I can’t make it to 2 or 3 in the afternoon without eating, and if I eat a light meal earlier then I won’t be at max hunger again by 2 or 3, and I’m likely to be really hungry again at 8 or 9. 5 or 6 is too late. 4 p.m. is perfect because you want it to be late enough in the day that this meal is the main event—there will be no major meal before or after.”

Importantly, a 4 p.m. mealtime does not go against any prescriptions of etiquette. Lizzie Post, the co-president of the Emily Post Institute (and Emily’s great-great-granddaughter), told me that “there is no perfect time—it’s whatever makes sense for you and your family.” Judith Martin, a.k.a. Miss Manners, provided a useful framework. “People get grumpy when they’re hungry, and they get grumpy when they’re overstuffed,” she says, “so the helpful thing would be to have the meal early enough so that people are neither starving nor have given up and eaten a huge number of hors d’oeuvre, and late enough so that they can decently go home and not hang around after they’ve had too much to eat.”

Not too early and not too late sounds like 4 p.m. to me, but before I could even finish my question to Martin asking what specific time she’d recommend, she said, “What do you want me to say, 3:17 and a half or something?” Incredibly, she was only off by 42 and a half minutes.

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