By Kelly Rudnicki -
Thanksgiving was always my mom’s favorite holiday. She used to wake up early in
the morning to put the turkey in the oven, and then she painstakingly prepared all of her delicious side dishes the rest of the day. The only dish she made ahead of time was the pie. She was a busy mom of five children, and Thanksgiving was a holiday
we could slow down as a family and enjoy a huge feast together.
My mom has since passed away, and I’ve continued many of her Thanksgiving traditions with my own family of seven. Except for one thing; I make most of our Thanksgiving meal ahead of the Turkey Day, leaving me time to actually relax with
Here, I lay out everything you need for the perfect make-ahead Thanksgiving dinner. There’s a daily checklist, kid-friendly tips and plenty of recipes to get your kitchen going for the big feast.
Turkey Day Timeline
- Check linens, china, candles, glassware
- Make sure everything is clean, polished and ready to go
- Make a cooking schedule and recipe list
- Check pantry staples, such as broth and gluten-free flour
- Make a list of what you need from the store
4 Days Ahead:
- Grocery shop for staples and perishables
- Start defrosting a frozen turkey (if using); time will vary based on bird’s weight
2 Days Ahead:
- Perform housecleaning tasks, including ironing any linens, if using
- Make pies and desserts
1 Day Ahead:
- Make flower centerpieces, and decorate the table with the linens
- Set the table and put out serving dishes
- Make the side dishes, such as mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy
- Make the turkey
- Reheat the side dishes while the cooked turkey rests
- Prepare coffee while getting ready to serve desserts
- Get everyone to help with cleanup
- Rest, relax and enjoy the time with your family and friends
An Allergen-Friendly Thanksgiving
In my house, we always make one meal that everyone can eat, whether you have
food allergies or not. It’s especially important for families with special diets to have a delicious, yet totally inclusive meal. My 10-year-old son John has severe food allergies to dairy, nuts and legumes, yet he never feels like he’s missing out on the big Turkey Day feast because he can eat everything that is served. The best part is that many of our friends and family love to come to our house for the holidays because it’s loud, fun and full of great food.
Thanksgiving should be fun for kids, too. With five kids of my own, I’m constantly finding ways to keep my children busy in and out of the kitchen, especially during the holidays. Here are some easy tips to keep your kids happy on the Big Day.
1. Set a Kids-Only Table. There’s nothing wrong with separating kids and young adults from the grown-up table. They want to relax and have fun with their meal, too. I always use brown craft paper as the “tablecloth” and put out crayons, markers and stickers in little jars for the kids to decorate. Set out whimsical and colorful plates, cups and napkins. Have fun treats on hand, too.
2. Put out board games and puzzles. The night before Thanksgiving have the kids choose their favorite board games, puzzles and books to share with family and friends. Getting them involved in choosing ensures that they pick the games they like.
3. Plan crafts for the little children. Kids love art and using their hands. Keep crafts simple by putting out a few do-it-yourself projects. My kids love to trace their hands on colorful paper (little kids can get help from big siblings) and decorate to resemble a turkey. I like to put out little feathers and googly eyes as well as crayons and stickers. Kids also love to make their own place mats or draw on mini pumpkins.
4. Get kids involved in the cooking. I love to make most of the holiday meal ahead-of-time, but always save some recipes for the kids to help me with last minute. As a child, I remember helping my mom with the cranberry sauce. I loved watching the cranberries pop as I stirred them. My kids love to do this now, too. They also like to assemble the salads and pour water into glasses.
5. Give thanks. One of the most important messages of Thanksgiving is to give thanks for all the abundance we have in our lives. In our house, every night before dinner each one of my kids gets uninterrupted time to share what they are most thankful for from the day. They love this and it’s really transformed how we look at the positives and negatives of our day. Thanksgiving Day is a great time for everyone to share what he or she is most thankful for. I promise your heart will melt at some of the wonderful things kids say.
Simple Roast Turkey with Tarragon
Simply prepared, there is nothing better than roasted turkey cooking away in the kitchen.
Easy Make-Ahead Gravy
You can make this gravy with added pan drippings, but I like to make this simple version a couple of days ahead of time so I can cross it off my list.
Creamy Mashed Potatoes
What I love most about this recipe is that it can be made ahead of time with fantastic results. Spoon potatoes into a 2-quart baking dish coated with allergen-free cooking spray, cover with foil and put in the fridge up to 1 day in advance. Heat, covered, for about 30 minutes in a 375º oven.
Sauteed Swiss Chard
I love the colors of Swiss chard, especially rainbow chard. It’s a beautiful, healthy side dish, and the perfect compliment to your holiday table. This dish only takes a few minutes from start to finish so I like to make it right before serving the big feast. But, to get a step ahead, I wash and cut the chard ahead of time and store it in the fridge until I’m ready to cook this side.
Stuffing is easy to make ahead of time: Just cover with foil and refrigerate until ready to bake. To reheat, place it in a 350º oven and cook until warmed through, about 35 minutes. If the stuffing gets too dry, stir in ½ cup more broth. Stuffing can be kept refrigerated for up to 2 days.
Spiced Pumpkin Pie
This is the best allergen-friendly pumpkin pie I’ve ever tasted. My whole family loves it, and I promise you won’t miss the dairy or eggs. It’s best to make this pie 1 or 2 days ahead.
Apple Crumb Pie
Kelly Rudnicki’s Easy Pie Dough
Thanksgiving Leftovers Casserole
What to do with all those leftovers? As kids, my brothers and sisters and I loved this casserole as much as the Thanksgiving meal itself. Back in the 70s and 80s, many families didn’t have the gigantic fridges we have today and space was limited. My mom’s solution was to make a one-dish casserole with the leftovers. It was easy and practical. And it was even better the next day. Make one big casserole or divide it into smaller ramekins. I’ve even made little disposable aluminum pie plate with the casserole to send home with guests.
For even more delicious gluten-free recipes, visit the Easy Eats Thanksgiving Table on Pinterest or the Easy Eats Recipe Vault on our website. You can also visit Kelly on her site, FoodAllergyMama, where she blogs about raising children with food allergies.