Easy And Delicious Side Dish Ideas For a Low Stress Thanksgiving Dinner

Roasted turkey garnished with cranberries on a rustic style table decorated with pumpkins, gourds, asparagus, brussel sprouts, baked vegetables, pie, flowers, and candles.

By Michelle Stansbury, Eat, Drink, Be San Diego

I love entertaining. Hosting parties is so fun for me that I spend weeks, or even months, coming up with dozens of delightful ideas to make the event special. After my fair share of incredible parties, I realized that what made an event a true success was enjoying it. And there is no better event to remember that than Thanksgiving! Your guests will appreciate a low stress dinner just as much as you do, putting the focus away from perfection and back onto spending time together. 

Instead of an overcomplicated menu of Pinterest recipes, stick to simple but delicious crowd favorites. While the cover of Bon Appetit might show an elaborate Thanksgiving spread, eliminate the high expectations and think about what a happy Thanksgiving meal with your friends and family would feel like. When you are relaxed and enjoying yourself, your Thanksgiving guests will too.  

Planning Ahead for Thanksgiving Side Dishes 

Even with a simple Thanksgiving dinner, planning ahead is the best way to keep your meal stress-free. Three weeks before Thanksgiving, plan your menu. Start with your favorite dishes – the ones you love to make and your family loves to eat. Cross out any dishes that you feel you ‘should’ have, but don’t bring you any joy. If you’re feeling adventurous, add one or two new Thanksgiving side dishes to try. Test these new recipes in advance to avoid any confusion on Thanksgiving Day. While you are planning the menu, write next to each dish when it’ll be prepared and/or heated, where, and in what pot or pan. This will prevent a backlog of side dishes waiting for the oven at the same time. If you can’t find a cooking schedule that works for your side dishes, look for alternatives that can be prepared ahead of time or on the stove instead of in the oven. 

One to two weeks before Thanksgiving, plan for your serving pieces. I like to use sticky notes to take onto each dish and serving utensil what it’ll be used for. I never have enough serving spoons on hand for all my Thanksgiving sides, but these are easy to borrow from a friend. Go ahead and wash anything that has been collecting dust since last Thanksgiving. Place all of the serving dishes onto your Thanksgiving table to ensure you’ll have room for all of your dishes. If you don’t, consider cutting back on your menu or setting up a side serving table. Plan ahead for leftovers, as well, with containers clean and with their matching lids. If you like to send your guests home with leftovers, ask them to bring their own Tupperware so there is less for them to return to you.  

Thanksgiving Side Dishes You Can Make Ahead 

On Thanksgiving Day, you should have some time to get yourself ready, relax, and enjoy your guests. The best way to limit your to-do list for turkey day is to make as many of the side dishes ahead of time as possible. Many delicious dishes can be completely made ahead of time, and most others can at least be prepped before the big day.  

Your Instant Pot and Slow Cooker can be helpful in making side dishes that don’t require your constant attention. Instant Pot Brussels sprouts are a fast alternative, as are Instant Pot Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Some dishes, like casseroles, can be made weeks ahead of time and frozen, though frozen dishes will still require ample oven time to reheat. Think more about what prep you can do in the days before Thanksgiving from chopping vegetables to composing pies.  

  • The best side dishes to make ahead are: 
  • Stuffing 
  • Cranberry Sauce 
  • Gravy 

The top side dishes to create ahead of time and bake on Thanksgiving Day are: 

  • Mashed Potatoes 
  • Bread and rolls 
  • Casseroles 
  • Pies 

 Quickest Thanksgiving Side Dishes 

After you plan for Thanksgiving side dishes you can make ahead of time, next look to side dishes that are fast and easy. Don’t discount your microwave to heat food before serving, as it’s quick and likely will empty on Thanksgiving Day. And get prepared with ready-made food like cheese and crackers or veggies and store-bought hummus, which can make a great addition to your Thanksgiving table with no cook time. Start your meal with some ready-made soup, which you can warm in the microwave and make it look homemade with a garnish. For all of your vegetable dishes, you can splurge on precut, washed vegetables to save yourself the prep time. Especially with vegetables that are messy like broccoli or hard to chop like root vegetables, the extra money might make up for the time it saves you.  

For the absolutely quickest Thanksgiving side dishes, look to your local markets or restaurants for premade sides. National chains like Costco and Whole Foods have a great selection of premade sides, or venture to a neighborhood cafe or your favorite restaurant for some additions to your table. You can often choose between pick up and delivery, which means one less thing to do on Thanksgiving Day. Or, for the quickest, easiest Thanksgiving of all, you can make a reservation to dine at a local restaurant for Thanksgiving, which means you don’t even need to do the dishes.  

Picture of Michelle Stansbury of Eat Dring Be SD/cp,

Michelle Stansbury

Michelle Stansbury is a San Diego-based blogger and freelance writer who writes about travel, food, cannabis, and relationships. Follow her @discovermichelle or visit https://www.eatdrinkbesd.com/. Her work has appeared in national magazines like Marie Claire, Forbes, Cosmo, Reader’s Digest, and Bustle.