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Make Ahead Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas
by Allison Bergstedt

Fresh cranberry sauceCreate a memorable Thanksgiving holiday without sacrificing your quality time with friends and family. By planning your dinner menu now you will save yourself from unnecessary stress and be able to sit and enjoy the day instead of slaving away in the kitchen. With these freezer friendly menu items and easy make-ahead Thanksgiving dinner ideas, you'll be well on your way to a memorable holiday feast in half the time.

When preparing your Thanksgiving day meal the most important thing to remember is to make a schedule. A schedule for what you will be preparing in advance and a schedule for your timeline/to-dos on Thanksgiving day. If you are the only cook in the kitchen, than a detailed timeline will help eliminate any stress. Simply count back from dinnertime allowing enough cook time for your menu, taking into consideration which how long your turkey will need to cook, which food needs to rest at room temp before cooking, which foods need to go in the oven and for how long, and which foods can be microwaved instead. Get all your canned goods out of the cupboard and ready for use a couple days in advance and prepare your serving dishes to decide which items will go in them. Nothing worse than making a gorgeous pie only to serve it on a paper plate because all the platters were used up.

The more menu items you can prepare in advance means less of a headache come D-day and the more time you will have with friends and family. A word of advice...make the freezer your friend! The freezer is possibly the most unsung appliance for holiday preparation. But believe me these are the menu items that will be your saving grace for the holidays. Freezer friendly items can be made weeks in advance and are a great way to check off most of your to-dos ahead of time. Only freeze items that are properly sealed in freezer safe packaging and items that won't suffer from thawing and reheating. Freeze items like soups, fresh cranberry sauce, gravy, and sweet potatoes. Other items like cream pies, pumpkin pie, and egg based foods should be prepared a couple days in advance and sealed tightly in your refrigerator. There is some controversy over whether frozen homemade mashed potatoes are as good as they are fresh. While I personally have no conflictions over eating frozen spuds, I will leave this Thanksgiving staple up to you.

For some freezer friendly and make-ahead meal ideas, check out our list below for some of our favorite Thanksgiving day dishes. For a more detailed guideline on freezer safety, visit USDA's freezing and food safety guideline.

Freezer Friendly Menu Items:
  1. Pecan pie and fruit pies

  2. Egg-free stuffing (prep and freeze but cook the day of)

  3. Gravy (egg-free)

  4. Mashed sweet potatoes

  5. Casseroles

  6. Rolls/Fresh bread

  7. Kernel corn (taken off the cob)

  8. Fresh cranberry sauce

  9. Shrimp/seafood platters

Foods To Prep and Refrigerate:
  1. Pumpkin pie, cheesecake, and cream pies

  2. Green bean casserole (Prep day before and cook the day of)

  3. Fruit salad (Prep day before. Sliced apples will discolor. Add a splash of lemon juice to lengthen their frig life)

  4. Cheese balls (Seal tightly and store in frig)

  5. Hard boiled eggs/Deviled egg filling (I prefer to de-shell, slice, and fill the day of so the eggs do not discolor or get rubbery in the frig)

  6. Veggie/cheese trays
Our last word of advice...sit back and relax. You deserve it. Now is the time to unwind and enjoy the meaning of Thanksgiving. Give thanks to your loved ones and have a truly happy Thanksgiving.

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