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:
25 Make Ahead Thanksgiving Recipes
Take a load off when you make ahead Thanksgiving!
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!
How to Cook a Turkey the Easy Way
Not sure how to handle the turkey, read these tips before you get started.
Easy Roast Turkey Breast Recipe
If white meat is more your style, forego cooking the whole bird, and roast a turkey breast, laden with herbs and creamy butter.
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.
Mashed Potato Casserole (41 cents/serving)
Need a comfy side dish? Make the cheesy Mashed Potato Casserole with Roasted Garlic that my kids go nuts for. It’s very make-ahead and as easy as can be.
Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes
These creamy mashed potatoes get richness from cream cheese and butter. So easy and delicious!
Easy Alfredo Mashed Potatoes Recipe
Mashed potatoes can be a vehicle for gravy — or they can be a flavor experience all on their own. Make a batch of these Easy Alfredo Mashed Potatoes to make your taste buds sing!
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Olive Oil and Garlic
Enjoy this dairy-free alternative to sweet potato casserole. These savory sweet potatoes are mashed and dressed up with olive oil and garlic.
Baked Stuffing with Onion and Sage (47 cents/serving)
A classic side dish for roast chicken or turkey is a bread stuffing, or dressing. This Baked Stuffing with Onion and Sage is a major crowd-pleaser and super easy to prep. You can freeze it for later so that holiday meal prep is stress-free.
Really Homemade Green Bean Casserole
Can the canned cream soups. Make a homemade green bean casserole from scratch! It’s tastier; it’s healthier; it’s so much better than the fake food version.
Alfredo Mac and Cheese
Mac and Cheese is a classic comfort food, particularly for these cold winter months. Try this version that has a garlicky, Alfredo twist.
Easy Homemade Broccoli Cauliflower Soup
Doesn’t Broccoli Cauliflower Soup sound delicious? This easy homemade version is full of vegetables and cheese for ultimate comfort in a bowl. It's a delicious and easy starter to add to your holiday feast!
Gravy and Sauces
Good gravy, don't pass up the gravy! Or our easy to make, homemade cranberry sauce.
5-Minute Easy Gravy Recipe
Want to learn how to make homemade gravy? This easy gravy recipe is delicious, a basic gravy recipe that is necessary for (almost) all your holiday meals. You can totally do this!
Mushroom and Onion Gravy Recipe for the Freezer ($1.24/cup)
Let bottled and dry mix gravy be relics of the past! This recipe for Mushroom and Onion Gravy stirs up silky and delicious. It’s super freezer-friendly so you can keep it just as convenient as a can.
Easy Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry sauce from a can never tasted so good. You only need a handful of ingredients and less than 30 minutes to get this homemade sauce made and ready to freeze for later.
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.
Whole Wheat Cranberry Rolls
Filled with fiber, studded with cranberries, and enriched with milk, butter, and honey, these homemade rolls are a tart-sweet addition to your holiday table.
Pumpkin Dinner Rolls (17 cents/each)
Light and fluffy, these pumpkin onion rolls are utterly scrumptious -- and so easy to bake a few weeks ahead of the big feast day.
Garlic-Parmesan Swirl Biscuits
Dress up your bread basket with these simple, but elegant Garlic-Parmesan Swirl Biscuits. Packed with flavor, they are fun to make and great to eat!
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.
Slab Apple Pie with Easy Crumb Topping
This easy-to-prepare Slab Apple Pie takes just minutes to assemble. It’s delicious and simple, and a huge hit for fall. Bake one for now and stash an extra in the freezer.
Gramma John’s Blue Ribbon Apple Pie
Gramma John’s Blue Ribbon Apple Pie is one of the simplest desserts that packs the biggest punch in flavor and texture. Make one -- or five -- today!
Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake
Infused with cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, this pumpkin spice cheesecake is delicious -- and very freezer friendly.
Spiced Pumpkin Bundt Cake with Maple Glaze (30 cents/slice)
Looking for an easy cake recipe? This Spiced Pumpkin Bundt Cake with a luscious maple glaze comes together easily and quickly, perfect for dessert or snacking. You can even mimic the iconic piping from the cake shop to make your cake nothing bundt fun!
Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Make the cupcakes in advance, cool, and freeze. Frost them with with cream cheese frosting after thawing for a delightful, spiced treat.
Nanna's Toffee Dream Pie - A Must-Make
This recipe is a family heirloom; my mom has been making Toffee Dream every Thanksgiving since 1967. It’s the dessert worth fighting for.
Mixed Berry Pie (86 cents/serving)
A trio of berries in the filling and cinnamon and lemon zest in the crust make for a practically perfect Mixed Berry Pie. Bake one and freeze an extra for another time.
Easy Blueberry Pie with Frozen Blueberries (81 cents/serving)
Got a hankering for a delicious blueberry pie? No problem. It’s surprisingly easy and amazingly tasty to bake one yourself with frozen blueberries.
Sorbet & Ice Cream Pie with Chocolate Ganache
Blood orange sorbet, vanilla ice cream, and chocolate ganache come together so nicely in this easy and delicious ice cream pie. Feel free to swap out a different sorbet if you like!
This post was originally published in November 19, 2014. It has been updated for content and clarity.
I’ve already made your slab apple pie and have it in the freezer and am planning on making the cream cheese mashed potatoes in the next day or 2. So helpful to have some stuff done ahead.
Heather @ My Overflowing Cup
I used to make the entire Thanksgiving meal on Thanksgiving day. After eating and getting the kitchen cleaned up, I would collapse. I have learned the past few years that even making a few dishes ahead of time helps tremendously. I think I will try the turkey ahead of time this year. Thanks so much for the tip and the great links. I usually make pumpkin dinner rolls, but the cranberry rolls look like a must-have. Pinning this one. Thanks, again, Jessica.
I’ve been planning to make the mashed potatoes from your first cookbook for Thanksgiving. I’m hosting and in charge of potatoes (and gravy), the turkey and stuffing/dressing. With the potatoes from the freezer and a turkey cooked ahead, all I’ll have to worry about the day of is stuffing, and I plan to do much of that prep work (chopping onions & celery) the day before too. So my Thanksgiving should be easy peasy! As far as the food goes at least. If only cleaning could be “done ahead,” too 🙂
We would make a million bucks if we invented the Clean-Ahead House!