Find the best make-ahead Thanksgiving recipes (that are also easy) to share with your family this year. Plus, find a game plan to make cooking the holiday meal as stress-free as possible with my best make-ahead tips and tricks so you can enjoy the holiday without spending hours in the kitchen.

Cranberry orange sauce in two glass jars.

Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Recipes

For all of the years that I had very young kids, I also hosted Thanksgiving. For me, the only way I could prepare the food and be present for my kids when they needed me was to make some of the dishes ahead of time.

This was (and is still) a way to spread out the work and take advantage of dishes that store really well in the freezer and refrigerator.

Everything from muffins and quick breads, to mashed potatoes and green beans can be made ahead. You don’t have to make everything on my list before the actual holiday, of course, but if you have time to do things ahead—or you’re traveling and need to cook in advance—the lists below will help.

(You may also like canned pumpkin recipes and on-the-go travel snacks.)

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My game plan usually looks like this:

Our Thanksgivings are usually fairly small, so we don’t make every single side dish option. I’m just sharing this as an example.

P.S. My take on making Thanksgiving kid-friendly is to keep the environment supportive, try to include 1-2 foods they usually like and remember that whether or not they eat the meal is not how we need to define “success”. Many of these foods are unfamiliar to kids and it’s the being together that matters most. And you enjoying your food too!


Thanksgiving Recipes to Make Weeks Ahead and Freeze

Muffins, quick breads, bars, and some sauces work so well to make ahead and freeze. When you’re ready to thaw, thaw overnight in the fridge or for a few hours at room temperature. Pat any food dry that has visible moisture on it and warm for 15-30 seconds (in the case of muffins or bread) as desired.

Make-Ahead Muffins, Bread, and Bars

These are my favorite pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bars, pumpkin bread, and cranberry baked goods to make for Thanksgiving—and freeze ahead of time.

Healthy Pumpkin Mini Muffins
Use a gluten-free flour blend or whole wheat depending on what works best for your family. This recipe has very little flour—that is not a mistake. They bake up wonderfully, so have faith! Adapted from Against All Grain. 
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healthy pumpkin muffins on bear plate
Pumpkin Oatmeal Muffins
These store well in the fridge so you can make them a day or two ahead if you prefer—or bake and serve warm from the oven. These taste like a cross between baked oatmeal and a traditional pumpkin muffin (they don’t have any flour, so they’re a little denser than a traditional muffin, but still super moist!).

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healthy pumpkin chocolate chip muffins on rack
Healthy Pumpkin Bars Recipe
These bars are tender when warm out of the oven, so do be sure to let them cool completely before slicing.
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sliced pumpkin bars on cutting board
Healthy Pumpkin Bread (Lower Sugar, SO Good!)
This bread has the classic flavor and moist crumb of a traditional Pumpkin Bread, but with half the sugar. It stores well too! (Heads up: There's a full can of pumpkin puree In this, so it takes a little longer to bake.)
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Favorite Cranberry Orange Muffins
Combine a handful of simple ingredients into fresh Cranberry Orange Muffins to share with the kids come breakfast or snack time … or to serve alongside your favorite chili, soup, or holiday recipe. (These mini muffins work best with fresh cranberries.)
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mini cranberry orange muffins on plate
Fresh Cranberry Orange Bread
This delicious Cranberry Orange bread is flavorful and tender—and it works really well to bake ahead and store in the fridge or freezer until ready to serve it. We love it topped with cream cheese, but butter and honey also work.
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baked cranberry bread loaf on rack.
One-Bowl Applesauce Bread
This Applesauce Bread comes together in one bowl in just minutes and bakes up into the most delicious quick bread. It's lightly spiced, super moist, and freezes beautifully.
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Applesauce bread on cooling rack.
sweet potato puree in bowl with hand holding bowl

make-Ahead Sides and Purees

Below are some easy purees (for baby or the whole table) and sides that can be easily made ahead and stored in airtight containers in the freezer until closer to the holiday.

