Thanksgiving Baskets for Needy Families and Items List

Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful for the blessings God’s given us through the year. We give thanks for our families, our health, our homes, and our jobs. And when the dinner comes to the table, we give thanks for our food.

With all the excitement of the holiday season, it’s easy to take what we have for granted. While we’re enjoying our turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie, there are many who are having a much more humble celebration out of necessity.

One of the most important Thanksgiving traditions you can start with your family this year is to help others in need.

The Reason We Celebrate Thanksgiving

During the first Thanksgiving, the Indians and Pilgrims came together in Plymouth to share and celebrate making it through their first winter.

The Wampanoag tribe shared their knowledge of the land, their methods of growing and harvesting crops, and hunting local game.

The Pilgrims were struggling and with the help of the Wampanoag tribe, they had plenty of food to store for the following winter.

While we’re remembering this historical celebration, it’s clear to see that this day is about more than just being grateful for what we have. It’s also about sharing with others.

Starting Your Thanksgiving Basket Tradition

What better way to share with those in need than to offer them a chance at a normal Thanksgiving dinner! Making and giving Thanksgiving baskets to families in need is a great Thanksgiving tradition to start with your family or church.

What is a Thanksgiving Basket?

A Thanksgiving basket is a basket (or box) filled with non-perishable foods used to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner. Each basket is donated in full to a family in need.

Sample Thanksgiving Baskets made by Peachy Cheeks.

How to Make a Thanksgiving Basket?

Planning a Thanksgiving basket can be simple and fun, making it an ideal Thanksgiving activity to get the kids involved in.

Planning the Menu

The first thing to do is to plan the menu. If you know the family who is receiving your basket, then you can ask them about their favorite Thanksgiving dishes and create a custom menu for their basket.

If you donating to a church or charity who will distribute the basket on your behalf, then think about the things you and your family enjoy on Thanksgiving.

Grocery Shopping

After you’ve planned your menu, you’ll need to turn it into a shopping list (more on that in a bit).

If you’re planning on making this a family tradition in your household, give each member of your family their own individual shopping list with items for them to find at the store, like a Thanksgiving scavenger hunt!

Packing the Basket

After you’ve finished shopping, place all your goodies in a basket or other vessel to deliver your donations in.

One popular suggestion is to purchase an inexpensive laundry basket to use as your ‘basket’. It will likely be big enough to fit all the groceries and can be used after Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Basket Items List

Many of the items suggested will require preparation of some kind. It should be understood that the family receiving your basket will have access to a kitchen to prepare the dishes.

Items to Include in a Thanksgiving Basket

Here a sample list of items to include in your Thanksgiving basket:

Shelf-Stable Foods

  • 1 Canned Ham
  • 1-2 Boxes of Stuffing Mix
  • 1 Box of Instant Potatoes
  • 2 Box of Macaroni and Cheese
  • 2 Canned Yams
  • Brown Sugar
  • 1 Bag of Marshmallows
  • 2 Canned Green Beans
  • 1 Can of Cream of Mushroom Soup
  • French Fried Onions
  • 2 Canned of Corn
  • 1-2 Canned Cranberry Sauce
  • 1-2 Jars of Gravy (Or packets)
  • 1 Cornbread Mix
  • 1 Dessert Mix (Pumpkin Pie Mix, Brownie Mix, Cake Mix, etc.)
  • 2 Jello Mix

The following ideas are optional, but make nice additions to your basket.


  • Ice Tea Mix
  • Coffee
  • Bottled Juice
  • Drink Mix
  • Hot Cocoa Mix
  • Apple Cider (that doesn’t need to be refrigerated).

Disposable Plates/Utensils

  • Paper Plates
  • Plastic Utensils
  • Holiday Napkins or Paper Towels
  • Disposable Foil Pans

Grocery Gift Card

A grocery gift card isn’t required, but it’s a nice addition for a family in need. This will allow them to buy any additional fresh ingredients they’ll need to prepare their Thanksgiving dinner.

Items to Avoid in a Thanksgiving Basket

While the spirit of giving may be in full-force, there are some things you should avoid placing in your Thanksgiving baskets. Before you head to the store with your list, make sure you cross out any of the following items:

Fresh Meat and Produce

Things that could spoil if not used quickly are not ideal for Thanksgiving baskets. If you’re donating your baskets to a church food drive or local food pantry, your items may spoil before they reach the family who needs them.

Cold & Frozen Foods

When you have foods that need to be refrigerated, storing your basket is much more complicated. Only include these types of items if you plan on delivering them directly to the family’s house.

Homemade Items

While your heart is in the right place, it’s best to avoid homemade items. If you don’t know the family who is getting your basket, you may not be aware of any allergies they may have. In which case, packaged foods with visible ingredients lists are the safest option.

Adult Beverages

Just don’t. If you want to include beverages, stick to teas, coffees, or bottled juices or apple ciders that don’t need to refrigerated.

Thanksgiving Baskets for The Homeless

Because most of the food items suggested above require some form of preparation, they aren’t really intended for those in the homeless community who don’t have access to a kitchen to prepare their meal.

If you’re interested in preparing Thanksgiving baskets for the homeless, make sure the foods you are ready-to-eat.

Some sample items to include are:

  • Canned Ham (or SPAM)
  • Canned Soup or Pasta
  • Seasoned Canned Vegetables
  • Ready-to-eat Meals
  • Chips or Pretzels
  • Jerky
  • Dried Fruits/Nuts
  • Trail Mix
  • Jello or Pudding Cups
  • Candy
  • Bottled Water
  • Sports Drink
  • Plastic Utensils
  • Can Opener

Tip: Consider packing your items in a backpack or small duffle bag.

Giving Back is the Best Thanksgiving Tradition

Thanksgiving is one of the best times to teach your children to think about others who are less fortunate.

Whether you donate a single basket, plan a whole food drive within your community, or volunteer at a local soup kitchen, I’m certain you will be blessed by the experience.

If you need help finding a local church or charity to donate to, check out Feeding America. They can help you locate a food bank near you.

Laura is the force behind Gathered Again, transforming family gatherings into unforgettable memories with expert tips and a heart full of passion. Join her mission to celebrate the magic of family connections, one event at a time.

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