For a holiday as notable as it is, Thanksgiving has a way of sneaking up on us. And it can be an especially challenging holiday to host, especially if you’re a busy cook who’s suddenly expected to whip out a multi-course meal from a normal-sized, single-oven, limited-counter-space kitchen. The solution? Chill out, with help from your coolest appliance: your freezer. You can prepare numerous dishes ahead of time and freeze them for Thanksgiving, easing the stress and making you feel less like a turkey. Here’s a guide to 21 dishes that you can prepare and freeze in advance of the big day.
Unless you really like rolling up your sleeves and smashing a bunch of hot potatoes while the doorbell is ringing and the dog is barking and the visiting cousins are yelling for the Wi-Fi password, mashed potatoes are a top choice to make in advance. Make as many pounds as you like, skins on or off, either plain or with herbs, cheese, caramelized onions or whatever your favorite flavor add-in might be. We like this roasted-garlic mashed potato recipe, which has the added benefit of keeping vampires away.
Gravy is an essential part of Thanksgiving, but making it day-of can be stressful, especially if you’re waiting for the turkey to finish cooking so you can incorporate its drippings. But it freezes so nicely, and thaws so perfectly, that you can make it well in advance. You can skip the drippings and use butter or oil instead, or cook up a turkey breast or a pan of turkey wings if you simply must have drippings as a mix-in. Or consider a mushroom gravy — vegetarians will be grateful — or The Daily Meal’s KFC-inspired gravy recipe.
Cranberry, or can-berry? Even if you love the canned version of cranberry sauce, whip up a fancier version in advance and freeze it just like you might freeze extra jam. This nice, simple recipe also incorporates red wine.
Homemade stock is so simple and so versatile. Make a ton in advance (here’s a super-simple recipe), freeze it, and you’ll find a dozen uses for it on Turkey Day. Stock can be a base for gravy, a way to keep the bird from sticking to its roasting pan, an add-in to mashed potatoes or caramelized onions, you name it. And when the day is done, don’t forget to use the new turkey carcass for a fresh batch.
You’ve got your big day menu all planned, but what are people going to snack on while the bird is cooking? These tasty cinnamon spiced nuts are simple to make, so prepare them in advance and freeze them, then thaw in advance so they’ll be on the table when that inevitable Hi-I’m-way-too-early guest shows up.
Sweet potato puree isn’t hard to make — it just takes time, and time is the one thing in short supply on Thanksgiving. So make this classic dish in advance: Boil the potatoes, cool, puree and freeze. You can dress it up with add-ins such as melted butter and maple syrup before serving if that’s your thing.
Sure, you can freeze fully baked bread or rolls in advance, but for that fresh-baked taste, stop before you bake. King Arthur Flour recommends making your favorite yeast dough, shaping it into rolls and not letting them rise before freezing them. Pull them out to thaw and rise Thanksgiving morning, and bake them while the turkey is out of the oven resting to fulfill that “knead” for the freshest-possible rolls.
It’s just not Thanksgiving without the traditional green bean casserole. Go ahead, make it in advance, wrap tightly and freeze. When the big day arrives, unwrap and bake. But take note of this one freezer-friendly tip: Don’t top it with everyone’s favorite munchy, crunchy fried onions, fried shallots, or any other crisp toppings before freezing. Save those for after the casserole has bubbled in the oven, then sprinkle on top and heat a bit more till the toppers crisp up just right.
Ah, delicious stuffing, the one Thanksgiving side dish with a name that describes exactly what we do to ourselves on Turkey Day. You shouldn’t refrigerate uncooked stuffing, the USDA warns, but freezing it is A-OK. Don’t thaw it when ready to use, just slide it right into the oven and cook to a minimum internal temperature of 165 F.
Quiche makes a perfect Thanksgiving morning breakfast to get you in gear for all that cooking, and few meals are easier to prep in advance and freeze. Need a flavor suggestion? Prosciutto parmesan quiche makes for a meaty, cheesy and satisfying ingredient combo.
Isn’t it amazing how good veggies can taste when they’re dressed up, holiday style? This creamy, vegetarian broccoli cauliflower casserole will even inspire the pickiest guests to eat their veggies. Wrap it well, and you can freeze this dish without worrying about it becoming soggy.
Soup’s on! Most soups without dairy freeze well — try this curried squash and white bean soup for a fresh twist on ye olde bean soup. Keep these tips in mind, though: Let the soup cool fully before freezing, don’t overfill your container, and undercook the veggies just a tad so they won’t turn to mush when you reheat.
No need to ditch the traditional pie, but bread pudding offers a hearty, sweet wrap-up for the end of the Turkey Day feast. And it can be made in advance and frozen for days or even weeks — just thaw in the refrigerator overnight before serving, then reheat in the oven and top with sauce or whipped cream. This pumpkin cranberry bread pudding recipe celebrates all the flavors of fall.
Pie’s the limit on Thanksgiving. Since pie crust is the most time-consuming part of a homemade pie, it only makes sense to make it in advance and freeze it. The absolute easiest way is to make the dough, roll it out and freeze it unbaked in whatever pie plate you plan to use. You don’t even need to thaw it — just add the filling and slide it straight into the oven. Don’t know where to start? Try the perfect pie-crust recipe.
Rather not mess with pie filling on T-Day? Fruit pies can be made in their entirety and frozen in advance, and that advice comes from Betty Crocker herself. You can freeze either a baked or an unbaked fruit pie, but don’t freeze a custard or cream pie — they’ll end up watery. And if you plan to cut slits in a pie’s top crust, don’t do that before you freeze it. Wait until you’re set to bake.
Lighter than pie and crisper than cake, baklava makes for a sumptuous sweet treat to finish off your Thanksgiving meal — and you don’t need to have a Middle-Eastern background to make it. But it requires will power and patience: This Turkish baklava recipe insists you let the syrup-soaked delicacy sit for 24 hours after baking. Wrap well before freezing and allow it to come to room temperature before serving.
Bless the inventor of bars, that ideal cross between cookies and cake. Caramel pumpkin oatmeal bars blend the sweetness of caramel with the fall flavor of pumpkin, and can be baked and frozen as a whole pan, or pre-sliced just right for serving.
Few things are simpler or more delicious than whipped cream, and though it’s a breeze to make, all that whipping is time-consuming. The solution, of course, is to make it in advance. A neat way to freeze it is to dollop the freshly whipped cream into fat spoonfuls on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, freeze the sheet, then store the individual little whipped-cream clouds in a sealed container or Ziploc bag. They’ll soften in about 15 minutes at room temperature.
Are kids coming to your Thanksgiving dinner? They may or may not care for pumpkin and mince pie, but they’re almost sure to love these holiday chocolate-chip cookies. Prepare the dough in advance, roll it up, wrap tightly and freeze, then just pop the dough out and slice and bake as needed.
Quick breads, such as irresistible banana bread or seasonal fave pumpkin bread, mix up quickly, bake nicely and freeze perfectly. Tip: Wrap the cooled loaves in foil or plastic, slide into a Ziploc bag, seal it with as little air in the bag as possible and freeze it up. The bread can serve as a sweet Thanksgiving breakfast or a late-night snack — or both. Pumpkin bread is just one thing we bet you didn’t know you could make with canned pumpkin.
More from The Daily Meal: