Cooking for Thanksgiving can be intimidating, so I wanted to decrease the stress by sharing make ahead Thanksgiving side dishes and desserts that will bring flavor and fun to your table without a lot of fuss or last-minute scrambling.
- Make Ahead Thanksgiving Side Dishes and Desserts
While we often think of the turkey as being the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal, the truth is that the side dishes are what many people love most about Thanksgiving. And chances are good that whether you’re hosting the big meal or are going to be a guest at someone else’s table, you’re responsible for providing a side dish (or two).
Whether you’re an experienced cook or more of a novice, preparing a dish for Thanksgiving can feel pretty high stakes. For some, the stress comes in selecting the recipe (the options can seem endless), while for others the cooking is the stressful part. I wanted to help to take some of the anxiety out of the equation. So, I pulled together a pretty darned comprehensive list of amazing recipes that are not only relatively easy to prepare (some are very easy!), but can also be made ahead of time so that you don’t need to feel a time crunch on top of everything else.
A note: Many families have very set ideas about how each dish should be prepared, especially for the more traditional ones such as mashed potatoes, corn bread, macaroni and cheese, and green bean casserole. And while I am all for honoring traditions, I personally love it when there is something new to try, so I tried to pull together a collection that includes both traditional-style dishes and some new and fun ideas to inspire you. But, if grandma’s sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top are a beloved feature of your family’s Thanksgiving table, then I encourage you to add new dishes with care and not replace the family favorites.
Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!
Make Ahead Thanksgiving Side Dishes and Desserts
How this list is organized
Before we dig in, first a note about how this list is organized. In order to make the navigation of this round up of Thanksgiving sides as easy as possible, I have grouped the recipes into different categories: Appetizers, Green Vegetable Sides, Squash Sides, Carrot Sides, Potato Sides, Sweet Potato Sides, Other Vegetable Sides, Baked Sides, Cranberry Sauce, and Desserts. You can use the table of contents above to jump to specific sections or you can explore all the options!
Classic Deviled Eggs – a crowd-pleasing classic! Make these up to two days ahead of time and then store in an airtight container. Or you can try Hummus Deviled Eggs for a fun, slightly lighter spin on the classic.
Cranberry and Brie Puffs (pictured above) – these are a family favorite and while they look fancy, the prep is actually incredibly simple. You can make these ahead, store in them in an air-tight container, and then crisp up quickly in the oven right before serving.
Creamy Indian-Spiced Spinach Dip – this delicious dip is packed with warming, comforting spices and makes a fun alternative to spinach-artichoke dip. Serve with chips or sliced vegetables.
Garlic Herb Goat Cheese Spread – another great make-ahead dip/spread that can be served with sliced bread or veggies.
Pumpkin Crostini – these are another family favorite. Make the pumpkin spread and the toasts ahead of time (I like to make the toasts the day before) and then assemble right before serving to keep your toasts nice and crispy.
Tzatziki – the beauty of this dip is that it tastes even better when allowed to sit (refrigerated!) for a day because it allow the flavors to meld together even more. Serve it with sliced veggies for a light and healthy start to your meal.
Green Vegetable Sides
Caramelized Brussels Sprouts – Brussels sprouts are quite sturdy, so you can make this a day or two ahead of time and then quickly reheat on the day of.
Colorful Kale Salad – one of the beautiful things about kale is that it is sturdy enough to be able to handle being dressed for longer than many salad greens. In fact, dressing it early helps to soften the kale a bit, which means you can make this salad a day in advance without any worry.
Green beans are sturdy and can hold up to being cooked twice. So, with all three of these recipes I like to make them ahead of time, but stop the cooking about 2-3 minutes before I normally would. Then, when it’s time to serve them, I just quickly reheat them in a skillet (or even the microwave).
Green Beans with Mustard-Lemon Sauce (note: drizzle the sauce over when you reheat)
Green Beans with Lemon and Garlic (note: add the lemon juice when you reheat)
Green Beans Almondine (pictured above)(note: mix the almond slivers in when you reheat)
The great thing about winter squash is that, in most cases, it can be enjoyed either hot or at room temperature.
Chili Roasted Butternut Squash – Smoky and delicious, this is a super simple option that you can make a day or two ahead of time and no one will ever know!
Maple Butternut Squash – A nice, lightly sweet option that is great in place of mashed sweet potatoes or even mashed potatoes (although I’d never give those up).
Parmesan-Crusted Acorn Squash (pictured above) – this simple, cheesy version of acorn squash is quite attractive to look at (especially if you top it with some minced parsley) and super delicious!
Savory Baked Acorn Squash – it really doesn’t get much easier than this awesome dish. If you aren’t a fan of curry powder, feel free to swap that out for chili powder or smoked paprika.
Whipped Butternut Squash with Pomegranate Seeds – I love the contrast of the silky-smooth butternut squash and the pop of the pomegranate seeds in this one.
Glazed Carrots – these are a great make ahead option that can easily be reheated in the microwave or in a skillet. Serve them the more traditional way, Honey Glazed (pictured above), or brighten and zing them up with Orange and Ginger.
Pureed Carrots with Orange and Mint – if you’re looking for a brighter, lighter option, these pureed carrots will add a little zing to the table. To reheat, just zap them in the microwave.
Roasted Carrot and Beet Salad with Goat Cheese – served at room temperature, this is a make ahead dream come true.
Sauteed Carrots with Butter and Thyme – this simple side brings some of the flavors that are likely in other dishes on your table to your carrots. You can serve these room temperature, or reheat quickly in the microwave.
Light Potato Salad (pictured above) – if you aren’t a fan of mashed potatoes or want to try something new, this is a lighter-in-calories option that will still give you that potato-y goodness.
