The Make Ahead Thanksgiving Dinner

The Make Ahead Thanksgiving Dinner

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Everyone is so busy these days juggling a full-time career, parenting responsibilities, chores, finances, errands, exercising, traveling, etc., that who has time to make a Thanksgiving dinner from scratch? Well, I am going to let you in on a little secret 🙂 Nearly everything can be made in advance and frozen until the big day arrives. And yes, it will still taste just as good, I promise! The only thing you will have to do, is reheat some items and cook the turkey, or whatever your main dish is. By preparing everything in advance and freezing it, you will be able to have a completely homemade meal, if that’s what you’re aiming for. The menu I have posted below is what I have eaten at Thanksgiving year after year. This is an evergreen post, so I will be adding more dishes to it as time goes on.

Preparation Schedule & Shopping List

An example timeline of how to make Thanksgiving dinner ahead of time with only a week to go, might look something like this:

I’ve also made a shopping list to make it even easier! The shopping list is very plain, so that you won’t waste a lot of ink printing it out :). For most of the items, I put in brackets what dish it’s for so that in case you aren’t making it, you don’t need to buy the item. I also tried to group things together as you would find them in the grocery store to make navigation easier.

Side Dishes

1. Healthy Homemade Applesauce

The best time to make this is actually in the fall when apples are in season, and at their lowest price. Here in NY, I can get a large tote full for $0.88/lb! For my applesauce I like to use either McIntosh or Gala apples, but you can use any type or mixture of apples that you want. This healthy homemade applesauce contains just apples, water, and spices! No added sugars or artificial ingredients. This recipe is vegan and top 8 allergen free.

To freeze: Scoop the applesauce into labeled freezer safe mason jars leaving an inch or two of head space, and put in the freezer for up to 2 months. Two days before Thanksgiving, move the jars from the freezer to the refrigerator to thaw out.

Applesauce sits in a small black bowl in the foreground. In the background is a large black bowl with gala apples and a striped tea towel. Scatted about are different colored leaves, gala apples, and cinnamon sticks. This is the vertical image.

2. Baked Butternut Squash

Similar to apples, the best time to make this is in the fall when they are in season, and at their lowest price. A few weeks before Thanksgiving, I have been able to find butternut squash for as cheap as $0.39/lb.  This recipe is also vegan and top 8 allergen free. My favorite vegan butter to use is Earth Balance. It tastes like the real thing! If you want to use real butter, you can also make your own using a mason jar.

To freeze: Scoop the baked butternut squash into labeled freezer safe mason jars leaving an inch or two of head space, and put in the freezer for up to 2 months. Two days before Thanksgiving, move the jars from the freezer to the refrigerator to thaw out.

Mashed baked butternut squash topped with a pat of butter, rosemary, salt, and pepper, fills a small white bowl which sits on top of a striped dish towel. In the background is a tiny black bowl with light brown sugar and a sprig of rosemary. Also in the background is a white serving platter with half of a baked butternut squash. Everything sits on a white marble background. This is the vertical image.

3. Whipped Cream Fruit Salad

While I am adamantly against packaged foods…I make an exception for this dish :). My recipe for whipped cream fruit salad does use canned fruit cocktail, but it is a throwback to my childhood and my family has made it the same way ever since! There is some fresh fruit added into it, and you can of course choose to make the entire dish with fresh fruit if you want. You can make this dish with dairy-based homemade whipped cream or with Coconut Whipped Cream {Vegan, Gluten-Free}.

To freeze: Not recommended

Whipped cream fruit salad topped with ground cinnamon sits in two teal colored fruit bowls. In the lower left is a handful of red grapes. In the background are two stainless steel spoons, a pear, a banana, and a bunch of green grapes. Two cinnamon sticks sit between the fruit bowls. Everything sits on a teal, navy, gray, black, and white colored paisley placemat which sits on top of a white marble background. This is the vertical image.

4. EASY Homemade Mashed Potatoes (YouTube Video)

These homemade mashed potatoes are really easy to make and freeze really well. You can make them up to a month in advance if you want. The high fat content is what makes them keep in the freezer. I don’t have a recipe written up for these yet, so for now, I will share the YouTube video.

To freeze: Place a few scoops in a labeled freezer bag. Flatten into a pancake, squeeze out all of the air, zip shut, and then place in the freezer for up to one month in advance.


1. Homemade Whipped Cream

This whipped cream can be used in the fruit salad above, as a topping for pies, pancakes, fruit, hot cocoa, or golden milk lattes. Homemade whipped cream only contains 3 ingredients, and can be made in 7 minutes or less! Goooooddd bye Cool Whip and sketchy ingredients!

