No matter what anyone tells you about Thanksgiving, make-ahead Thanksgiving tips always come in handy. Plan all you want, but it’s still going to be a bit of a mad dash right before that beautiful turkey hits the table. But every year I host, I get a little better about prepping my Thanksgiving to-do list ahead of the big day and it pays off big time. (well, it at least allows me to enjoy a glass of wine while I’m in my mad dash.)
So I canvassed my favorite experts and I’m sharing some of my own favorite make-ahead Thanksgiving dinner tips with you below. Some require chopping, some are about cooking, and some – my favorite of all – is all about delegating.
Because how much more relaxing is it to know half of your Thanksgiving to-do list is taken care of when you wake up Thanksgiving morning?Updated for 2023
Make-ahead Thanksgiving tip #1 – Yes, you can make mashed potatoes ahead of time.
Anthropologie has some of the most beautiful, affordable bowls you’ll use over and over all year. Photo © Jane Sweeney for CME
Once you’ve cooked and mashed your potatoes – and this is key – mix them with butter first. The butterfat will coat the spuds and help prevent the starch in the potatoes from turning gummy. Then, slowly add your dairy. Let cool, cover and then refrigerate. When you’re ready to rewarm the potatoes, add a little more dairy until potatoes are velvety and warm.
Make-ahead Thanksgiving tip #2 – Create and freeze perfect individual pie doughs.
Freeze and Bake Fruit Pie | King Arthur Flour
To create perfect dough rounds that are easier to roll out, line a 9-inch cake pan with enough plastic wrap that it extends over the sides of the pan. Press the prepared pie dough into an even layer in the pan. Wrap the plastic around the dough and freeze the entire thing (dough and pan) until firm.
Once frozen, remove the dough rounds and store in a sealable plastic bag. Or, you can freeze the entire unbaked pie with this expert pie crust tutorial from our friends at King Arthur Flour. Author PJ Hamel has so many great tips and visuals; it’s worth a look!
PS The Le Creuset pie plates are gorgeous — and on sale right now!
Make-ahead Thanksgiving tip #3 – Par-cook your stuffing.
Some recipes, including my favorite classic recipe “Simple is Best”Stuffing at Epicurious, allow you to prep and partially cook the stuffing ahead of time. Then on Thanksgiving, you can pop it in the oven to finish – using only a fraction of precious oven time on Thanksgiving.
Make-ahead Thanksgiving tip #4 – Swap out a roasted vegetable for a make-ahead salad.
Kale & Brussels Sprout Salad via Once Upon A Chef
A hearty salad made of shredded kale or brussels sprouts is festive and seasonal, and since it doesn’t require any cooking, it frees up oven time. Wash and prep all the salad components and make the dressing prior to Thanksgiving, and then toss everything together an hour or so before serving (make sure not to toss the day before; you don’t want everything to get soggy).
A great example of using both these hearty greens is the Kale & Brussels Sprout Salad with Walnuts, Parmesan & Lemon-Mustard Dressing via Once Upon A Chef (above). The fresh crunch of the salad and acidity of the dressing will offset the richness on the rest of your plate. I’ve brought this salad to a “friendsgiving” and it also really travels well!
Tip: You can never go wrong with one simple white ceramic salad bowl, which looks beautiful no matter what’s in it. If you prefer the look of wood, this Acadia wave salad bowl has a little flare to it, and nice price!
Make-ahead Thanksgiving tip #5 – Wash, peel and chop ALL of your vegetables ahead of time.
Turn on some music, enlist some help and chop every onion and celery in your recipes. (Make sure those knives are sharp!) Trim the green beans and brussels sprouts. Organize everything per recipe and put in labeled containers or bags. I find this step the most crucial for giving me peace of mind on Turkey Day. Probably because I know it gets a lot of prep dishes out of the way.
How to roast vegetables: A foolproof method for the best way to cook fall and winter produce.
Colorful fall salads to brighten your Thanksgiving table
The ultimate Sidesgiving menu when you’re skipping the Turkey
Make-ahead Thanksgiving tip #6 – Lay out — and label — all your serveware in advance.
Using sticky notes, label each platter and bowl with what you will be serving inside. This assures you have exactly what you need, out and ready to go, and should you need to make a substitution, better to know before you have to move those perfectly plated roast veggies onto a new dish. Bonus if you can also organize the serving utensils.
Make-ahead Thanksgiving tip #7 – Prepare cranberry sauce in advance no matter what!
5 Ingredient Slow Cooker Cranberry Sauce via Running to the Kitchen
Cranberry sauce actually gets better if you let it sit for a few days, so grab an easy recipe and pop it into your slow cooker at least a few days, or even better, the weekend before Thanksgiving. Store in the fridge and take out the morning of. Gently rewarm before serving, or serve at room temperature.
A couple years ago I found the 5 Ingredient Slow Cooker Cranberry Sauce at Running to the Kitchen (above) while researching my post about my favorite easy cranberry sauce recipes – and I’ve been making it ever since. Orange, cinnamon and maple syrup are everything you want with the tart cranberry flavor. Hint: Mixed with a little mayo, it also makes a kick-ass condiment for leftover turkey sandwiches.
5 easy cranberry sauce recipes that break the mold for Thanksgiving.
All the great Thanksgiving recipes you can make in your Instant Pot.
9 timesaving kitchen cheats to make holiday cooking (and everyday meals!) easier.
Thanksgiving dinner help: What to make from scratch and what to buy ready-made
Make-ahead Thanksgiving tip #8 – Delegate!
Seriously, delegating is one of the best Thanksgiving make-ahead tips you can gift yourself. Ask someone to bring a simple vegetable dish that’s picky kid approved. (We love this list of easy-to-transport Thanksgiving potluck recipes.) Or ask a relative to bring an appetizer to share. Or the wine for dinner. Or get the kids in the kitchen giving them responsibility for a single salad or dessert.
Trust me, everyone will be happy to contribute — and you’ll be happy it’s off your plate. So to speak.
Top photo: krakenimages on Unsplash