Find the best make-ahead Thanksgiving recipes (that are also easy) to share with your family this year. Plus, find a game plan to make cooking the holiday meal as stress-free as possible with my best make-ahead tips and tricks so you can enjoy the holiday without spending hours in the kitchen.
Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Recipes
For all of the years that I had very young kids, I also hosted Thanksgiving. For me, the only way I could prepare the food and be present for my kids when they needed me was to make some of the dishes ahead of time.
This was (and is still) a way to spread out the work and take advantage of dishes that store really well in the freezer and refrigerator.
Everything from muffins and quick breads, to mashed potatoes and green beans can be made ahead. You don’t have to make everything on my list before the actual holiday, of course, but if you have time to do things ahead—or you’re traveling and need to cook in advance—the lists below will help.
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My game plan usually looks like this:
- Two weeks before: Bake muffins and make Cranberry Sauce to stash into the freezer.
- Two days before: Make Mashed Potatoes, take turkey out of the freezer and put it into the fridge in the roasting pan to start thawing. (Sometimes I do this three days ahead to be super sure it thaws.)
- Day before: Bake Thanksgiving Pie (we do Butternut Squash Pie), clean green beans.
- Day of: Make the turkey (I love this Split Roast Turkey recipe), make stuffing (if we’re doing it), cook the green beans, warm up the potatoes, get everything else to the table.
Our Thanksgivings are usually fairly small, so we don’t make every single side dish option. I’m just sharing this as an example.
P.S. My take on making Thanksgiving kid-friendly is to keep the environment supportive, try to include 1-2 foods they usually like and remember that whether or not they eat the meal is not how we need to define “success”. Many of these foods are unfamiliar to kids and it’s the being together that matters most. And you enjoying your food too!
Thanksgiving Recipes to Make Weeks Ahead and Freeze
Muffins, quick breads, bars, and some sauces work so well to make ahead and freeze. When you’re ready to thaw, thaw overnight in the fridge or for a few hours at room temperature. Pat any food dry that has visible moisture on it and warm for 15-30 seconds (in the case of muffins or bread) as desired.
Make-Ahead Muffins, Bread, and Bars
These are my favorite pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bars, pumpkin bread, and cranberry baked goods to make for Thanksgiving—and freeze ahead of time.
Use a gluten-free flour blend or whole wheat depending on what works best for your family. This recipe has very little flour—that is not a mistake. They bake up wonderfully, so have faith! Adapted from Against All Grain.
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!).
These bars are tender when warm out of the oven, so do be sure to let them cool completely before slicing.
This bread has the classic flavor and moist crumb of a traditional Pumpkin Bread, but with half the sugar. It stores well too! (Heads up: There’s a full can of pumpkin puree In this, so it takes a little longer to bake.)
Combine a handful of simple ingredients into fresh Cranberry Orange Muffins to share with the kids come breakfast or snack time … or to serve alongside your favorite chili, soup, or holiday recipe. (These mini muffins work best with fresh cranberries.)
This quick bread works really well to bake ahead and store in the fridge or freezer until ready to serve it. We love it topped with cream cheese, but butter and honey also work.
make-Ahead Sides and Purees
Below are some easy purees (for baby or the whole table) and sides that can be easily made ahead and stored in airtight containers in the freezer until closer to the holiday.
This fresh pumpkin puree is mellow and flavorful, and can be combined with other purees to make delicious baby food combinations. (See the Notes for flavor options.) The amount of puree you wind up with will vary according to the size of the pumpkin you start with.
Learn the easiest way to turn fresh acorn squash into Acorn Squash Baby Food as a puree and a baby-led weaning finger food. This can also work as an easy side dish for the entire family, or you can easily freeze portions for future weeks.
Perfectly creamy Sweet Potato Puree is a very favorite easy side dish (and baby food!). This is delicious in fall, takes less than 30 minutes, and can be flavored in all sorts of ways.
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.
Learn how to make quick and flavorful Green Bean Baby Food as a baby-led weaning food or as a Stage 1 or 2 puree. Plus, find tips on how to store and mix the puree with other flavors to make yummy baby food combinations.
Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Desserts
The easy desserts on this list can be baked fully, cooled, and then stored in an airtight container or freezer bag (with as much air removed as possible) in the freezer for up to 6 months. You can also make the dough for the Thanksgiving Cookies ahead and freeze that until ready to bake.
With a super simple, lightly sweetened dough, these Thanksgiving Cookies are such a fun dessert to make and share with the kids. You can do any shape you prefer, though we’re partial to tiny turkeys!
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.
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.
Thanksgiving Recipes to Make a Few Days Ahead and Refrigerate
All of these Thanksgiving side dishes can be made a few days ahead of the holiday, stored in an airtight container in the fridge, and reheated for the big day.
I prefer to use Yukon Gold potatoes in this recipe. They are usually widely available at grocery stores.
You can break or cut these into any size you prefer. I usually just break them in half.
Learn the easiest way to make Roasted Acorn Squash slices to serve as an easy side dish for the entire family. See the Notes for optional flavor variations.
These quick stove top Cinnamon Apples cook in under 10 minutes, are perfectly tender, and can be served with or without added sugar. They’re a delicious snack or topping for yogurt or oatmeal—and they taste like apple pie filling!
Yes, this is delicious on turkey, but it also makes a delicious jam or addition to a bowl of plain yogurt with honey!
How to Thaw Frozen Foods
When you’re ready to thaw, thaw overnight in the fridge or for a few hours at room temperature. Pat any food dry that has visible moisture on it and warm for 15-30 seconds (in the case of muffins or bread) as desired.
Best Tips for Success
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