Nicole McLaughlin, aka NicoleMcmom, shares her best tips for making Thanksgiving side dishes ahead of time for a stress-free holiday.
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Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are always best when they're made just before serving, but they can be made ahead to save time and stovetop space on the day. Check seasoning before serving, as freezing can change the flavor. If they're too thin after thawing you can thicken them up with add-ins such as cream cheese, sour cream, or cheese. Try this recipe for Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes.

  • Make-ahead on Thanksgiving day: Peel, cut and cover in water, and store in the fridge. See How to Make the Most Popular Potato Side Dishes (including mashed potatoes!).
  • Make-ahead up to a week in advance: You can make mashed potatoes the day before and stash them in the fridge, or you can make them up to a week ahead and freeze them.
  • Freeze in quart-size batches. Lay the bags flat to freeze; this helps them thaw faster.
  • Reheating. Thaw overnight in the fridge if possible. Place thawed mashed potatoes in a casserole dish, cover with foil, and heat in oven at 300 to 350 degrees F, stirring occasionally OR microwave covered with plastic wrap.  Heat at half or ¾ power for about five minutes, stirring half way through.  Then zap at high heat until they're hot and steamy. You can also heat thawed mashed potatoes in your slow cooker on LOW heat, stirring occasionally.

Gravy

  • You can make tasty gravy ahead of time by roasting smaller parts of the turkey such as wings, thighs, legs, or necks.
  • Boost the flavor of your make-ahead gravy by stirring in strained and defatted pan juices from your roast turkey. See Nicole's Turkey 101 video for tips to make gravy.
  • Another approach to make-ahead gravy is to make and freeze turkey stock ahead of time. Thaw it in the fridge overnight and use it along with the turkey drippings to make gravy.

Casseroles & Stuffing

  • For side dish casseroles that have pre-cooked fillings (like sweet potatoes, broccoli, and green beans), you can prep and assemble them in a casserole dish but don't bake. (Leave off the toppings until you bake.) You can refrigerate make-ahead casseroles for a day or freeze them. Thaw frozen casseroles overnight in the fridge.
  • Dressing and stuffing flavors improve as they rest in the fridge, so it's actually BETTER to make a day or two ahead and store in the fridge. Or make them up to a month ahead and freeze.
  • Remember: The cook times will be longer usually because they are starting cold.  Even if they are thawed, I like to set them out at room temp for up to an hour before baking.

Vegetable Side Dishes

  • Prep ahead by washing and cutting them.  Then all that's left is seasoning and cooking.
  • For even quicker cooking, you can blanch them, dry and store. See How to Blanch Vegetables.
  • Cranberry sauce or cranberry relish can be made and refrigerated for up to a week ahead, or frozen up to a month ahead. Thaw frozen cranberry sauce in the fridge overnight.

Pies

More Stress-Reducing Tips

  • Delegate.
  • Buy some store-bought help.
  • Plan for oven space for reheating all of the sides, and choose some sides that don't require an oven.  Example, use the microwave to heat the mashed potatoes. Finish the sweet potatoes or other casseroles in the crockpot. Choose refrigerated sides that don't need heating, like broccoli salad.
  • If you don't have space to STORE all the make-ahead dishes, or you want to cook to get the house smelling its best, then at least do most or all of your time-consuming prep steps ahead of time, such as cutting vegetables, making pie crust, and so on.

Related

You can connect with Nicole as NicoleMcmom on Allrecipes and on Instagram @nicolemcmom.