Phew! Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Recipes and Tips to Be Thankful For
What can you make ahead for Thanksgiving? Plenty. Here's how to plan and prep for the big day.
Photograph by Olga Ivanova
(Want more Thanksgiving recipes and tips? Check out our big Yummly Thanksgiving page!)
If this is your first time hosting Thanksgiving, CONGRATULATIONS! Has anyone warned you yet that you need to start thawing your frozen turkey in the fridge about five days ahead? True story. If you've hosted Thanksgiving before, you’re probably here looking for ways to make it easier. Either way, you’re in the right spot for making your turkey-day meal manageable.
With the help of our make-ahead Thanksgiving guide, you can get a jump-start on meal planning and accomplish plenty of Thanksgiving prep. We've even included some make-ahead Thanksgiving recipes that can be fully completed ahead of time, including favorites like mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and apple pie.
The right recipes and a solid plan: This year, you're set! A stress-free Thanksgiving awaits.
Jump ahead to:
Menu planning and grocery shopping
Start planning your Thanksgiving menu at least a week ahead. Then create your shopping list. The Yummly Meal Planner makes it all easy!
Note: The Yummly Meal Planner is available to paid subscribers.
Make-ahead Thanksgiving appetizers
The big day can involve a fair amount of time hanging out together, and you'll need some snacks to keep the gang from diving into the rolls too early. Fortunately, you’ve got great options for make-ahead Thanksgiving appetizer recipes. Spiced nuts keep in the pantry for three weeks and in the freezer for months. Tahini sauce for dunking raw veggies, and Chirchi, a spread of roasted squash and carrots for dunking crackers, both keep in the fridge up to five days. Toast and toppings for crostini can be made several days ahead and assembled when you're ready for a nibble.
Try these make-ahead appetizers:
Thanksgiving main courses
The turkey tends to be the star of the show on Thanksgiving Day, and not just because it's a big bird. But If you’re planning a vegetarian or vegan Thanksgiving, we have some great recipes to choose from, too.
Turkey and gravy
With the time it requires to cook (and thaw!), turkey takes on an oversized role in the Thanksgiving kitchen, one that's worth planning around. (For starters, plan on 24 hours thawing time in the fridge for every 4 pounds of turkey.) We’ve put together separate guides to turkey and another one for making gravy. The first guide below covers your classic roast turkey. If you want to consider a turkey breast instead of a whole bird, or if you’re team dark-meat and are thinking turkey thighs or turkey legs, the second article has lots of turkey recipe options.
You may wonder, “Can I cook the turkey a day before?” The answer is, no, not for best results. You can do some prep, like brining or spatchcocking the turkey, a couple of days ahead. And while you could roast a turkey and reheat the meat the next day, it will be the most juicy if it’s cooked and served on the same day.
Vegetarian and vegan main dishes
Consider serving a stellar stuffed squash; a platter filled with stunning fall vegetables like cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and butternut squash; or a baked nut loaf with mushrooms, rice, and cheese. All three can be prepped the day before cooking, which is a load off for any cook.
Here are some tasty meat-free dishes to consider:
Make-ahead Thanksgiving side dishes
Some people argue that the side dishes, not the turkey, are the true stars of the feast. We have lots of delicious choices with make-ahead options that may convince you to join their team.
Make-ahead mashed potatoes
It turns out you can make classic mashed potatoes up to two days before and then reheat them in the microwave or on the stovetop with a little cream and milk just before serving. Or, on Thanksgiving, put your slow cooker to use to keep cooked mashed potatoes warm or to cook the potatoes completely.
Mashed potatoes to make the meal:
Sweet potatoes and yams
Sweet potatoes, aka yams, are ideal to prep ahead. Our casserole recipe is extra-easy and can be fully assembled the day before and heated just before you eat. It’s best to add a marshmallow topping just before baking. You can bake the candied yams a day ahead with butter, spices, and brown sugar, and then reheat them covered before setting them out on the Thanksgiving table.
