Cooking the entire meal on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day can be very tiring and time consuming. It isn’t unusual to be cooking from the time you wake up (early) until it’s time to eat, while the rest of your family is enjoying quality time together and relaxing. To avoid that whole situation, I plan for a make ahead holiday meal. I spread the cooking out over several days and finish cooking the food on the day of the holiday instead.
When planning the menu for my holiday meal, I try to simplify and opt for similar or equivalent dishes that I can prepare the day before or will take a lot less time. I also avoid any “traditional” items that my family doesn’t love. Since my kids don’t really like mashed potatoes for example, I just don’t waste my time making them.
Make Ahead Holiday Meal Menu
Here are some of the swaps that I typically make when preparing the menu for my holiday meal.
Instead of spending days brining and then roasting a turkey (you can find my Full Martha Turkey recipe on my dad’s site), I now prepare an easy roasted turkey breast instead. The turkey breast can be roasted in under an hour and takes minimal preparation. If you need to feed a crowd, just prepare more turkey breasts. I once fed 25 people just with turkey breasts!
I opt for a dressing like my favorite sausage and bread dressing rather than a traditional stuffing. The main difference between stuffing and dressing is how they are cooked. Stuffing goes inside of a turkey and can really increase the cooking time. Dressing is usually slightly before cooking, and it is then cooked outside of the bird. Dressing cooks a lot faster on its own as well.
I also pare down the number of vegetable side dishes, and go for ones that are relatively fast such as green beans with slivered almonds.
Spread Out the Work of Cooking
The whole point of making food ahead of time is to… make it ahead of time. I start working on Thanksgiving Dinner on Tuesday. Really.
That far in advance there are things you can get done that will dramatically speed up Thursday’s cooking time. I always start with cooking the sweet potatoes for the sweet potato casserole. I also cut up herbs and vegetables for the dressing. On Wednesday I finish putting together the sweet potatoes and the dressing, they’ll both be fine in the refrigerator for 24 hours if covered in saran wrap. My husband also make the cranberry relish on Wednesday, it needs to set up overnight.
On the day of the holiday, it usually only takes me about 90 minutes to get everything on the table. I start by preparing the turkey breast for the oven. As soon as it goes in, I put the dressing in as well. About 15-20 minutes later, the sweet potatoes go into the oven. All three items will come out about the same time. While they are all cooking, I can prepare the green beans and set the table. The smaller pieces of turkey breast will cook a bit faster than larger pieces, so you do need to keep an eye on them towards the end of cooking. I put the sweet potatoes and dressing on the table while the turkey rests. Once you’ve sliced the turkey breast, it’s time to call everyone to dinner!