5 Dishes You Shouldn't Make Ahead This Holiday Season

Cranberry Sangría Punch
Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Prop Styling: Karin Olsen; Food Styling: William Smith

Savvy Southern cooks know a gorgeous holiday meal doesn't appear in a snap. Make-ahead recipes are key to pulling off a successful soiree, and luckily, many of our favorite festive dishes can be prepared well in advance. You'll find yeast rolls, breakfast casseroles, homemade slice-and-bake cookies, cranberry relish, and even cake layers in our freezers well before Christmastime. Go-to holiday side dishes like green bean casserole or cornbread dressing can be prepped ahead of time and baked just before serving, too. But there are a few holiday menu items that just can't hold up to the make-ahead treatment. Not everything freezes beautifully, y'all. To serve the most wow-worthy, delicious holiday meal, it's best to mark these items off your to-do list the day of your event. Plan accordingly to free up oven space and practice a little mise en place to be sure everything gets done in the nick of time.

01 of 05

The Main Attraction

Herb-Crusted Beef Tenderloin
Greg DuPree; Food Styling: Chelsea Zimmer; Prop Styling: Christine Keely

Whether your family's tradition revolves around a fried turkey, a roasted ham, a baked tenderloin, or an herb-crusted prime rib, the main dish is not something to be made ahead of time. Sure, leftovers create delicious sandwiches the next day, but for the freshest taste and most beautiful presentation, make room in the oven for your protein on the day you're hosting.

Pictured: Herb-Crusted Beef Tenderloin

02 of 05

Fresh Salads and Sides

Balsamic Green Beans with Pearl Onions Recipe
Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Prop Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller; Food Styling: William Smith

If you want those veggies crisp and your salad un-wilted, wait until right before your holiday meal to prep them. Whether you're roasting Brussels sprouts, making potato stacks, serving a green salad to start, or showcasing seasonal citrus, the presentation, taste, and texture will not be ideal (or good, for that matter) if you try to make these items ahead of time. The best news is that these side dishes usually come together quickly and shouldn't be a hassle to prepare on the day of your event.

Pictured: Balsamic Green Beans with Pearl Onions

03 of 05

Sparkling Punches

Cranberry Sangría Punch
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Prop Styling: Karin Olsen; Food Styling: William Smith

We love a house cocktail just as much as the next guy, but there's one important tip to remember when serving one that's sparkling. Even if the recipe specifies that you can prepare the main portion of the drink in advance and let it chill, don't add the sparkling component (whether Prosecco, champagne, seltzer, etc.) until just before guests arrive. You could even set the bubbly portion to the side and let guests top their individual glasses off with a splash as they serve themselves.

Pictured: Cranberry Sangría Punch

04 of 05

Most Warm or Cheesy Appetizers

Queso-Filled Mini Peppers
Antonis Achilleos

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but many appetizers taste and look best when prepared just before guests arrive. Even if you prep your dip or baked brie bites that morning, pop them in the oven a few minutes before the party starts to serve something that's bubbly and enticing instead of lukewarm and uninviting. The same goes for the ever-present charcuterie board. Nobody wants salami that's been sitting out, y'all!

Pictured: Queso-Filled Mini Peppers

05 of 05

Creamy Sides

Creamy Au Gratin Potatoes
Photographer: Victor Protasio; Food Stylist: Karen Ranking; Prop Stylist Julia Bayless

We all love a creamy and gooey side, from au gratin potatoes to Macaroni and Cheese, especially served hot and fresh out of the oven. While you can prepare all the ingredients for creamy side dishes in advance, and often even assemble the recipe in its casserole dish, try to hold off on baking until the day of your event. Sure, these sides can be baked and reheated, but in the process they can easily dry out, which is a hard thing to correct after the fact. It can take quite a while to reheat these dishes from cold too, and in that time, the pasta might go gummy and the potatoes mushy.

Pictured: Creamy Au Gratin Potatoes

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