I love Thanksgiving, but cooking the entire massive meal for family and friends can be exhausting, especially if you’ve gotten a lot of RSVPs. If you’ve got young kids underfoot, that can make the cooking even harder, which is why we’ve come to rely on make-ahead dishes for many of my staples. Sure, you can’t cook the turkey ahead of time, but there are plenty of desserts and side dishes that you can enjoy without having to prep and cook everything on Turkey Day. To help you get started, here are a few make-ahead Thanksgiving dishes that I have come to love – and they taste just as good as the stuff that you make on the day of.
The last thing you want to think about when you’re planning a huge Thanksgiving dinner is how you’re going to feed everyone breakfast before all the cooking begins. Skip the hassle with some easy-to-make-ahead breakfast casseroles. All you need to do is toss them in the oven so you can focus on your lunch or dinner prep. My favorite is a sausage and hash brown breakfast bake. All you need is some sausage — mix mild and hot or just use mild if you’ve got some less developed pallets in your household — some frozen hash browns, cheddar cheese, eggs and milk. Cook the sausage and hash browns according to the directions, mix and top with the eggs and milk. Store it in the fridge overnight or toss it in the oven immediately, and you’ve got a quick and easy breakfast ready to go!
You can’t have Thanksgiving dinner without cranberry sauce but making fresh sauce takes a while and requires constant monitoring, which takes time away from other recipes that need just as much attention. Thankfully, cranberry sauce can be made ahead and frozen. It’s a super simple recipe too – all you need is some fresh cranberries, sugar, some water, some whole cloves, cinnamon and allspice. Put your whole spices in a spice bag or wrap them in a piece of cheesecloth. Cook your cranberries until they start to burst, then reduce the heat to low and stir in the sugar until it has dissolved. Toss the spice bag and refrigerate before serving.
Up your side dish game this Thanksgiving with this fresh take on creamed spinach. Hearty kale stands in for spinach, which we all know wilts down to nothing, and a rich creamy bechamel is spiked with smoky paprika which lends not just incredible flavor, but a fun color, too. Make these greens up to two days in advance and cover with plastic wrap flush against the surface to avoid a dreaded skin from forming.
Thanksgiving dinner isn’t complete without some tasty bread, but there’s no reason for you to have to spend all day making it. Simple yeast rolls can be made up to two months in advance and frozen until you need to bake it. If you don’t have the room in your freezer for a couple of baking pans, you can still make it the day before and toss it in the fridge after its first rise. If you freeze your rolls, add two hours to their second rise before you bake them. If you refrigerate them overnight, add an hour to that second rise before you toss them in the oven.
Thanksgiving dinner isn’t complete without some tasty stuffing, and I love this recipe. It’s not the kind of stuffing that you’re going to use to fill your bird with, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious. It also uses toasted brioche rather than other types of bread, which is much lighter, creating a less-dense stuffing that won’t fill you up. Make the sausage and vegetable mixture a day ahead of time, then cool and store in the fridge. Once the turkey is done, toss it back in the oven to reheat for a few minutes, and you’ll be good to go.
You had me at “maple pecan drizzle.” Plus, any side made on the stovetop for Thanksgiving is a winner. The oven is precious real estate, often saved for the bird alone. The night before Thanksgiving, simmer sweet potatoes in a rich combination of milk and butter until tender and masher. Reheat them before serving and top with the luscious drizzle.
You didn’t think that we’d give you a list of make-ahead recipes without giving you at least one dessert, did you? If you’re tired of plain old pumpkin pie, this recipe is a great alternative. It’s got all the tasty flavors of pumpkin pie wrapped up in a smooth and creamy cheesecake. Make your crust, whip up your filling and put it in the oven and bake. It’s pretty much the same recipe that you’d find in a classic New York style cheesecake with the addition of some pureed pumpkin and pumpkin pie spices. This recipe requires that you chill the cheesecake for a minimum of four hours after baking, so you can easily whip this up the night before and have it ready for to serve after your Thanksgiving dinner wraps up. Trying to cook an entire Thanksgiving dinner will leave you too tired to actually enjoy the fruits of your labor. Make a few of your side dishes ahead of time so you’ve got plenty of time to enjoy friends, family and good food – which is the whole point of Thanksgiving, isn’t it?