To freeze: If you are going to use it in the fruit salad recipe above, freeze as one large batch. To thaw, remove from the refrigerator 2 days in advance. If you are going to serve the whipped cream on pies, in hot cocoa, on fresh fruit, pancakes, etc, you can actually freeze the whipped cream in dollops. To do this, first line a baking tray with wax paper. Then using a spoon, scoop a dollop of whipped cream and place on the waxed paper. Alternatively, you can use cupcake/cake decorating tips to pipe swirls on the wax paper. Place the baking sheet in the freezer for a few hours, or until dollops are frozen through. Transfer to a labeled freezer bag. To thaw, remove bag of dollops from freezer one day before Thanksgiving.

Homemade whipped cream sits in a large black bowl. The whipped cream is decorated with gold spherical sprinkles. The black bowl sits on top of a gold leaf placemat, which sits on top of a teal, navy, gray, black, and white paisley placemat, which sits on top of the white marble background. This is the horizontal image.

2. Homemade Butter Using a Mason Jar

Did you know that you can make homemade butter using a Mason jar? No fancy butter churner needed! Just a mason jar, and 20 minutes of upper body exercise ;). I like homemade butter, because you can customize it however you want and it’s free from any artificial flavors. And that buttermilk that’s leftover after making the butter? You can use that to make some homemade blueberry buttermilk pancakes!

To freeze: Place butter in a labeled mason jar, and place in the freezer.

A dollop of homemade butter sits in a small dark wooden bowl on a white circular plate. Also on the plate is a piece of toast, slathered with homemade butter and topped with ground cinnamon and a few drizzles of pure maple syrup. Off to the side is a striped dish cloth with fringe. Everything sits on a wood plank background. This is the horizontal image.

3. Roasted Winter Squash Seeds

Flavored pumpkin seeds (or any winter squash seed really) with a clean ingredients list can be very expensive to purchase. Fortunately, it is very easy to make your own! And since most people prepare butternut or delicata squash as a side for Thanksgiving, you will already have some on hand to roast.

To freeze: Not recommended

Fully roasted winter squash seeds coated with the spiced olive oil mixture sit on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.


1. Vegan Gluten-Free Apple Crisp

Not everyone enjoys pumpkin pie, so I thought I would share an easy alternative! If you aren’t vegan or gluten-free, this dish can be easily reverted back. Serve with a hunk of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream. I like to sprinkle a little extra cinnamon on top.

And if apple crisp OR pumpkin pie isn’t your thing, be sure to check out the cookies section of my blog. LOTS of recipes there, and they’re all really good. 🙂

Vegan gluten-free apple crisp topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream sprinkled with ground cinnamon sits on a white plate. In the upper right is a glass pan with apple crisp and in the upper left are two red apples. Sprinkled about are crumbs of the apple crisp topping. To the right of the plate is a white and red checkered tea towel. To the left of the plate is the white marble background.


1. Golden Milk Latte

Golden milk latte is my new favorite hot beverage. The curcumin has anti-inflammatory effects, and if your Thanksgiving Day was stressful, then this drink is for you! A perfect and healthy way to relax and unwind after the table has been cleared, and your house is nice and quiet. Top with a dollop of homemade whipped cream!

A glass of golden milk latte sits in the lower right. A dish towel with orange, yellow, and navy blue stripes sits in the upper left. Almonds, black peppercorns, and cinnamon sticks are strewn about. A 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric sits in the lower left.
ARE YOU MAKING THIS RECIPE OR OTHERS? Share your creations with me by posting a photo on my Facebook page, share it on Instagram, share it on Twitter, or save it to Pinterest with the tag #thepanickedfoodie.

10 thoughts on “The Make Ahead Thanksgiving Dinner”

  • This year for the first time I won’t have to do anything for Thanksgiving and I can tell you it feels weird. I am still taking all your tips for next year. Thanks for sharing.

  • I love that you included a latte to relax after slaving in the kitchen all week for this meal. It’s important to remember to relax and enjoy the holiday 🙂 I really enjoyed the homemade applesauce and butter recipes as well.

  • I did not realize that Thanksgiving being so close. To be honest, I haven’t made any preparations yet. So, this is a life saver and a timely reminder. Thank you for sharing these tips. Would definitely try to start preparing according to the schedule you suggested.

  • We are pretty much set with the menu we are having for Thanksgiving. I would love to add that whipped cream fruit salad though. It really looks good and I can prepare it earlier than the rest of the dishes we will be having. One dish down, a gazillion more to go. 🙂 Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

  • We don’t celebrate thanksgiving here but I am attracted to all the yummy food that you have planned. I might just create my own thanksgiving by trying to make all these especially the whipped cream fruit salad.

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