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Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Recipes

Find the best make-ahead Thanksgiving recipes (that are also easy) to share with your family this year. Plus, find a game plan to make cooking the holiday meal as stress-free as possible with my best make-ahead tips and tricks so you can enjoy the holiday without spending hours in the kitchen.

Cranberry orange sauce in two glass jars with pan.

Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Recipes

I know firsthand how challenging it can be to cook a big holiday meal with kids running underfoot. But I always still want to enjoy the holiday food—and over the years, I’ve found some ways to pull it off even with the realities of life.

And so, this post is meant to give you tips on how to plan out when you cook which dishes, take advantage of make-ahead strategies, and then have things ready to go on the actual holiday.

I am not always a fan of meal prepping or doing work ahead, but in this case, spacing out the cooking in short bursts really pays off—and tastes just as delicious!

(These holiday printables and activities the kids can do while you cook may help, too.)

Your toddler won’t eat? Help is here!

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Easy Thanksgiving Game Plan

The goal of this plan is for you to make a recipe or two on the days leading up to Thanksgiving so you then just need to do the turkey and the gravy on the holiday.

The food you made ahead can simply be warmed up and served, which gives you less time in the kitchen and more time to enjoy the day with your family.

This is how I’ve approached holiday meals since I’ve had kids and it’s low stress and totally doable…or at least more doable in my experience anyhow. You are free to make any of these whenever you want, of course!

Cranberry orange sauce in two glass jars.

Recipes to Make Weeks Ahead

Here are some favorite recipes that work to make ahead and freeze weeks ahead of time. Let each cool, then store in a freezer bag or airtight container in the freezer. Thaw at room temperature or overnight in the fridge.

For anything that needs to be served warm, cover with wax paper or another plate and heat in short 30 second increments, stirring in between for even heating.

You can also make any of these up to 5 days ahead of time and store in the refrigerator in an airtight storage container.

Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Cranberry Sauce is perfect to make ahead and freeze. So are mashed sweet potatoes and regular potatoes.

Easy Cranberry Orange Sauce

Yes, this is delicious on turkey, but it also makes a delicious jam or addition to a bowl of plain yogurt with honey!

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Cranberry orange sauce in two glass jars.
Healthy Mashed Sweet Potatoes

You can make these mashed sweet potatoes up to 2 days ahead and reheat, and stir right before serving.

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healthy mashed sweet potatoes
How to Roast Pumpkin (to Make Puree)

Look for a pumpkin labeled “pie” or “sugar” for the best flavor. I used a Winter Density Squash, which is an heirloom variety. The amount of puree you’ll wind up with will depend on the size of your pumpkin.

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Best Pumpkin Baby Food

This fresh pumpkin puree is mellow and flavorful, and can be combined with other purees to make delicious baby food combinations. (See the Notes for flavor options.) The amount of puree you wind up with will vary according to the size of the pumpkin you start with.

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Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Baked Goods

Muffins or quick breads are great options to make ahead since they freeze and thaw so easily. These are all great holiday sides or easy foods to have on hand for Thanksgiving breakfast. (Find the full info on how to freeze and thaw muffins, too.)

Healthy Pumpkin Bars Recipe

These bars are tender when warm out of the oven, so do be sure to let them cool completely before slicing.

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sliced pumpkin bars on cutting board
Pumpkin Oatmeal Muffins

These store well in the fridge so you can make them a day or two ahead if you prefer—or bake and serve warm from the oven. These taste like a cross between baked oatmeal and a traditional pumpkin muffin (they don’t have any flour, so they’re a little denser than a traditional muffin, but still super moist!).

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healthy pumpkin chocolate chip muffins on rack
Healthy Pumpkin Bread (Lower Sugar, SO Good!)

This bread has the classic flavor and moist crumb of a traditional Pumpkin Bread, but with half the sugar. It stores well too! (Heads up: There’s a full can of pumpkin puree In this, so it takes a little longer to bake.)

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Favorite Cranberry Orange Muffins

Combine a handful of simple ingredients into fresh Cranberry Orange Muffins to share with the kids come breakfast or snack time … or to serve alongside your favorite chili, soup, or holiday recipe. (These mini muffins work best with fresh cranberries.)

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mini cranberry orange muffins on plate
Healthy Pumpkin Mini Muffins

Use a gluten-free flour blend or whole wheat depending on what works best for your family. This recipe has very little flour—that is not a mistake. They bake up wonderfully, so have faith! Adapted from Against All Grain. 

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healthy pumpkin muffins on bear plate
Easy Cornbread Muffins

Moist and nutritious, these healthy cornmeal muffins are an easy side, breakfast, or yummy snack.

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maple corn muffins
Butternut Squash Muffins

These moist muffins are great on their own or topped with butter, honey, or apple butter. Try them for breakfast, snack, or as a side for dinner.

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Recipes to Make a Few Days Before Thanksgiving

These recipes are perfect to cook in the days leading up to Thanksgiving and store in the fridge in an airtight container. Let the potatoes and stuffing cool and store them covered in airtight, heat-safe containers in the fridge so they’re ready to go right into the microwave.

Pull the pie out of the fridge on Thanksgiving morning so it can come to room temperature (you can also warm it to serve it warm) and you can serve the cupcakes right out of the fridge or at room temperature.

TIP: You can also do your casseroles the day before the holiday too, or in the morning of the holiday.

Easy Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes

I prefer to use Yukon Gold potatoes in this recipe. They are usually widely available at grocery stores.

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Best Boiled Green Beans

You can break or cut these into any size you prefer. I usually just break them in half.

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whole wheat pie crust on pie
Favorite Cranberry Apple Pie

With sweet-tart flavors and an easy method, this pie is perfect for the winter holidays! Use fresh or frozen cranberries in this recipe for the best results. Discard any that are blemished or shriveled.

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baked cranberry apple pie
Easy Butternut Squash Pie

This pie is similar to classic pumpkin, but has so much flavor from the squash.

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butternut-squash-pie slice on plate
Mini Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

I like to frost these soon before serving. You can make the frosting ahead, transfer it to a zip top bag, and store in the fridge until ready to add to the cupcakes.

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Sweet Potato Baby Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Plan to make the sweet potato at least two hours (and up to 3 days) before you want to make the cake so it has time to cool before you make the cake.

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Fluffy Pumpkin Cookies

These Fluffy Pumpkin Cookies are soft and delicious, and they almost melt in your mouth. They take only 20 minutes to make and are perfect for Thanksgiving or winter holidays—or any time you have a craving. They’re particularly pretty with a sprinkles on top!

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Pumpkin cookies on baking sheet after baking.


Best Tips for Success

  • It’s okay if things aren’t perfect!
  • It’s okay if the kids don’t eat all of the food! They are new to the world and they’ve only experienced this holiday a handful of times in their lives (if that), so have empathy that they haven’t seen most of these foods many times before.
  • Try to remember that the day is about being grateful, not about a perfect meal or whether the kids eat all of the things. Enjoy your family!
  • Store anything you make ahead of time in an airtight container. Reheat in 30-60 second increments, stirring in between as needed, until warmed through.
  • To help keep the kids busy, these free printables are here to help! My kids have been loving these coloring pages for the past week and I can’t wait to use the Turkey Taste Test on the holiday to see what they like.

Related Recipes

If you have other tips to share about having a great Thanksgiving with less stress, please share it below!


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