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.
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.
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My game plan usually looks like this:
- Two weeks before: Bake muffins (like Cranberry Orange Muffins or Pumpkin Muffins) and make Cranberry Sauce to stash into the freezer.
- Two days before: Make Mashed Potatoes, take turkey out of the freezer and put it into the fridge in the roasting pan to start thawing. (Sometimes I do this three days ahead to be super sure it thaws.)
- Day before: Bake Thanksgiving Pie (we do Butternut Squash Pie or Cranberry Apple Pie), clean green beans.
- Day of: Make the turkey (I love this Split Roast Turkey recipe), make stuffing (if we’re doing it), cook the green beans, warm up the potatoes, get everything else to the table.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Best Tips for Success
- Make 1 or more recipes ahead of time to reduce the work you need to do on the actual holiday.
- Freeze muffins for easy snacks or Thanksgiving breakfasts.
- To reheat foods like mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes, cover with wax paper and heat in the microwave in 1-2 minute increments, stirring in between for even heating.
- Find more on how to freeze baby food if cooking foods ahead for a little one.
- Check out my Thanksgiving Printables and Activities the Kids Can Do While You Cook to help keep the kids busy.
- After the holiday, bookmark these Salt Dough Ornaments and Stocking Stuffer picks.
I’d love to hear your feedback on this post, so please comment below to share.
This post was first published November 2022.