Best Pumpkin Baby Food
This fresh pumpkin puree is mellow and flavorful, and can be combined with other purees to make delicious baby food combinations. (See the Notes for flavor options.) The amount of puree you wind up with will vary according to the size of the pumpkin you start with.
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Acorn Squash Baby Food
Learn the easiest way to turn fresh acorn squash into Acorn Squash Baby Food as a puree and a baby-led weaning finger food. This can also work as an easy side dish for the entire family, or you can easily freeze portions for future weeks.
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Acorn squash as puree and slices on plate.
Easy Sweet Potato Puree
Perfectly creamy Sweet Potato Puree is a very favorite easy side dish (and baby food!). This is delicious in fall, takes less than 30 minutes, and can be flavored in all sorts of ways.
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sweet potato puree in bowl with spoon on side
How to Roast Pumpkin (to Make Puree)
Look for a pumpkin labeled “pie” or “sugar” for the best flavor. I used a Winter Density Squash, which is an heirloom variety. The amount of puree you’ll wind up with will depend on the size of your pumpkin.
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Easy Green Bean Baby Food
Learn how to make quick and flavorful Green Bean Baby Food as a baby-led weaning food or as a Stage 1 or 2 puree. Plus, find tips on how to store and mix the puree with other flavors to make yummy baby food combinations.
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Green bean baby food in bowl and green beans on side.

Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Desserts

The easy desserts on this list can be baked fully, cooled, and then stored in an airtight container or freezer bag (with as much air removed as possible) in the freezer for up to 6 months. You can also make the dough for the Thanksgiving Cookies ahead and freeze that until ready to bake.

Spiced Thanksgiving Cookies
With a super simple, lightly sweetened dough, these Thanksgiving Cookies are such a fun dessert to make and share with the kids. You can do any shape you prefer, though we're partial to tiny turkeys!
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Spiced thanksgiving cookies on baking sheet.
Mini Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
I like to frost these soon before serving. You can make the frosting ahead, transfer it to a zip top bag, and store in the fridge until ready to add to the cupcakes.
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Favorite Cranberry Apple Pie
With sweet-tart flavors and an easy method, this pie is perfect for the winter holidays! Use fresh or frozen cranberries in this recipe for the best results. Discard any that are blemished or shriveled.
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baked cranberry apple pie
Sweet Potato Baby Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Plan to make the cake at least 2 hours (and up to 3 days) before you want to enjoy the cake so it has time to cool.
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Thanksgiving Recipes to Make a Few Days Ahead and Refrigerate

All of these Thanksgiving side dishes can be made a few days ahead of the holiday, stored in an airtight container in the fridge, and reheated for the big day.

Easy Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes
Creamy, easy to make, and so delicious, these Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes are a favorite for holidays and family meals. (I prefer to use Yukon Gold potatoes in this recipe. They are usually widely available at grocery stores.) Double or triple this recipe as needed.
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Best Boiled Green Beans
You can break or cut these into any size you prefer. I usually just break them in half.
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Easy Roasted Acorn Squash
Learn the easiest way to make Roasted Acorn Squash slices to serve as an easy side dish for the entire family. See the Notes for optional flavor variations.
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Acorn squash slices on baking sheet.
Quick Cinnamon Apples
These quick stove top Cinnamon Apples cook in under 10 minutes, are perfectly tender, and can be served with or without added sugar. They're a delicious snack or topping for yogurt or oatmeal—and they taste like apple pie filling!
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cinnamon apples in three bowls and pan with spoons.
Easy Cranberry Orange Sauce
Yes, this is delicious on turkey, but it also makes a great jam or addition to a bowl of plain yogurt with honey!
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Cranberry orange sauce in two glass jars.
pumpkin oatmeal muffins on wire rack

How to Thaw Frozen Foods

When you’re ready to thaw, thaw overnight in the fridge or for a few hours at room temperature. Pat any food dry that has visible moisture on it and warm for 15-30 seconds (in the case of muffins or bread) as desired.

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This post was first published November 2022.

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