It’s 5:00 am on Thanksgiving morning and your alarm goes off. If you’re anything like me, you want to drop a nuke on that damn thing and say “Screw the turkey, we’ll go out for Chinese.” I don’t do mornings. I despise them. Well, at least until coffee. Coffee is my saving grace. My family knows not to talk to me until I’m at least a half of a cup in. My poor family! 

In the never ending quest to make mornings easier (and get as much sleep as possible), I devised a new plan for Thanksgiving. Now I know some of you are going to gasp at what I’m about to say…but I make the turkey the day before Thanksgiving. In fact, I make or prep EVERYTHING ahead of time. And not a single one of my guests has ever known the difference! Thanksgiving morning is sooooo peaceful around my house now. We actually get to relax and be thankful for each other’s company. What a concept! We’re usually enjoying a tasty lime and cranberry champagne cocktail too! 

Turkey & Gravy

On Tuesday morning I drop the bird in the best turkey brine recipe ever and let it sit for a good 24 hours. I roast the turkey with aromatics on Wednesday. My house smells amazing for two days instead of one! Now I have the drippings from the turkey and can make the gravy too. My husband slices up the turkey after it’s rested and we store it in the fridge. I reheat the turkey in a chafing dish on Thanksgiving morning. Pour a box of chicken stock over the top and you’re good to go. You can reheat this in the oven, covered, as well. If you just HAVE to make the turkey the day of, I understand. The tips below will still save you a ton of time (but won’t help you with that alarm clock!).

Mashed Potatoes

I make the mashed potatoes two days before. Boil ’em, smash ’em and add whatever your favorite ingredients are (butter, cream cheese, sour cream, garlic, salt, milk, etc.) Put them in a crockpot. Put the crockpot dish in the fridge and all you have to do is pop it into the heating unit Thanksgiving morning! 

Side Dishes

Green Bean Casserole seems to be a staple dish for many on Thanksgiving. There was one year I didn’t make it (I made a different green bean dish) and I thought my mother was going to have a heart attack. So now, I mix that baby up a day or two ahead of time and cover it with tinfoil. I write the temperature and baking time on the tinfoil for each side dish that eventually has to go in the oven. That way I don’t have to look up each recipe again to figure out the baking instructions. I also use crockpots whenever possible.

I roast the sweet potatoes ahead of time as well. However, I don’t bake it with the marshmallows until the day off Thanksgiving. If you’re serving acorn squash, cut those babies up and clean them out. Put them in a baking dish with whatever other ingredients you use (olive oil, butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, pecans, etc.). Cover with tinfoil and write the baking instructions on the top. This applies to pretty much any side dish you’re making that requires baking in the oven. It’s a HUGE timesaver! I recommend making all of your sides two days (or more) before Thanksgiving. 

Project Real Mom: Prep your Thanksgiving sides ahead of time. Write the baking temp and time on the tinfoil so you don't have to look up the instructions again!

Project Real Mom: Prep your Thanksgiving sides ahead of time. Write the baking temp and time on the tinfoil so you don’t have to look up the instructions again!

Stuffing

I don’t make the stuffing until the day of but I do prep all the ingredients ahead of time. I chop the onion and celery and cook them. If I’m doing a sausage stuffing that year, I cook that up with the onion and celery too. Put these ingredients in a ziplock bag and store in the fridge. I make the cornbread a couple days before thanksgiving and cut up the white bread so it dries out. An hour before meal time, I pull all of the stuffing ingredients together and make it. This still gives you enough time if you want to throw it in the oven to crisp the top. 

Cranberry Sauce

If you use canned jellied cranberries you’re off the hook here. If you make your own cranberry sauce (which you really should because it’s SO simple and tastes SO good), you can make this 4-5 days ahead of time. Looking for an amazing cranberry sauce recipe? Look no further…I have you covered…Lemon Orange Cranberry Sauce! Cranberry sauce should be tart but this recipe adds a hint of sweetness with real maple syrup and a citrusy kick with orange juice and lemon zest. Yum!

Project Real Mom: Cranberry sauce sweetened with real maple syrup and a citrusy kick with orange juice and lemon zest!

Project Real Mom: Cranberry sauce sweetened with real maple syrup and a citrusy kick with orange juice and lemon zest!

Breads

Use store-bought rolls or make your own bread. I introduced homemade rosemary and olive oil bread to our Thanksgiving menu a few years ago and it was a huge hit! You can check out the recipe here. It’s a really easy recipe and doesn’t take a ton of “working time” to make. It’ll soon become one of your family traditions!

See…doesn’t it look YUMMY!?

Project Real Mom: Fresh Baked Rosemary & Olive Oil Bread

Project Real Mom: Fresh Baked Rosemary & Olive Oil Bread

Speaking of family traditions, I married into a Norwegian family that still honors many of their motherland recipes. Lefse and flatbread are staples at our Thanksgiving table. Luckily, my mother-in-law makes these. We think the family recipe is at least 150 years old but it could be even older than that! So cool!

Pies

I think most of us make our pies ahead of time. I like to leave the day or evening before Thanksgiving to make pies and the bread. You can always use pre-made pie crusts to save more time here. We always have pumpkin pie and pecan pie at our gathering. Often times there’s one other kind thrown in there for good measure (cuz, ya know, we just might not have enough food…yeah right) but that one changes from year to year. 

Do you use Cool Whip? Stop. Please, for the love of all things holy, STOP. Do you know how simple it is to make your own whipped cream? And how much BETTER it tastes?! Why are you ruining that masterpiece of a pie with Cool Whip?! Spend the ten minutes it takes to make your own. It will be 10 minutes WELL SPLENT!

Happy Cooking and Happy Thanksgiving! Go get ’em, momma chefs!

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