Find the best kid-friendly easy Thanksgiving recipes. Plus a game plan to make cooking the holiday meal as stress-free as possible so you can actually enjoy the day without having to hunker down in the kitchen for hours.
Easy Thanksgiving Recipes
I know firsthand how challenging it can be to cook a big holiday meal with kids running underfoot. But I always still want to enjoy the holiday food—and over the years, I’ve found some ways to pull it off even with the realities of life.
And so, this post is meant to give you tips on how to plan out when you cook which dishes, take advantage of make-ahead strategies, and then have things ready to go on the actual holiday.
I am not always a fan of meal prepping or doing work ahead, but in this case, it really pays off—and tastes just as delicious!
Easy Game Plan
The goal of this plan is for you to make a recipe or two on the days leading up to Thanksgiving so you then just need to do the turkey and the gravy on the holiday.
The food you made ahead can simply be warmed up and served, which gives you less time in the kitchen and more time to enjoy the day with your family.
TIP: This is how I’ve approached holiday meals since I’ve had kids and it’s low stress and totally doable!
Recipes to Make the Weekend Before Thanksgiving
Here’s what you can get done on Saturday or Sunday before the holiday week. Obviously ignore recipes you don’t need or plan to make—there’s a range here!
Yes, this is delicious on turkey, but it also makes a delicious jam or addition to a bowl of plain yogurt with honey!
You can make these mashed sweet potatoes up to 2 days ahead and reheat, and stir right before serving.
Look for a pumpkin labeled “pie” or “sugar” for the best flavor. I used a Winter Density Squash, which is an heirloom variety. The amount of puree you’ll wind up with will depend on the size of your pumpkin.
The amount of puree you wind up with will vary according to the size of the pumpkin you start with.
Recipes to Make the Tuesday before Thanksgiving (optional)
Muffins or quick breads are great options to make ahead. (You could make these further out if you want to freeze them and then thaw in time for the holiday). You can pick one of these or ignore this all together!
These mini muffins work best with fresh cranberries.
Moist and nutritious, these healthy cornmeal muffins are an easy side, breakfast, or yummy snack.
These moist muffins are great on their own or topped with butter, honey, or apple butter. Try them for breakfast, snack, or as a side for dinner.
Recipes to Make the Wednesday before Thanksgiving
Let the potatoes and stuffing cool and store them covered in airtight, heat-safe containers in the fridge so they’re ready to go right into the microwave.
Pull the pie out of the fridge on Thanksgiving morning so it can come to room temperature (you can also warm it to serve it warm) and you can serve the cupcakes right out of the fridge or at room temperature.
I prefer to use Yukon Gold potatoes in this recipe. They are usually very widely available at grocery stores.
With sweet-tart flavors and an easy method, this pie is perfect for the winter holidays! Use fresh or frozen cranberries in this recipe for the best results. Discard any that are blemished or shriveled.
This pie is similar to classic pumpkin, but has so much flavor from the squash.
I like to frost these soon before serving. You can make the frosting ahead, transfer it to a zip top bag, and store in the fridge until ready to add to the cupcakes.
TIP: You can also do your casseroles the day before the holiday too, or in the morning of the holiday.
Easy Thanksgiving Recipes to Make on the Holiday
I always make a Split Roast Turkey, where you cut down the backbone and lay the turkey flat, since it cooks much faster and more evenly that way in about 3 hours.
This citrusy, herby turkey recipe cooks faster than traditional recipes and is flavorful and moist.
This is an easy way to get a head start on the meal—you can even make it ahead of time.
You can break or cut these into any size you prefer. I usually just break them in half.
Simple Store-Bought Sides to Add
You can of course buy any of the other traditional elements of the meal that you want. Take shortcuts where you need them my friends!
- Rolls or Cornbread
- Whipped cream
Thanksgiving Breakfast Ideas
These are in contention for an easy, yet festive Thanksgiving breakfast. You can also make these ahead of time!
These bars are tender when warm out of the oven, so do be sure to let them cool completely before slicing.
These store well in the fridge so you can make them a day or two ahead if you prefer—or bake and serve warm from the oven. These taste like a cross between baked oatmeal and a traditional pumpkin muffin (they don’t have any flour, so they’re a little denser than a traditional muffin, but still super moist!).
This smoothie makes two toddler-size servings, or a smoothie to share for a parent and toddler. You can freeze any leftovers into a freezer pop!
You can make this in about 15 minutes on any morning, or make the whole recipe ahead and simply warm right before serving. See the Notes for variations to make it with other types of oats.
Made with minimal added sweeteners and fresh apple flavor, these baked donuts are a nutritious breakfast or snack to share.
TIP: To help keep the kids busy, these free printables are here to help! My kids have been loving these coloring pages for the past week and I can’t wait to use the Turkey Taste Test on the holiday to see what they like.
Tips for Stress-Free Easy Thanksgiving Recipes
- It’s okay if things aren’t perfect!
- It’s okay if the kids don’t eat all of the food! They are new to the world and they’ve only experienced this holiday a handful of times in their lives (if that), so have empathy that they haven’t seen most of these foods many times before.
- Try to remember that the day is about being grateful, not about a perfect meal. Enjoy your family!
If you have other tips to share about having a great Thanksgiving with less stress, please share it below!
This post was first published October 2020.