Make-ahead Side Dishes for an Easy Thanksgiving

Make-ahead Side Dishes for an Easy Thanksgiving

Publish Date October 2, 2023

Nothing says Thanksgiving like passing classic comfort dishes around the table with friends and family. While fitting all your favorites on 1 plate takes practice, finding the space to cook them all can be a challenge, even for a seasoned pro.

Making your side dishes in advance is a great way to ease kitchen traffic, free up oven and stovetop space and calm the chaos for a serene celebration everyone will be thankful for. Here are the best sides for a make-ahead Thanksgiving, and the side dishes you should always make fresh.

Thanksgiving Classics to Prepare in Advance

Prepare these favorites in advance to save space and time in the kitchen:


It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a rich and flavorful turkey gravy, but did you know you can make this staple ahead of the holiday? Use turkey necks and broth to create a savory stock ahead of time, or try this quick gravy hack and avoid roughing it with a roux altogether. Your gravy can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or if you’d like to prepare it sooner, it can be stored in the freezer for up to 6 months. If you choose to freeze your gravy, thaw it overnight in the refrigerator and heat it up before serving, adding fresh turkey drippings to give it even more flavor.

Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce is another staple that’s perfect for making ahead, and since it’s best served chilled, you don’t even need to heat it up. You can make this delicious pomegranate cranberry sauce a few days in advance or store it for up to 1 month in the freezer. Keep your cranberry sauce fresh by using a covered glass container or air-tight bag in the fridge or freezer. If freezing your sauce, be sure to thaw it out overnight in the refrigerator, then set it on the table before guests arrive to take a bit of the chill out.

Green Bean Casserole

That’s right, everyone’s favorite Thanksgiving casserole freezes beautifully. Cook this crowd pleaser up to 2 weeks in advance, omitting the final sprinkle of fried onions. Let it cool to room temperature and cover with plastic wrap. Label and date your dish before storing in the freezer. When you’re ready to serve, remove your plastic wrap and cover with fresh foil before heating in the oven at 350°F for about 45 minutes, or until heated through. Remove foil, add your fried onions and continue to bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, until everything is bubbly and the onions are golden and crispy.

Slow Cooker Side Dishes

Add your ingredients first thing in the morning, or even the night before, and witness the time and spacesaving magic of the slow cooker.

Slow cooking your favorite side dishes is a true game changer, allowing you to set and forget sides that traditionally require lots of hands-on preparation. Add your ingredients first thing in the morning, or even the night before, and witness the time and space-saving magic of the slow cooker.

This slow-cooked sweet potato casserole is an instant classic. Taking it slow with this recipe ensures soft, fluffy sweet potatoes without the hassle. Just pop your casserole in the oven before serving and enjoy the gooey goodness of freshly toasted marshmallows.

If you’re looking for an easy, cheesy side, this slow cooker bacon mac and cheese is a great place to start. This dish brings all the comfort without taking up all the counter space.

Sides to Make Fresh

Now that we’ve done some Thanksgiving menu planning with a few of the recipes you can make ahead, let’s dive into the dishes that taste best when made fresh:


This one might be obvious, but the star of the show should never arrive early. In fact, fashionably late is often better. Serve your guests a tender, juicy bird fresh out of the oven, since reheating a cooked turkey in the oven can cause the meat to dry out.

Bread and Rolls

While you could certainly freeze dough ahead of time, your bread and dinner rolls should be fresh, steaming and ready for butter and gravy.

Mashed Potatoes

It’s safe to make this dish ahead, but reheating can quickly get sticky. The starch in these yummy spuds can often become gluey when reheating, causing your dish to lose its light and fluffy appeal. For more info on which potatoes are best suited for your favorite Thanksgiving dishes, be sure to check out our complete guide to potatoes.

Salads and Other Fresh Greens

Seasonal salads provide a fresh contrast to all the hot, yummy comfort foods on the menu, but preparing these dishes in advance can lead to soggy, wilted greens. Instead, make your dressing in advance and group all your mix-ins (like dried cranberries, crumbled blue cheese and candied almonds) together for an easy sprinkle-and-serve salad.

Remember, Thanksgiving’s a time for gratitude and togetherness. These make-ahead recipes, tips and tricks are a great way to save time in the kitchen, so you can spend time celebrating with friends and family. Happy feasting!

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