Thanksgiving is the ultimate food holiday in the U.S., and it’s easy to get caught up in creating evermore elaborate and extravagant menus. But if you find yourself spending the entire holiday in the kitchen and not with your family, you’re missing the point.
The easiest way to spend less time in the kitchen this Thanksgiving is to prepare your menu early and make a plan of action for the days leading up to the holiday. Classic dishes like mashed potatoes and green bean casserole are iconic for a reason; they’re simple and delicious and can be prepared ahead of time.
Two days before Thanksgiving, you can prep all of your vegetables. You can prepare and partially cook most of your vegetables before the big day. This means cleaning and trimming Brussels sprouts, washing and cutting green beans, and even peeling and roasting carrots or beets. Be sure to completely air-dry all washed vegetables before storing in the refrigerator. That means all you’ll have to do is warm up your vegetables or mix them into a casserole on Thanksgiving.
The day before Thanksgiving, you can prepare and cook most other sides that will last overnight or ones that don’t need to be heated up. This includes mashed potatoes (after you've put the mashed potatoes into a bowl or storage container, press plastic wrap lightly onto the top so a skin doesn't form), stuffing, biscuits, and cranberry sauce. The day before Thanksgiving is also the best time to make desserts like pie and cookies.
If you’ve prepared sufficiently, the actual day of Thanksgiving should find you worrying only about the turkey, and just putting the finishing touches on your sides. This means heating up casseroles or tossing roasted vegetables in a glaze or sauce to warm them. You can also prepare for the gravy by simmering chicken stock with turkey giblets for extra flavor. Keep the hot dishes in a warm oven after you’ve heated them up, but keep an eye on them to avoid letting them dry out. Always have some extra chicken or vegetable stock on hand to re-moisten if something ends up getting too dry.
The final thing you want to do is make the gravy. While the turkey rests, you can whip up a quick gravy made from that giblet-flavored chicken stock and turkey pan drippings.
A few simple side dishes and a good game-plan will help you thrive (and not just survive) this Thanksgiving.
Perhaps one of the most iconic Thanksgiving side dishes, mashed potatoes are easy to make and only require a few ingredients. Follow a few of our tips and tricks to make the creamiest mashed potatoes ever. Click here to see the recipe.
Sweet Potato Casserole
Use canned sweet potato purée and top with mini marshmallows for this sweet side dish. Click here to see the recipe.
Julie Ruggirello is the Recipe Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @TDMRecipeEditor.