At the beginning of 2016, Pittsburgher Megan Troxell had a plan.
It was the third year that Troxell and her family had been doing weekly extended-family dinners with her brothers and their families. To keep them interesting, she created a yearly theme. The first year, Troxell served a Mexican meal every Wednesday, trying new recipes from various parts of the country. The second year, those family dinners were all about Italy. But by the third year, Troxell was looking to create a theme that was a little closer to home.
“I talked with my family, and we came up with the idea of working our way through the 50 states,” she says.
And #FiftyFamilyFeasts was born.
Each week, Troxell and her family created a menu that incorporated a regional food or beverage component from that week’s chosen state, and documented it all on her personal Instagram page with the hashtag #FiftyFamilyFeasts. The project launched with a Colorado dinner that featured bacon-wrapped dates and white bean chili, and Colorado’s own New Belgium beers.
Throughout the year, Troxell created dinners that celebrated Oregon (Oregon wines and charcuterie), Washington (Apple & Honey cake), New Hampshire (New England Boiled Dinner with corned beef and cabbage), Maryland (traditional clam bake), Wisconsin (Wisconsin brats and cheese curds, with vanilla pudding and Wisconsin honey for dessert), and every other state in the country.
“It was really fun to research how many different regional options there were for each state,” Troxell says. “The hardest one was probably Nevada, because we couldn’t really find too many regional dishes from the area, but we ended up doing a surf and turf night, thinking about the buffets at the Las Vegas casinos.”
Troxell’s two children, ages 4 and 6, got into the research, reading books on the different states, and offering their culinary suggestions.
“We’d have them look up the state flag for each dinner, and we’d share some state trivia with them about each state, so it really became a learning project for them, too,” Troxell says.
The project culminated with a double dinner from North Dakota and South Dakota, featuring the Upper Midwest’s Navajo tacos.
Troxell has already introduced plans for 2017’s family dinner theme, which will be ‘Books & Bites.’
“Each week we’ll be reading a book that has some sort of food theme, and create a meal based from that,” Troxell says. The lineup includes Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Pickles to Pittsburgh, Stone Soup and Blueberries for Val.
You can follow along on Instagram at @MeganTroxell, or by searching #booksnbites.