By Vanessa Greaves

Make-ahead magic

If you're tackling any or all of the Thanksgiving cooking this year, I'm going to let you in on a big sanity-saving secret: Most of your Thanksgiving menu can be prepared way before Thanksgiving. In fact, you'll cut a lot of stress out of turkey day if you prep a few side dishes now. Just stash them in the freezer and you'll have even more to be thankful for on Thanksgiving.

I'll share top recipes and prep tips for make-ahead Thanksgiving side dishes that'll save precious time on the big day itself.

Note: You can freeze Thanksgiving make-ahead dishes for up to a month; after that, the texture and flavor may start to go off. Get tips for freezing, thawing, and reheating frozen foods.

5 Smart Thanksgiving Make-Ahead Ideas

1. Gourmet Sweet Potato Classic

Prep up through step 3, cool and freeze. To cook, sprinkle with topping before baking. Cover with foil and bake at 350° F for 30 to 40 minutes, or until potatoes are steaming hot. Uncover and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes, until topping is crisp and brown. No matter what sweet potato casserole you choose, hold back on the toppings until you're ready to actually bake the casserole.

Prep Tip: Line the baking pan with foil so you can lift out the frozen casserole and put it back in the freezer while you reuse the baking pan.

Photo by ALFANN02

You Might Also Like

2. Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy

Having a big batch of turkey gravy ready to heat and serve eliminates the frenzy of making gravy after the turkey comes out of the oven. Just make sure the recipe you choose does NOT have cream or milk in it, otherwise it will separate when you thaw it; you can always add it in after thawing. Thaw gravy in the fridge overnight and bring to a boil before serving.

Prep Tip: You can strain and degrease the pan drippings from the turkey before stirring them into your make-ahead gravy.

Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy | Photo by lutzflcat

You Might Also Like

3. Holiday Cranberry Sauce

Why do the canned stuff when you can easily make cranberry sauce from scratch ahead of time? You simply make the recipe, let it cool, and then freeze. Thaw in the fridge overnight, and stir well before serving. You can also make it on Monday, store it in the fridge, and serve it on Thursday.

Prep Tip: Best choices for freezing are simple cranberry sauces that don't contain other fresh fruits and vegetables, as the freezing process can damage their texture.

Photo by larkspur

You Might Also Like

4. Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Prepare and purée the soup, but do not add the half-and-half. Cool and freeze in a gallon-size freezer bag with the air squeezed out and the bag laid flat on a baking sheet. Thaw in the fridge overnight, whisk in the half-and-half, and heat to steaming.

Prep Tip: Freezing can intensify the flavor of the onion in the soup, so taste before serving and adjust the seasonings.

Photo by Jessa Cottrill

You Might Also Like

5. Butter Flaky Pie Crust

You can either shape the dough into a disk and freeze it, or form the pie crust and freeze it in the pan. Thaw the dough overnight in the fridge or use the frozen pie crust as is.

Prep Tip: Wrap the dough or crust in heavy-duty aluminum foil or freezer wrap to protect it from drying out.

Photo by cook399

You Might Also Like:

Do Not Freeze

  • Fresh salads
  • Eggs in shells
  • Raw potatoes


Discover more Thanksgiving make-ahead recipes.

Get top tips for freezing food.

Find top-rated Thanksgiving recipes.