9 Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Sides That Hold Up in the Freezer
If you're tackling any or all of the Thanksgiving cooking this year, here's 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 for up to a month, and you'll have even more to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. These top recipes and prep tips for make-ahead Thanksgiving side dishes will save precious time on the big day itself.
Sweet Potato Casseroles
Pictured: Gourmet Sweet Potato Casserole
Assemble the casserole following recipe directions, but leave off the topping if it has one. Instead of baking, wrap well and freeze. To bake, you can either thaw the casserole overnight in the fridge, or bake it while it's still frozen. Sprinkle with topping before baking. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit 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.
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.
Homemade Cranberry Sauces
Pictured: 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.
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.
Butternut Squash Soups
Pictured: Claire's Curried Butternut Squash Soup
Squash soup is a popular first course for Thanksgiving, but you don't have to make it on the day for it to taste great. Prepare and purée the soup, but if your recipe contains dairy, don't add it. 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 milk or cream, and heat to steaming.
Tip: Freezing can intensify the flavor of the onion in the soup, so taste before serving and adjust the seasonings.
Pictured: 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 it to a boil before serving.
Tip: You can strain and degrease the pan drippings from the turkey before stirring them into your make-ahead gravy to boost that freshly-roasted-turkey flavor.
Pictured: Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes
Take mashed potatoes off your to-do list on T-day. Cook and mash your potatoes, adding plenty of butter and cream. You can toss in extras like snipped herbs, bacon, and roasted garlic now, or later after they thaw. Either way will work, although chives and parsley might lose their bright green color in the freezer. You can always add more after thawing.
Tip: If your thawed and heated mashed potatoes turn out a bit watery, whip in generous spoonfuls of sour cream or cream cheese to bring the texture back together.
Stuffing and Dressing
Pictured: Grandma's Corn Bread Dressing
Assemble the dressing, but don't bake it. Let it cool and freeze it. Thaw it in the refrigerator for 24 hours and allow it to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking it to golden perfection.
Tip: Bake it in the oven according to the recipe instructions, keeping in mind that cooking will likely take a little longer because the dressing is going in cold from the fridge.
Home-Style Macaroni and Cheese
Pictured: Home-Style Macaroni and Cheese
Mac and cheese freezes well, so don't hesitate to make it in advance. Just hold the topping — it's best to add it during the last 15 to 20 minutes of reheating.
Tip: Once the mac and cheese cools, you can actually freeze it in a freezer-safe baking dish. Just double-wrap the dish tightly with plastic wrap, pressing on the wrap to remove air pockets. Cover the dish with tin foil, and freeze it till you're ready to thaw it.
Aunt Millie's Broccoli Casserole
Pictured: Aunt-Millie's Broccoli Casserole
Ingredients like ricotta, cream cheese, and mayonnaise don't freeze well, which rules out a lot of veggie casseroles. Aunt Millie's Broccoli Casserole, however, uses freezer-friendly fresh broccoli and Cheddar. As with the mac and cheese, bake this casserole without the topping — add that before you reheat it on Thanksgiving.
Tip: Let your casserole cool before you freeze it, which will keep it from getting mushy.
Twice-Baked Potatoes for the Freezer
As with mashed potatoes, stirring in enough butter and milk or cream is essential to freezing twice-baked potatoes. And this holiday-worthy side couldn't be easier to prepare in advance. Just let your cooked potatoes cool, then transfer them to freezer bags.
Tip: To serve, thaw the potatoes overnight and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until hot, about 20 to 30 minutes. If you're pressed for time, microwave the thawed potatoes on high for about three minutes.