Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Recipes: Sides, Soups, Desserts | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Recipes

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Save Yourself Time on Thanksgiving Day!

Catherine Boeckmann
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Not only do make-ahead Thanksgiving recipes save you time on the big feast day to spend on the “big bird” and with family, but also many of these recipes taste better when the flavors have more time to marinate! Here is a list of Thanksgiving dishes that you should make in advance of the holiday.

For a Thanksgiving feast, it’s important to prepare elements ahead of time. No one wants to be stuck in the kitchen all day. Here are dishes that we would prepare in advance (and which ones we wouldn’t).

Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Side Dishes

1. Stock

Make your own stock in advance (or secure some excellent stock from the freezer section of your grocery store). Just have it ready beforehand so it flavors everything that’s cooked. You’ll want to have plenty of stock (3 or 4 quarts) for gravy, warming the turkey, deglazing your roasting pan and more. Here is our Homemade Turkey Stock recipe.

2. Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce can always be made a day or two in advance and stored in the refrigerator. (Don’t freeze.)

Credit: Anna Shepulova/shutterstock

3. Stuffing

Many folks swear that the flavor of stuffing is absolutely 100% better made ahead of time. It helps all the flavors come together. Just bake it on the day itself. See our do-ahead stuffing recipe.

Credit: Brent Hofacker/shutterstock

4. Green Bean Casserole

The classic green bean casserole not only reheats well but actually benefits from being made a day ahead; the dish becomes more flavorful. On Thanksgiving, cover with crispy onions and bake.See our Green Bean Casserole recipe.

Credit: Sam Jones/Quinn Brein

5. Any Casserole Dish

Seriously consider any casserole. They’re made for being prepared in advance. One of our fan favorites is the Sweet Potato Soufflé, below. Some of us aren’t big marshmallow fans, but this is one of our most requested recipes—and Thanksgiving is for the guests!

Credit: Sam Jones/Quinn Brein

6. Gravy

Many cooks will make the gravy for a turkey dinner in advance, especially for Thanksgiving so you’re not scrambling on the day of the feast. This turkey gravy will last in the fridge a day or two without a problem and the flavors even deepen and improve as they meld.

Credit: Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

7. Soups

Soups are also easy to prepare in advance. One of our favorites is this Vermont Butternut Squash Soup.

Photo by Becky Luigart-Stayner

8. Desserts

Make at least one dessert in advance. Not only will this decrease stress but you’ll need your oven for Thanksgiving dishes.

Any cake should hold up well for a day or two. Cheesecakes and any dessert that is refrigerated are great choices.  Many folks will make a pie in advance, though we’re partial to a freshly-baked pie. This is especially true of apple pies and fruit pies; we would not make more than 24 hours in advance to avoid a soggy cruit.

However, one idea is to prepare the pie dough (which is the most time-intensive part) ahead of time. You can store in the freezer. The night before Thanksgiving, just defrost it and drop in the filling to bake fresh.

Our Pumpkin Satin Cheesecake will hold up nicely.

Pumpkin Cheesecake. Photo by Sam Jones/Quinn Brein
Photo by Sam Jones/Quinn Brein

We also love this refrigerated Cranberry Dream Pie

Photo by Sam Jones/Quinn Brein

Puddings and mousses also do quite well when prepared in advance and kept in the fridge. Try our classic Indian Pudding for something different or our Easy Chocolate Mousse.

9. Appetizers

While we wouldn’t go crazy with appetizers before the big Thanksgiving feast, do serve something simple with drinks before the meal begins.

Photo by iuliia_n/shutterstock

A bowl of high-quality mixed nuts are also a fine idea, assuming your guests aren’t allergic to nuts. Guests love these addictive Spiced Nuts and often ask for the recipe!


5 Dishes That Should Not Be Made Ahead

Of course, some Thanksgiving recipes should never be made ahead of time. We’re looking at you, mashed potatoes! 

  1. You don’t want mashed potatoes to get “gluey.” In fact, we would not whip up those mashed potatoes until right before you serve.
  2. The big bird should always be cooked on the big day. Turkey gets dried out and its texture becomes very unappealing. Don’t forget to leave plenty of time for defrosting (and cooking)! If your turkey is frozen, it needs to be defrosted in a refrigerator. Allow one day of defrosting for every four pounds of turkey. See our tips on how to cook a turkey (and cooking times).
  3. We’d also leave bread rolls for the day of the feast. There’s just nothing like warm, freshly-baked bread. Just set your timer so you don’t forget the rolls! Try our wonderful Fall Harvest Squash Rolls.
  4. If you’re making cornbread, definitely bake it on the day of the feast. You can’t replicate that toasty top and moist insides if cooked in advance.
  5. Of course, any fresh greens or salads will wilt so make on the day itself.

Thanks For Reading!

Ready to consider the full Thanksgiving menu, including the turkey? Check out our classic Thanksgiving Feast Recipes.

2023 Almanac Club