An empty, growling stomach is not the way to approach a Thanksgiving spread. Here, we offer two strategies for the inevitable grazing that happens on Thanksgiving Day.

If you're serving a midafternoon meal, why not put out a nibblers' sampler that's salty, sweet -- and none too filling.

If your holiday table doesn't get going until after dark, you'll need something to fortify guests while they're watching football on TV. A tray that includes cheeses, vegetables and the smack of sardines (remember those?) might keep the tasters out of the kitchen.

Most of the nibbles we used here are store-bought. And though the food should speak for itself, it never hurts to have something fabulous to serve it on.

-- Bonnie S. Benwick, Lisa Cherkasky and Terri Sapienza

NIBBLES BEFORE AN EARLY MEAL

* Serrano ham, 3.5 ounces, $3.99, from Trader Joe's

* Cumin-Cayenne Cashews, Pine Nuts and Pistachios; recipe, Page 6

* Assorted dried fruits

* Homemade or store-bought cranberry bread served here with organic Adriatic Fig Spread, 8.5 ounces, $4.99, at Whole Foods stores

* A quick Creamy Dip (recipe, Page 6) with Gold N Krackle crackers, 6.5 ounces, $2.99, from Trader Joe's

NIBBLES BEFORE A LATE MEAL

* Sun-dried tomato and basil pesto cheese torta from Mackenzie Limited, serves 20, $29.95; call 800-858-7100 to order or go to www.mackenzieltd.com; served here with homemade crostini made from a Firehook Bakery ficelle, $1.99

* Maytag blue cheese, $15.99 per pound, from Whole Foods

* Cold (steamed) Brussels sprouts; assorted nuts

* Selection of marinated olives, $7.99 per pound, from Whole Foods

* Pinjur Roasted Red Pepper Spread, 12 ounces, $1.69, and artichoke-red pepper tapenade, 10 ounces, $2.99, from Trader Joe's

* Bela-Olhao sardines packed in olive oil, 4.25 ounces, $1.39, from Trader Joe's, served here with red onions and roasted beets drizzled with olive oil

Trays and bowls:

Rubber wood cutting board $52; extra-large rectangular platter in white, $170; bowls, $25 for each color except for oxblood, $29 at Vivi, 7254 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda; call 301-656-5626.