For something a little more savory, try roasted sweet potatoes. The sweet potatoes can be cut a day before the feast, tossed in a zip-top bag with oil and seasonings, and refrigerated overnight. On Thanksgiving, just bake them in a hot oven for about half an hour.
Don’t have a sweet potato recipe? We’ve got you covered:
Green bean casserole
Add another make-ahead Thanksgiving vegetable to your line-up with a green bean casserole. You can start the prep by trimming and blanching the green beans and making the mushroom sauce as many as four days ahead. Assemble the casserole the night before Thanksgiving, but wait to add French-fried onions or frozen onion rings until the last minute so they stay crispy. Then bake an hour before dinnertime so the casserole gets to the table hot.
New to green bean casserole? Here are a few recipes to get you started. The last one includes options to make it dairy-free and vegan.
Root vegetables, and brassicas like broccoli and Brussels sprouts, can be washed and trimmed up to four days in advance. If they're prepped, you can wait until about 30 minutes before Thanksgiving dinner is served to toss the vegetables on a baking sheet and roast them in the oven.
Ready to put your oven to work?
If you want to make stuffing entirely from scratch, you can start prepping several days in advance. Tear the bread into rough cubes on Sunday, spread them on a sheet pan, cover with a dishcloth, and leave on the counter to dry out for a day or two. Saute the onions and herbs as early as Monday and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake. At that point, mix the bread and onions with the broth and melted butter and put the stuffing in the bird or bake it in a casserole dish in the oven.
Or make this the year you try a rice stuffing. You can prep it up to two days in advance and just reheat before serving. Need more help getting stuffing just right? We have a guide for that here.
Good news: Cranberry sauce is a perfect make-ahead Thanksgiving recipe. The acid from the cranberries acts as a preservative, so it stays fresh for weeks. For the best flavor, just be sure to let it come to room temperature before serving.
Here are a few cranberry sauce recipes to represent these radiant berries:
Quick breads and rolls
Do we need bread on the table? Probably not. Do we want bread? Absolutely. Whether it’s a quick bread or a dinner roll, bread’s a Thanksgiving dinner stalwart that you can’t dismiss. We’ve got make-ahead recipes that help you get a jump-start on the prep.
A lot of people are afraid of yeast, but it’s pretty predictable. Yeasted rolls can be mixed, kneaded, and shaped one or two days in advance as long as they’re covered and refrigerated for the final rising time. You can even freeze the dough if you have room in your freezer. Just pop the (thawed) rolls in the oven an hour before dinner starts and you’ll have warm, butter-ready rolls when you sit down to eat!
For the best roll around, try these recipes:
Because cornbread is a quick bread, you can mix the dry ingredients anytime before Thanksgiving and set them aside in an airtight container. A day in advance, you can mix the wet ingredients separately and refrigerate them. On the day of Thanksgiving, cornbread is an easy first thing to mix, bake, and set aside for the big meal.
Looking for a killer cornbread? Here are three easy, make-ahead recipes:
Make-ahead Thanksgiving desserts: pies and pie pastry
Traditionally, Thanksgiving dessert means pie. Sure, there are a few ways to mix up the magic of Thanksgiving desserts (do we hear a call for whipping up some cream cheese for pumpkin cheesecake?) but we can’t lie, we love pie. If you’re making pie crust from scratch, the pastry can be made up to two days in advance and refrigerated. Or you can make the pastry weeks in advance and freeze it.
Fillings should be mixed right before baking, but you can (and should) bake your pies a day in advance. Pies can take a long time to bake and an even longer time to cool for optimal flavor and ease of slicing. All of this means that pie is the ultimate make-ahead Thanksgiving dessert recipe.
Need ideas for pies? We have some sweet ways to get started.
Make a day-by-day plan
To sum it up, here's what your make-ahead plan could (loosely) look like. The good news is you can start prepping for your holiday meal on Saturday to get a major leg-up on the big day.
Putting together a Thanksgiving meal is a big undertaking, but it's so much easier when you have everything planned out and prepped ahead of time.
Enjoy your family, friends, and food!
More resources for the perfect Thanksgiving
Get more helpful tips and memorable recipes for Thanksgiving in these next articles.