Holidays & Occasions Thanksgiving Thanksgiving Recipes 7 Dishes You Can Prepare Before Thanksgiving—And 2 You Should Never Make Ahead A little planning goes a long way. By Katie Strasberg Rousso Katie Strasberg Rousso Katie is the Senior Special Projects Editor for Southern Living where she focuses on content strategy and audience growth. She has more than a decade of experience in lifestyle and branded editorial and covers a variety of topics in travel, food, and home. When she's not at her desk, you can find her coordinating cake layers, enjoying a jog, or hiking through the South one trail at a time. Southern Living's editorial guidelines Updated on March 10, 2023 Medically reviewed by Brierley Horton, MS, RD Medically reviewed by Brierley Horton, MS, RD Brierley Horton is a registered dietitian nutritionist with 15 years of experience as a writer and editor for national media outlets such as Cooking Light, EatingWell, Livestrong.com, and All Recipes. She has been the editor of articles that won journalism awards from the James Beard Foundation and the American Society of Journalists and Authors. She's appeared on the TODAY Show, MSNBC's Thomas Roberts, and more. Brierley holds a master’s degree in Nutrition Communications from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. learn more Fact checked by Jennifer Hawk Fact checked by Jennifer Hawk Jennifer Hawk is a former English professor with 24 years of experience guiding even the most reluctant through the labyrinths of writing, rhetoric, and research. brand's fact checking process Share Tweet Pin Email In This Article View All In This Article Soup Stock Casseroles Cornbread Dressing Gravy Cranberry Sauce Desserts Holiday Dishes You Should Avoid Making in Advance A kitchen full of hot pans and hungry guests is a lot to manage. Add in the orchestration of multiple dishes and cook times, and it's easy to see that hosting Thanksgiving isn't for the faint of heart. The smartest home chefs know that a little planning goes a long way to help a holiday feast come together. Prevent a last-minute scramble by considering dishes that can be made ahead. Trust us: You'll never be more thankful for a heat-and-eat casserole than when your house is teeming with extended family and your oven is working overtime. If you know a thing or two about what can be prepared in advance, all you'll have to do on the big day is reheat and assemble (and entertain a house filled with loved ones, but that's a whole other story). Organize your cooking game plan with these tips on the best dishes to make in advance—plus a couple that you should definitely reserve stovetop and oven real estate for on Thanksgiving Day. Soup We'll start with a no-brainer. An easy appetizer to start the meal or to hold the crowd over while dinner comes together, soup is a cinch to make and freeze ahead. Make it a week or a few days in advance, freeze, and thaw the night before. Pro tip: Store your soups in zipped bags so you can lay them flat in your freezer to save on space. Recipe: Sweet Potato Soup Stock Your turkey or chicken stock is another obvious make-ahead choice. Put it at the top of your list so you have it on hand to flavor the rest of your recipes. Recipe: Homemade Turkey Stock Casseroles Casseroles are the queens of Thanksgiving. Practical and full of family tradition, these layered dishes often make up the bulk of our holiday sideboards—but assembling multiple cheese and marshmallow-topped recipes in a single day is a nearly impossible task. Depending on how far in advance you're working, use your refrigerator and freezer to set you up for success. Some dishes, like a green bean or broccoli cheddar casserole, benefit from a day or two in the fridge. As they marinate, they become more flavorful. Classics like sweet potato casserole can be assembled a few days in advance and kept in the fridge as well. Clear some space in your freezer if you're working further in advance. If you're making a casserole that has raw meat or seafood, completely cook your casserole, let it cool, wrap it in multiple layers of plastic wrap and foil, and pop it in the freezer. Casseroles that have a pre-cooked protein or no meat can be made in advance and frozen uncooked. Just assemble the dish, cover, and freeze unbaked. Be sure to leave off any toppings when freezing, and don't forget to thaw and bake before it's too late. Recipes: Homemade Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Leeks, Classic Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallows, Broccoli Cheese Casserole Emily Laurae/Southern Living Cornbread Dressing A true Southern-style dressing starts with cornbread, and if you've waited until Turkey Day to get going, you're out of luck. Cornbread needs to dry out completely before cooking. Take care of your bread one to two days before you get started on the dressing, or if you're feeling extra eager, you can crumble and freeze the cornbread in a heavy-duty ziplock bag for up to 3 months. Once your bread is squared away, mix your dressing the day before for enhanced flavor and bake on Thanksgiving. Recipe: Classic Cornbread Dressing Gravy Scrambling to make your gravy as you're pulling the turkey from the oven is a recipe for disaster. If you've already knocked out your turkey broth, you can easily make your gravy a few days ahead as well. Don't forget to stir in some turkey drippings as you reheat for a final and extra flavorful touch. Recipe: Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy Cranberry Sauce Let the flavors of your cranberry sauce mix and mingle by making it ahead of time. Most hold up well and don't experience any change in consistency when refrigerated for several days. Recipe: Homemade Cranberry Sauce Desserts Nearly all of your go-to holiday desserts can handle a day or two in the fridge or covered on the countertop. Plan to make pies, cookies, and cakes a few days (or if you're planning to freeze pie, even a month) before the feast. Be sure to save any toppings that won't hold up well until right before serving. Recipes: Our Easiest Pumpkin Pie Ever, Pumpkin Layer Cake with Caramel-Cream Cheese Frosting, Pumpkin-Chocolate Brownies, Spiced Pecan Pie Bars Holiday Dishes You Should Avoid Making in Advance Turkey The bird is the star of the day and should be treated as such. No matter how much food you have going in and out of your oven, it's important to prioritize cooking time for your turkey on Thanksgiving Day. However, you can do a few things to prep for the roast. Smaller tasks like brining a few days in advance can help free up your day-of to-do list. Recipe: Roasted Herb Turkey Greg Dupree Mashed Potatoes An overachiever may peel potatoes and refrigerate them in water the night before, but otherwise, there's really not much you can do to prepare mashed potatoes ahead of time. The consistency of reheated mashed potatoes is never quite the same. Like other starchy dishes made with dairy, they can develop a dry, gluey texture if reheated too long or at too high of a temperature. Mashed potatoes are best whipped right before heading to the table. Recipe: Classic Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Tell us why! Other Submit Sources Southern Living is committed to using high-quality, reputable sources to support the facts in our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we fact check our content for accuracy. Penn State Extension. Make-ahead freezer meals to the rescue.