Destress Your Thanksgiving with These 7 Dishes That Can Actually Be Made and Frozen Ahead

·5 min read

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Are your holidays the culmination of two days of intense kitchen work or a whirlwind of insane day-of cooking, leaving you a stressed-out mess with a kitchen that looks like a disaster? Do you wake up the day after a holiday feeling like you were hit by a truck, lower back in spasm, feet in agony, dreading even facing what you have left to do from the night before?

Related: I Conquered Thanksgiving for Good with this One Turkey Hack

I see you. I feel you. I have BEEN you. And I am here to help.

Here is the thing about holiday meals that no one really seems to talk much about. Many, MANY of the classic traditional dishes can be made well in advance and frozen. Yeah. You heard me. FROZEN. My single best tool for holiday cooking is my freezer, and on Thanksgiving Day, I take a midday nap: That is how much time and effort it saves me. So, I'm going to share all the dishes that can safely be made ahead without sacrificing taste or texture.

Do this now: Clean out your freezer

For starters, whether you have a chest freezer or just a regular freezer, for optimal use, do a clean-out as early as October. Anything past its prime should be discarded, and as much as possible, eat what is left in there. You'll feel a certain sense of self-sufficient pride going through all those containers of soups, stews, and braises, discarding the half-loaves of freezer-burnt bread. Go full Marie Kondo on that freezer. Anything you store in there to protect quality, such as flours or nuts, you can temporarily move to a cool, dark place for temporary storage once you begin loading in your holiday dishes.

Do this now: Stock up on freezer-friendly storage supplies

Now (long before you make your Thanksgiving prep shopping list), it's time to pick up some foil pans with lids, heavy duty zip-top freezer bags, or determine which of your baking dishes are freezer-safe. Zip top bags can be frozen flat and stacked up, so they are useful for anything loose or liquid (just always be sure to chill everything completely in your fridge before freezing to prevent condensation or iciness).

Now it's time to cook! Here are the 7 Thanksgiving dishes you can make—and freeze—in advance.

Cranberry sauce

If you are not using the canned stuff, and prefer homemade, you'll be happy to learn that cranberry sauce freezes beautifully. And, ready for this? You can make it up to six months in advance. If you need it for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, be sure to store in two zip-top freezer bags so that you only thaw what you need.

When to make and freeze: Up to 6 months in advance.

When to take out of the freezer: Thaw in fridge 2-4 days before you need it.

Related: 19 Retro Thanksgiving Recipes for the Ultimate Throwback Thursday

Gravy

I'm a huge proponent of pre-making my gravy—I don't like the last-minute attention it requires at a time when everything is coming together. My trick is that while I pre-make and freeze my gravy, I leave out last touches like fresh herbs, cooked giblets, or citrus zest and add those once the gravy is reheated. Store it in a zip-top bag for space saving and easy reheating.

When to make and freeze: Up to 2 months in advance.

When to take out of the freezer: Thaw completely in fridge 2-3 days before you need it and reheat in a small slow-cooker or a pan on low.

Stuffing

Stuffing can be frozen in its unbaked state or fully cooked. Here's what I do: I pack into a foil pan, cover with a layer of parchment-lined foil or a sheet of parchment pressed onto the surface of the stuffing and then foil.

When to make and freeze: Can be made up to 2 months in advance.

When to take out of the freezer: Thaw in the fridge for 3 days before cooking or reheating. If cooked, reheat in a 300° oven, covered for 30 minutes, then uncovered to brown until it has the crispy topping you like. If you froze it raw, be sure to cook until it reaches 165° internal temp.

Sweet Potatoes

Whether candied in slabs or mashed into a casserole, sweet potatoes freeze beautifully. Leave off any toppings like nuts or marshmallows.

When to make and freeze: Up to 2 months in advance.

When to take out of the freezer: Thaw in fridge for 3 days.

Greens

Whether you braise collards or make creamed spinach, they will freeze very well for up to 3 months! Thaw for three days and reheat in a slow cooker or in a 300° oven.

When to make and freeze: Up to 3 months in advance.

When to take out of the freezer: Thaw in the fridge for 3 days, then reheat in a slow cooker or in a 300° oven.

Breads

Loaves of sourdough, soft yeasted rolls, and sweet enriched breads will all be fine for six weeks in the freezer. For the rolls, you can even freeze in their raw state, thaw, and proof overnight in the fridge and bake off as if fresh. Refresh in the oven to bring them back to perfect.

When to make and freeze: Up to 6 weeks in advance.

When to take out of the freezer: Thaw in the refrigerator the night before.

Some Desserts

Cake layers; pie crusts; whole raw assembled fruit pies; fully baked pumpkin, sweet potato, or pecan pies; cookies and bars; and sweet bread will all do fine for six weeks in the freezer. Bake or refresh straight from frozen for pies, thaw prepared pie crust discs overnight in the fridge before rolling. Some cake fillings and frostings also freeze well; I freeze separately and assemble fresh the day of the meal.

When to make and freeze: Up to 6 weeks in advance.

When to take out of the freezer: Thaw in the refrigerator 2 days before preparing.

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