Potato and Kale Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette – this delightful salad brings together your potatoes and your greens in one bowl!
Warm Potato Salad – this is often served warm, but is just as good cold or at room temperature. Another great, lighter option.
Whipped Potatoes (Mashed Potatoes) – because, as far as I’m concerned, there always need to be mashed potatoes. To reheat, place them in a casserole or oven-safe bowl, top with a little extra butter for moisture, and place in a warm (250 degrees Fahrenheit, or so) oven for a few minutes (or you can always microwave them).
Sweet Potato Sides
Sauteed Sweet Potatoes – these are a fun, super simple option for your sweet potatoes. To reheat, just pop them back in a skillet for a few minutes with a little bit of oil to prevent sticking.
Whipped Sweet Potatoes (pictured above) – if you’re looking for a way to replace the casserole topped with marshmallows, these whipped sweet potatoes might be just what you need. They’re silky-smooth, gently sweet, and packed with flavor. To reheat, like the mashed potatoes above, place them in a casserole or oven-safe bowl, top with a little extra butter for moisture, and place in a warm (250 degrees Fahrenheit, or so) oven for a few minutes (or just microwave them).
Other Vegetable Sides
Braised Turnips with Apple Cider Vinegar and Maple Syrup – turnips are a great, seasonal root vegetable that often gets overlooked. When you pair them with the zing of apple cider vinegar and the sweetness of maple syrup you get a dish that is super appealing! Reheat in the microwave.
French Beet Salad – this is another salad that’s wonderful to make ahead and then serve at room temperature.
Moroccan Roasted Root Vegetables with Chickpeas – while this dish is normally served warm, it’s actually just as delicious at room temperature, making it a fantastic make-ahead option for your feast.
Roasted Beets with Maple Syrup (pictured above) – I like to make these with both red and golden beets to make the dish really cheerful looking. Serve them at room temperature or reheat briefly in a warm oven.
When I’m tasked with bringing baked goods to a Thanksgiving meal, I always make them weeks ahead of time and then just freeze until the day before.
Cornbread Stuffing with Pomegranate Seeds – this is a fun spin on a classic. I love how the pomegranate seeds add a burst of flavor with every bite. Make this a day or two ahead of time and then just reheat in the oven before serving.
Feta-Jalapeno Corn Muffins (pictured above) – I love the little bit of extra zing that this version of the classic offers.
Savory Zucchini Corn Muffins – if you aren’t a fan of sweet cornbread, this one is for you!
Sweet Whole Wheat Cornbread – if you are looking for a classic, sweet cornbread recipe this is it!
Whole Wheat Buttermilk Biscuits – these whole wheat buttermilk biscuits are light and lovely!
Cranberry sauce is another dish that I make way ahead of time. If you make it five days or less ahead, then just store it in an air-tight container in the fridge. If you make it farther ahead, you can freeze it and then defrost the night before.
Cranberry-Fig Sauce with Ginger (pictured above) – if you’re looking for a new spin on the classic, the addition of figs adds a nice mellow sweetness as well as some fun texture to the dish.
Low-Sugar Orange-Ginger Cranberry Sauce – this is a low-sugar version of the classic. If you’ve never made cranberry sauce before, don’t stress, there are few Thanksgiving dishes that are easier to make than this!
Make Ahead Desserts that are Perfect for Thanksgiving
Chocolate Bark – there are few things easier to make than chocolate bark. In fact, consider getting your kids in on the action here! And the best part? It can last for days, so make it way ahead and then store in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer. Try our Dark Chocolate version or get fancy with our Pomegranate, Coconut, and Ginger spin.
Crispy Honey Peanut-Oats Bites – these are a family favorite and can be made up to 5 days ahead of time. Store them in an airtight container in the fridge.
Figs in a Blanket (pictured above) – What happens when you combine baklava and fig newtons? These babies! Make them up to two days ahead of time.
Celia’s Chocolate Marshmallow Clusters – like bark, these beauties can be made days ahead of time and then stored in the fridge.
Amazingly Easy Key Lime Pie – as its name implies, this is a simple pie to prepare and the citrus zing is a really nice way to end such a heavy meal. Make up to two days ahead of time, wrap well, and store in the fridge.
French Silk Chocolate Pie – this is like a chocolate bomb that explodes in your mouth! Make up to two days ahead of time, wrap well, and store in the fridge.
Sweet Potato Pie (pictured above) – I love this one because, thanks to the sweetness of the sweet potato, you add almost no sugar. Make up to two days ahead of time, wrap well, and store in the fridge.
Apple Crisp (pictured above) – This lower-sugar, gluten-free version of a classic is wonderful made ahead of time. Serve at room temperature or reheat in a warm oven for a few minutes. Ice cream or whipped cream on top is always a solid option!
Blueberry Lemon Breakfast Cakes – these are a less sweet option that is bright and refreshing after a rich meal. Make them up to two days ahead and store, carefully wrapped in the fridge. Serve at room temperature.
Fruit Kabobs – a healthy, fun option that requires no cooking at all!
Poached Pears – these beauties are simple to make and can be served topped with whipped cream or ice cream for a lighter dessert at the end of such a rich meal. Plus, they can be served at room temperature, which means serving is a breeze, too!
Cookies and Bars
Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars – these delicious bars will be an instant hit with everyone and can be made up to three days ahead of time and then stored in an air-tight container at room temperature.
Meringue Cookies – these pillowy, light cookies are a wonderful way to end such a rich meal. The trick to making them ahead of time? Store them in the freezer! You can make a coconut version or add in chocolate chips (pictured above).
Do you have make ahead Thanksgiving side dishes or desserts that you love? Please share them in the comments!