When planning a holiday menu, it’s important to take into account time and real estate as much as taste. What will fit in the oven or stovetop on the big day, and what can you make in advance? Whether cooking for one, two or a few, get ahead with a little planning and strategy, and your day-of tasks will be minimal.
1. Spicy Peanut and Pumpkin Soup
Inspired by West African stew, Yewande Komolafe’s pumpkin soup has earthiness from peanut butter, brightness from ginger and heat from fresh chiles, all united by creamy coconut milk.
DO AHEAD: Make it a few days in advance to enjoy as a simple Thanksgiving lunch while the main meal comes together, or serve small portions as a warming appetizer.
Recipe: Spicy Peanut and Pumpkin Soup
2. Celery Salad With Apples and Blue Cheese
This five-star recipe brings fresh, assertive flavor to the Thanksgiving table and has enough texture to hold up overnight in the fridge.
DO AHEAD: Assemble the vinaigrette ingredients in a small jar so you can simply shake before serving. Toss your sliced celery, apples and celery root with just enough vinaigrette to form a light coating, which will prevent them from oxidizing. Refrigerate both elements overnight, then assemble just before the big meal.
3. Lemon-Garlic Kale Salad
Kale can easily weather a night in the fridge without wilting into oblivion, and the salad helps offset a (tasty!) sea of starches on the table. Use any leftovers to perk up turkey sandwiches, turkey soup or grilled cheese.
DO AHEAD: Prep the greens and dressing a day or two in advance, refrigerating them separately overnight. Assemble just before serving.
Recipe: Lemon-Garlic Kale Salad
4. Everything Parker House Rolls
When it comes to carbs, some households swear by store-bought family favorites for simplicity, while those with avid bakers have freshly baked bread. These rolls from Erin Jeanne McDowell bridge that divide: The everything bagel topping makes them unique enough to justify the effort. (Just think of all the sandwich combinations you can craft with leftovers.)
DO AHEAD: Bake them up to a day or two in advance. To reheat, simply wrap the rolls in a damp paper towel and microwave in 15-second bursts until steamy.
Recipe: Everything Parker House Rolls
5. Mashed Potato Casserole
There are many strong opinions out there on whether or not mashed potatoes can be made in advance — and conflicting methods on how to store them — but nearly 2,000 readers have given this recipe five stars. Melissa Clark mashes hers with a generous amount of sour cream and butter, folds them into a baking dish and refrigerates them until mealtime. Her trick to keep them moist when reheating? Top — and protect — the creamy spuds with a crisp crust of cheesy bread crumbs before baking.
DO AHEAD: Cook the potatoes, assemble the casserole, wrap tightly and store it in the refrigerator a day or two before Thanksgiving.
Recipe: Mashed Potato Casserole
6. Mushroom Bread Pudding
This visual masterpiece from Susan Spungen is as practical as it is stunning. Serve any leftovers for brunch, or match them with a zingy green salad for supper.
DO AHEAD: You can assemble it a day in advance, refrigerate overnight, then bake just before serving.
Recipe: Mushroom Bread Pudding
7. Five-Spice Roasted Carrots With Toasted Almonds
The roasted carrots in this bright dish from Sue Li lend themselves especially well to advance cooking because they are equally good hot or at room temperature.
DO AHEAD: Roast the carrots a day or two ahead and to reheat, quickly tuck them into a hot oven, warm them in a microwave or simply remove them from the fridge and bring to room temp. Top them with the chives, toasted nuts, ginger and vinegar just before serving.
8. Green Bean Casserole
Millie Peartree’s green bean casserole takes inspiration from the classic three-ingredient dish, but bumps up the flavor by adding roasted mushrooms and a Parmesan-based cream, with Cajun spices and nutmeg. This is not a dish of crisp-tender greens; they will be soft and creamy, and the topping will provide all the crunch you crave.
DO AHEAD: Shorten the roasting time by a few minutes, prepare your sauce and stash both separately in the refrigerator up to a day ahead. Reheat them gently in a saucepan together, slip them into your baking dish, top with the cheesy bread crumbs and fried onions and broil until bubbly.
Recipe: Green Bean Casserole
9. Roasted Turnips and Winter Squash With Agave Glaze
These roasted root vegetables from Sean Sherman’s collection of 10 essential Native American recipes are seasoned with sage and sweetened with agave.
DO AHEAD: The vegetables can be cooked through Step 2, then cooled and chilled one or two days in advance. To reheat, set them on a baking sheet and cover them tightly with aluminum foil and roast gently at 400 until warmed, about 15 minutes, then proceed with Step 3, brushing with agave and cooking until glossy.
10. Scalloped Potato Gratin
By baking these potatoes on a sheet pan, not only does Melissa Clark maximize the surface area of the gratin to boost browning and caramelization, she thoughtfully saves you time on the front end and back end: It’ll cook — and reheat — faster than denser dishes.
DO AHEAD: You can assemble the gratin up to four hours before baking. Store it, loosely covered, in the fridge. The gratin can also be baked four hours ahead, kept uncovered at room temperature, and then reheated in a 450-degree oven until the top is shiny.
Recipe: Scalloped Potato Gratin
11. Sweet Potato Casserole
This sweet potato casserole, adapted from the chef Jimmy Sneed by Marian Burros, takes some time but a minimal amount of effort.
DO AHEAD: Bake the sweet potatoes and assemble the mash a few days in advance, then refrigerate. On Thanksgiving, remember to pull it from the fridge about an hour in advance to lose its chill, then top with the sweetened pecans and bake. If your cravings skew sticky-sweet, top the finished casserole with marshmallows and broil for a couple minutes until molten and caramelized.
