Thanksgiving Day Made Easy with These 14 Time-Saving Make-Ahead Sides

Sit back and enjoy Thanksgiving Day by making all the sides you crave ahead of time or with the help of the slow cooker and Instant Pot. Everything from Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallows, Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes, and Thanksgiving Stuffing with Sausage and Apples are easier using these time-saving recipes and techniques.

My husband and I each have our favorite must-have side dishes for Thanksgiving. He loves mashed potatoes and gravy, while homemade dinner rolls and cranberry sauce are a must for me.

We both want stuffing and green beans to have a place at the table. Yet, that still leaves sweet potatoes, soup, and salad off the menu, which I would regret. And the kids? Well, they’re just here for the pie. All told, that is nine sides, plus a turkey, to get on the table all at the same time!

The reality is that with a little planning, I can serve all the sides we crave and still sit down to eat before the hangries set in. The key is to use recipes that can be made ahead of time while taking advantage of the slow cooker and Instant Pot.

We may not sit around the table with extended family and friends this year, but that doesn’t mean we have to forsake the comfort of a classic Thanksgiving meal that includes all the side dishes we look forward to eating all year long.

MAKE AHEAD SIDES

A baking dish with classic Thanksgiving sage, sausage and apple stuffing.

Put your sourdough bread to good use and make this classic stuffing! The whole dish can be made a day in advance and then warmed in the oven on Thanksgiving. Another option is to prep the bread and vegetables beforehand and cook the day of.

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Make-Ahead Rolls Recipe

I love serving these dinner rolls at Thanksgiving. I make them a week or two beforehand and then freeze as directed. Pro tip: Only serve half of the rolls on Thanksgiving and bring the rest out for turkey sandwiches the next day.

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Make Ahead Turkey Gravy

Besides the turkey, making gravy is the dish that causes the most angst on Thanksgiving Day. Why not do it beforehand? This recipe uses inexpensive turkey legs, roasted vegetables and broth for a stress-free, freezable gravy.

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easy kale salad served in a blue bowl

Salad isn’t normally thought of as a make ahead dish, but kale salad is an exception. In fact, this festive salad of bitter greens, cranberries, and pine nuts, actually tastes best after a couple hours of sitting in the dressing. The kale, pine nuts, and dressing can be prepped the day before so that all you need to do is toss it together in a bowl a couple hours before serving. Omit the cheese for a vegan option.

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VEGETARIAN SIDES

Cornbread Stuffing with Olives and Pecans

The green olives in this recipe brightens the stuffing and pairs well with the parsley, sage, and thyme in this dish. Feel free to use store-bought cornbread or make your own. This can also be made as early as 2 days before Thanksgiving.

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Candied Yams

Sweet potatoes or yams were always served cubed and coated in a sweet mixture of brown sugar and butter at our house. This recipe is made on the stovetop, which saves that precious oven space and cranks up the holiday flavors with the addition of orange juice and ginger. It’s quick and easy with just 25 minutes of cooking time. Make it the day of or ahead of time and reheat just before serving.

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Cider Roasted Root Vegetables

This colorful dish employs my favorite way to serve vegetables in the fall: roasted! The cider vinaigrette upgrades the vegetables to holiday-worthy. Cut the vegetables into similar sizes to ensure even cooking. You can also make this ahead of time and reheat while the turkey rests.

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Make Ahead Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallows

Always a favorite at the table, this sweet potato casserole can be made up to three days ahead of time. Just rewarm the casserole until hot and then finish by adding the marshmallows before serving.

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SLOW COOKER SIDES

Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes Slow Cooker potatoes in a dish with butter and a napkin

This genius recipe recreates the fluffy, buttery potatoes of my dreams. All the work is done in the slow cooker, so less pots and pans than the stovetop version. Also, they can be made in advance and frozen, freeing up the slow cooker to cook another side dish on Thanksgiving Day.

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Glazed Carrots in the Slow Cooker

The slow cooker works its magic on these carrots without turning it into mush. The only prep work required is to peel and slice carrots before throwing all the ingredients into the slow cooker. Sounds like the perfect side dish to delegate.

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Slow Cooker Pumpkin Soup

A gluten-free, vegan, creamy pumpkin soup starter is the perfect segue from appetizer to turkey. If short on time, feel free to skip sautéing the vegetables beforehand and just throw it all in the crock pot.

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INSTANT POT

Pressure Cooker Green Beans with Tomatoes and Bacon

The pressure cooker does wonders for green beans. Braised with a can of diced tomatoes, bacon, and onion, this side dish cooks in 30 minutes flat. Best served hot so keep on the warm setting until ready to serve.

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Instant Pot Butternut Squash Soup

A simple fall soup goes a long way to savor the flavors of fall. If you can’t fit one more pot on your stovetop don’t worry! This soup freezes well; make it ahead of time and reheat it in your microwave. Serve with dollop of sour cream and chives for a creamier soup.

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Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes in a bowl with chives

Making mashed potatoes in a pressure cooker is the quickest option for this classic side dish. Total cooking time for this must-have holiday side is less than 20 minutes!

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Rachel Knecht

Rachel tests recipes for Simply Recipes, teaches a kid's cooking class, and develops the content for Baking with Rachel.

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