Thanksgiving. It’s only the single most important meal of your culinary career this year. But don’t stress! If you’re anything like me (a procrastinator with great intentions), do yourself a favor and plan ahead! These make-ahead Thanksgiving dishes can be created days in advance and will free you up to actually enjoy your Thanksgiving morning. Novel idea, right?
How to Make Your Entire Thanksgiving Day Meal Ahead of Time
Save yourself a lot of stress this year. Don’t get up at 4 a.m. anymore. There are lots of ways you can make almost everything days or even a week ahead of time.
This guide will walk you through each type of food you serve at Thanksgiving and how to make it ahead of time. You’ll discover time-saving hacks for making appetizers, side dishes, the main course, and desserts earlier than ever before.
Before you do all that, make sure you have everything you need.
Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Tips
Go through and make sure your kitchen is ready for the feast you are going to prepare. Do these things first, before you even start cooking.
- Clean out the refrigerator and freezer. You will need a lot of room for the extra food you are going to store.
- Buy extra food storage containers. You’ll need them to store the food you are going to prepare.
- Have plenty of foil onhand. Foil is excellent for wrapping premade foods.
- Clean off your countertops. You will need lots of room for your food prep work.
There are 4 main types of appetizers, and you can make all of them ahead of time before Thanksgiving.
Scroll through each type of appetizer and jot down the tips and hacks.
- You can make salads 1-2 days ahead of time if it consists of greens, nuts, cheese or hard veggies like carrots.
- Fruits like apples and avocados will brown if prepared in advance, so slice those up just before serving.
- Make sure you keep your dressing separate until you are ready to serve.
Most dips tend to improve in flavor when they have had a few days to marinate. Make your dip 2 days ahead of time and store it in the bowl you’re going to serve it in.
You can easily pull this out with chips or crackers to let hungry guests start munching on the big day.
Soups also taste better a day or two after being made. Make your soup 2-3 days ahead of time, then reheat and serve on Thanksgiving day.
Cheese and Meat Tray
Cheeses and cured meats are extremely hardy. You can arrange your cheese tray 3 days ahead of time exactly how you want to serve it (minus crackers), then saran wrap and refrigerate it.
On Thanksgiving morning pull out the tray and set it on the table with some newly unwrapped crackers.
There are 6 popular types of side dishes that you can make ahead of time.
Mac and cheese
Good news. You CAN make mac and cheese ahead of time! You can prepare it up to 3 months in advance and freeze it.
When you’re ready to bake, thaw it to room temperature first. You can also bake mac and cheese the night before, refrigerate then reheat Thanksgiving Day.
Of all the make-ahead Thanksgiving dishes, this might be the best one. Here’s how to make stuffing early for Thanksgiving.
- Start prepping your stuffing 5 days ahead of time.
- Find some nice crusty bread, then cube it before leaving it on a baking sheet to dry for 2-3 days.
- Chop and prep all your veggies 2 days before and store them in airtight containers.
- Make your stuffing the day before Thanksgiving—it’s one of those magical foods that tastes better the day after it’s made.
Green bean casserole
If you’re one of those people who like green bean casserole (I hate itttt!), you’ll be glad to know you can make this one in advance too!
Mix up your ingredients, minus the crunchy toppings, in the dish you’ll bake it in, then refrigerate. On Thanksgiving morning, stick it in the oven to bake.
Sweet potato casserole
Sweet potato casserole can be prepared 2-3 days in advance and refrigerated. Microwave or reheat in the oven before serving, of course!
This one is a bit controversial. Some people give an emphatic no to making mashed potatoes ahead of time while others give it an enthusiastic yes. Personally I have always made mine the day of.
Thanks to its sugar content and natural preservatives, cranberry sauce has a crazy-long shelf life once prepared. This is one of the few make-ahead Thanksgiving dishes you can prepare up to 6 days ahead of time!
Turkey and Gravy
I have never tried to make turkey or gravy ahead of time, but it can be done. This recipe shows you how to make a turkey up to 3 months in advance! Personally, I’ll stick with doing it the day of—just don’t forget to defrost and brine your bird several days in advance.
You can also make gravy ahead of time using the turkey neck.
How to Make Thanksgiving Desserts Ahead of Time
Desserts are some of the easiest things you can make ahead of time. They can easily be made and frozen. Then all you have to do is let them thaw and reheat them in the oven. It’s so easy.
While we let turkey have its moment, for most of us dessert is the true star of the show. While there are a million make-ahead Thanksgiving dishes to try, nothing is sweeter (hah) than pie.
Luckily there is no shortage of types of pies and virtually all of them can be made in advance. Whether your choice is an apple, blackberry, blueberry or cherry pie, create it 1-2 days ahead of time and store in the fridge.
You can create even further ahead of time if you freeze your pie. And if you feel instant upon fresh pie made the day of, do yourself a favor and make the pie dough in advance.
Whipped cream is one thing I was shocked to learn you can make ahead of time. This article from Food52 shows you exactly how.
Just remember—Thanksgiving is supposed to be fun! Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Cheers! 🙂
Want more Thanksgiving help? Check out this post of 15 Awesome Thanksgiving Hacks!
I have never hosted Thanksgiving at my home, but I do try to offer my services to my MIL the day before to come help her prep and then go to her house early the next day to help as well. We certainly have a few dishes we do the night before. It makes things so much easier!
Thank you for all the great ideas. The breakdown of what to prepare and when is a big help.
Instead of using milk, use cream cheese and then freeze the mashed potatoes in a casserole dish. Thaw in fridge and pop in oven 30 minutes or so at 350F. Works like a charm! 🙂
Your advice is truly inspiring! How else can you surprise your guests at a festive banquet? What is your usual speciality dish or ingredient to complete the dishes? I would appreciate your answers and tips, thank you!
Think about using caviar from salmon to give a touch of class and luxury to your cuisine. You can find it at https://www.gourmetfoodstore.com/caviar/salmon-roe-caviar-0779. Salmon roe caviar is a colorful and tasty addition that gives any dish a splash of color and a wonderful pop. It pairs well with a variety of culinary creations thanks to its delicate texture and salty flavor. Salmon roe caviar will enhance the presentation of any food you serve, including canapés, sushi, and even deviled eggs, and impress your visitors.