Recipe: Sweet Potato Casserole
12. French Onion Panade
Samin Nosrat describes panade as “the French country cook’s answer to stuffing.” Though many stuffings can lose their structure when prepared in advance, her recipe relies on sturdy stale bread, caramelized onions and layers of melted Gruyère.
DO AHEAD: Unlike your typical stuffing, this can be refrigerated up to three days and reheated for indisputably delicious results.
Recipe: French Onion Panade
13. Make-Ahead Gravy
Get a head start on homemade gravy by preparing this simple base of butter, onion, flour and stock ahead of time.
Some items on the Thanksgiving shopping list are obvious, but there are several other ingredients that will prove invaluable to have on hand. See our full guide on How To Cook and Plan Thanksgiving and our list of staples below.
- Butter, lots of it. Choose European-style high-fat butter for pie crusts, and regular unsalted butter for everything else.
- Stock. If you haven’t made your own, look for homemade stock at the same butcher shop where you buy your turkey, or in the freezer section of your supermarket. The canned and boxed stuff should be a last resort.
- Fresh herbs. Not only do they add freshness and flavor across your Thanksgiving table, but they’re also pretty, lending a touch of green to a meal heavy on earth tones.
- Garlic, onions, leeks, fresh ginger, shallots. An assortment of aromatics keeps your cooking lively and interesting. You’ll need them for the stuffing, for stock and gravy, and for many side dishes.
- Fresh citrus. Lemon, lime and orange juice and zest contribute brightness to countless Thanksgiving dishes, from the turkey to the gravy to the cranberry sauce to the whipped cream for pie.
- Nuts. These go a long way to give crunch to otherwise texturally boring dishes. (Ahem, sweet potato casserole.)
- White wine/vermouth/beer. Even if you’re not drinking any of these spirits before or during the meal, they can be splashed into gravy or vegetable dishes, or used to deglaze the turkey roasting pan. (Bourbon and brandy work well as deglazers, too.)
- Fresh spices. If you can’t remember when you bought your spices, now is a good time to replace them.
- Light brown sugar, molasses, maple syrup. These sweeteners are more profoundly flavored than white sugar, and they have an autumnal richness.
- Heavy cream, sour cream, crème fraîche, ice cream. You’ll need these for topping pies and cakes.
- Please, wear a mask. It protects both yourself and others from coronavirus, and aim to maintain several feet of distance from other shoppers in stores whenever possible. If you opt for grocery delivery, tip as generously as you can.
- See all of our Thanksgiving recipes.
DO AHEAD: You can make this recipe up to five days ahead. Then, as you reheat it, whisk in the turkey pan drippings for extra flavor. A pinch of fresh herbs never hurt.
Recipe: Make-Ahead Gravy
14. Cranberry-Orange Jelly
Prepared in advance, this jiggly treat will require some serious space in the fridge, but earns it by making a statement at the table. Save leftovers for your next cheese board, or tuck slices of the jelly into sandwiches.
DO AHEAD: Make the mold and refrigerate several days in advance. Set the chilled centerpiece in a bowl of warm water to release it from its mold, transfer the jelly to a serving plate and slice it at the table.
Recipe: Cranberry-Orange Jelly
15. Cranberry-Orange Relish
This cranberry relish from Mark Bittman doesn’t require any cooking. Pulse the cranberries, orange segments and nuts in a food processor with some honey until they break into itty-bitty pieces and your sauce is set.
DO AHEAD: Refrigerating it for a few days helps the flavors meld. (Most cranberry sauces will hold up well refrigerated for a few days.) You can punch up the flavor with fresh ginger and orange zest — or tame it with warming spices like nutmeg, cinnamon or five-spice — just before serving.
Recipe: Cranberry-Orange Relish
16. Sweet Potato Casserole Pie
Inspired by — you guessed it! — sweet potato casserole, Jerrelle Guy presents a convincing case that this classic dish is best enjoyed in pie form.
DO AHEAD: Prepare your foundation of crunchy ground pecans and custardy roasted sweet potatoes and refrigerate up to two days in advance. Come dessert time, top it with marshmallows and broil a few minutes until golden in spots.
Recipe: Sweet Potato Casserole Pie
17. Apple Cider Whoopie Pies
Spiced like apple pie and pressed around a cream cheese filling, these tiny autumn cakes from Samantha Seneviratne are an absolute delight.
DO AHEAD: You can prepare them a day in advance and set them aside at room temperature before serving, but beware: They are highly snackable, and the cream cheese might help justify eating them for breakfast.
Recipe: Apple Cider Whoopie Pies
18. Apple Pie Bars
Flavored with cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg, these hand-held pie bars from Genevieve Ko are topped with a buttery walnut crumble. They are delicious, and a back-pocket dessert for ambitious cooks with big day-of plans.
DO AHEAD: Though these bars are best fresh out of the oven the day they are baked, they can be sliced and refrigerated for up to two days or frozen for up to one month ahead.
Recipe: Apple Pie Bars
19. Pumpkin Layer Cake With Caramel Buttercream
Yossy Arefi’s recipe requires some time, but the payoff is as spectacular as it looks.
DO AHEAD: The cake can be prepared, assembled and refrigerated a couple days in advance. Bring it to room temperature before serving, or slice and wrap chilled pieces to share, as the stiff buttercream will make them sturdy enough to deliver to friends, family and neighbors.