Preparing a Thanksgiving feast can be difficult work. Make it a bit easier by choosing make ahead Thanksgiving recipes to lighten your load and make the whole holiday more enjoyable.
Whether you prep your side dishes weeks in advance to freeze or spend some time in the days leading up to the holiday, when you make ahead Thanksgiving, you’re buying yourself some extra minutes on the actual day.
Holiday meals can be stressful. You’ve already got the potential family issues going on and then you throw in a massive, multi-course meal that you only cook a few times a year. Yikes!
Before you grab the Calgon, let’s think. How could you make the meal prep easier on yourself?
Since you’re a pretty savvy cook, you probably already knew that you could make ahead a lasagna, but did you know that you make ahead Thanksgiving Dinner?
I know. Mind blowing.
Now, I realize that you may love the hustle and bustle of Thanksgiving Day.
You may have grandparents and aunts and uncles and siblings and parents and friends who gather together in one kitchen and cook up a storm. I’m totally cool with that. Rock on!
Why Do This
You can enjoy more homemade goodies when you make ahead Thanksgiving. I’m guessing that some folks may buy commercial rolls, gravy, or desserts — not because they want to, but because they just don’t have the time to make them homemade. When you prep ahead, you can enjoy your homemade without feeling stressed.
You can enjoy the process over several days. Some people might find that things are just a little too stressful to cook Thanksgiving dinner in one blow. Or maybe some work schedules this year aren’t really jiving with a lazy Wednesday fiddling in the kitchen. When you make ahead Thanksgiving, you can spread the meal prep over several days and enjoy it a lot more. Cut bread cubes for stuffing the week before and prep the apple pie a few days prior.
You can stress less and enjoy more! Whether you are contributing to Thanksgiving at someone else’s house or play host with the most, it’s incredibly lifesaving to prep a few dishes in advance and stash them in the freezer.
There are lots of things you can make a few days before Thanksgiving, including: mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, macaroni and cheese, certain pies, and other desserts.
Turkey can be cooked the day before and refrigerated or cooked even farther in advance and frozen. The key is to help the turkey not dry out when reheated. Top the turkey with pats of butter or some reserved drippings prior to reheating to add moisture and flavor.
Stuffing can be made in advance and frozen. If you want to refrigerate it, keep it to one day in advance. Otherwise you risk soggy stuffing.
Per the USDA, prepped food is good for up to 4 days. So, if you prep everything on Thanksgiving, you’ve got several days for leftovers. If you make a dish two days in advance, your window of time after the holiday to use it up is shortened. To extend life, freeze what you can either before or after the holiday. Be sure to review the USDA recommendations about leftovers.
Tips for Success
- Small steps in the right direction. You don’t have to make a complete recipe days in advance. Simple prep steps will save you time later, such as meal prep for vegetables, cutting bread cubes for stuffing, making the pie crust. Look at your recipes and see what parts you can do ahead.
- Label everything. You think you’ll remember what every chopped vegetable is for or what that dry baking mix on the counter is, but in the flurry of holiday activity you may easily forget. Plus, you want to be able to delegate to anyone who might offer to help. With things labeled, it will be easier to let them help you.
- Organize the fridge. Holiday fridge management can feel like one ginormous game of Jenga. Spend some time cleaning out the refrigerator and dumping old leftovers. Organize so that it’s easy to find all the holiday bits and bobs to make your cooking easier.
You with me? Check out these make ahead Thanksgiving recipes:
Turkey Recipes and Make-Ahead Instructions:
It’s true, you CAN cook a turkey in advance and still have a delicious meal on Thanksgiving.
Make your usual turkey (or one of these recipes) and then follow Amy’s instructions for Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Turkey.
You will be shocked and amazed at how much stress you’ve just relieved. No more worrying about when the turkey will be done!
If you’re new to roasting a bird, be sure to check out these tips on how to cook a turkey. It’s not as hard as you think. You can totally do it!
Side Dish Recipes
While some side dishes are better made the day of serving, there are quite a few that can be in advance and frozen.
Gravy and Sauces
Good gravy, don't pass up the gravy! Or our easy to make, homemade cranberry sauce.
Homemade Bread Recipes
Make sure your bread basket is chock-full of good things. Bake up these rolls and biscuits in advance to warm in the oven right before serving.
Some desserts, like Lemon Meringue, are too delicate to freeze, but there is a healthy handful of yummy pies and treats that can be made ahead and frozen.
This post was originally published in November 19, 2014. It has been updated for content and clarity.