I know there are people who cook their Thanksgiving turkeys a day or two ahead of time, cut the meat off, and reheat it on Thanksgiving day to make getting dinner on the table easy work. If that works for them, it's a great idea, but I can't imagine not having the smell of turkey roasting in the oven on Thanksgiving as I listen to the traditional noontime rendition of "Alice's Restaurant" and set the table with the good dishes for dinner. A lot of the rest of the meal, however, I'm happy to make ahead of time.

There are many dishes that can be made at least two days in advance to help make Thanksgiving day more manageable. You may find one or two from these choices to add to your menu and take a bit of stress out of Thanksgiving cooking.

candied almondsThese sweet, spicy and salty candied almonds can keep as long as one week. (Photos: Jaymi Heimbuch)


  • Cinnamon and Spice Candied Almonds: A little sweet, spicy and salty, these almonds keep up to one week in an tightly covered container.
  • Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese Spread: The flavors will blend beautifully in this spread if left in the refrigerator for a day or two, so making it ahead of time is a great idea. Use it as a spread for crackers or cut-up apple slices for a before-dinner snack.
  • Proscuitto and Cheese Roll-ups: No cooking is required for these roll-ups with a bite of radish in them. Make them a day ahead, cover them tightly, and pull them out on Thanksgiving day — chilled and ready.

Roasted-Vegetable LasagnaRoasted Vegetable Lasagna is easy to make ahead and a great choice for the vegetarians at the table. (Photo: Brzostowska/Shutterstock

Main dishes

  • Roasted Vegetable Lasagna: For the vegetarians at the table, try this lasagna. The entire dish, from roasting the vegetables to assembling the lasagna, can be done a day ahead of time. On Thanksgiving, bring it out of the refrigerator at least an hour before putting it in the oven to bring to room temperature, and then bake in the oven for 40 minutes before serving.

sweet potato casseroleYou can make a sweet potato casserole the day before Thanksgiving. (Photo: Jim Bowie/Shutterstock)
Side dishes

  • Cranberry-Apple Chutney: This cranberry dish that will replace that canned jellied cranberry sauce on your table takes about 45 minutes to make and can be made up to two weeks ahead of time.
  • Cranberry-Walnut Quinoa Salad: Make this non-traditional side dish and its dressing two days ahead of time and keep them in the refrigerator. The majority of the work is done. Thirty minutes before serving, simply combine the salad and the dressing, season with salt and pepper, and keep chilled till it's put on the table.
  • Sweet Potato Casserole: I make this casserole the day before Thanksgiving, but don't cook it. I also make the topping the day before, but keep it in a separate container. On Thanksgiving day, pull the casserole out of the refrigerator about an hour before the turkey comes out of the oven to bring it to room temperature. Then pop it in the oven as soon as the turkey comes out. Since the turkey has to rest a while before being carved, the timing works out perfectly for the casserole to come out nice and bubbly hot just as you're about to sit down to dinner.
  • Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes: There are recipes for mashed potatoes made a day or two ahead of time, but they usually need to be heated up on the stove with more milk to get a creamy consistency right before serving. This recipe is made the day of, but it's made hours ahead of time early in the morning. The potatoes are cooked in a little milk that doesn't need to be drained, and more milk is added when it's time to mash. No draining necessary and everything is done right in the slow cooker. The fully mashed potatoes can stay warm in the slow cooker for about four hours before serving.

brownie bitesThese bite-sized Raw Chocolate Walnut Brownies are decadent yet they don't contain a single bad-for-you ingredient. They're a nutritional powerhouse. (Photos: Jaymi Heimbuch)


  • Raw Chocolate Walnut Brownies: No baking, a few superfoods hidden inside of the treat, and they can be made weeks ahead of time. These may just be the perfect after-the-big-dinner little sweet bite you've been looking for.
  • Pumpkin Spice Cookies: These cookies made with whole wheat flour can be baked a week ahead of time, frozen, and then thawed the night before.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Make-ahead dishes for your Thanksgiving menu
Take some of the stress out of the big day by preparing some of your menu days, even weeks, ahead.