There's a lot to be thankful for this year, including easy recipes that let you wow your fellow Thanksgiving diners without spending hours in the kitchen and dirtying every bowl you own. These side dishes are delicious crowd pleasers that require relatively few ingredients to create. Navigating family dynamics around the Thanksgiving table is complicated enough; preparing your contribution to the meal doesn't need to be. Best of all? Many of these side dishes can be made ahead of time, cutting down on last-minute Thanksgiving day stress.
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1. Candied Sweet Potatoes With Marshmallows and Pecans
Who said you have to finish your Thanksgiving turkey before enjoying dessert? With their gooey topping, these candied sweet potatoes with marshmallows and pecans are bound to be a hit with even the pickiest kids (and adults). The combination of sweet potatoes, brown sugar and marshmallows packs a serious punch of sweetness, but the addition of orange juice and zest introduces just enough tartness to balance all that sugar.
2. Creamy Mashed Potatoes
No Thanksgiving meal is complete without creamy mashed potatoes. They're the perfect complement to rich, savory gravy and taste nearly as good reheated the next day (obviously an important characteristic for the best Thanksgiving side dishes). Save the creative flourishes for other sides because when it comes to mashed potato recipes, classic is best. Even if your menu includes some other kind of potato dish, you're going to want these there too.
3. Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are kind of like the cilantro of veggies. Some people love them, and some hate them. Making a perfect batch of roasted Brussels sprouts might actually help you win some new converts to team sprouts. Roasting them brings out their sweetness and gives them a delicious caramelized crunch. Serve them simply roasted with salt or season them with garlic, pancetta and/or a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette glaze. They're best fresh from the oven.
4. Homemade Green Bean Casserole
It's tempting to take shortcuts when preparing such an ambitious feast, but making green bean casserole from slimy canned beans and gluey cream of mushroom soup is not worth the time you might save. The only problem with serving homemade green bean casserole is that your family won't ever accept the jarred stuff again. Making your own creamy mushroom sauce and fried shallot topping makes a real difference.
5. Fluffy Sweet Potato Soufflé
Are you looking for a new way to bring sweet potatoes to your Thanksgiving table? Try a fluffy sweet potato soufflé. Don't be scared off by the name. Light and airy, this puddinglike dish is nowhere near as complicated to perfect as a traditional soufflé. It's also an ideal easy side dish when you're dining with people with food allergies. It's naturally gluten-free and can be made dairy-free by swapping out the butter and cream for vegan butter and coconut milk.
6. Homemade Mac and Cheese Casserole
Macaroni and cheese is a guaranteed crowd pleaser comfort food, so it's an ideal addition to your menu, especially if the guest list includes any finicky kids. This homemade mac and cheese casserole recipe calls for cheddar and Parmesan, but there's room to experiment with other cheeses depending on what's in your fridge. Macaroni and cheese is a great make-ahead side dish too. Keep it in the fridge for up to a few days before the holiday and then pop it in the oven to heat up just before dinner. Because the pasta will continue to soak up liquid the longer it sits, cook the macaroni until it's just al dente and add a little extra milk and cheese to the sauce. The casserole should still be nice and gooey even after it's reheated on Thanksgiving.
7. Make-Ahead Bread Stuffing
Everyone has strong opinions about Thanksgiving stuffing. Knowing that you can't please everyone, you might as well make your life easier by whipping up make-ahead bread stuffing a day or two before the meal. This basic stuffing recipe is easy to customize, so you can add apples, sausage, bacon or whatever else you consider "must-have" stuffing flavors. Prep this bread stuffing up to a few days before Thanksgiving and the flavors will deepen as the dish chills in the fridge. Reheat the stuffing in the oven and add just a little stock so the bread isn't dried out.
8. Orange Cranberry Sauce
This orange cranberry sauce is a simple twist on a classic. Made with fresh or frozen cranberries, the flavor-packed sauce is surprisingly simple to make. It's also easy to tweak. Add your own favorite spices or mix in apple cider to really highlight all the flavors of fall. This recipe even suggests an adults-only twist: Swap out the water for red wine, spiced rum or vodka. Serve the boozy sauce on its own with dinner or spoon it over vanilla ice cream or sweet potato soufflé for a Thanksgiving dessert.
9. Baked Butternut Squash
Perfectly baked butternut squash is one of the easiest side dishes you can prepare for Thanksgiving. Roasting the squash halves whole means there's no chopping or measuring required. This recipe yields basic roasted squash, which you can then season and serve in a number of ways. Mix in a little butter and add cayenne, garlic and cumin or go the sweet route by adding brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and maple syrup. Make it up to a few days ahead and reheat it over low heat on Thanksgiving.
10. Easy-to-Make Corn Casserole
Corn was one of the components of the first Thanksgiving meal, so it's only right to have at least one corn dish on your table. This easy-to-make corn casserole is composed of just four ingredients: cornbread mix, creamed corn, sour cream and salted butter. This is one of those truly foolproof Thanksgiving side dishes that even kids can make under supervision. Just stir everything together and pour it into a casserole dish. Magic happens while it bakes as the inside of the casserole turns fluffy and creamy while a crunchy and buttery crust develops on top. Make it the day ahead and serve it room temperature or hot.
11. Sausage Stuffing Muffins
Are you looking for a way to shake up your traditional Thanksgiving menu? These sausage stuffing muffins are just the thing. It's unlikely that anyone at your dinner will have tried stuffing in muffin form, but they'll soon be believers. These are the perfect easy side dish for a buffet-style meal since everyone can quickly grab a serving and move on down the line. You're going to want leftovers to grab for breakfast on Friday (or a midnight snack on Thursday).
12. Perfectly Cooked Sweet Potatoes
If you prefer your sweet potatoes cubed rather than mashed, you need this recipe for perfectly cooked sweet potatoes. Cutting them into cubes gives each piece plenty of surface area to develop a caramelized crust. They need nothing more than some salt and fresh herbs as garnish. Bet you can't eat just one bowlful!
13. Vegan Mac and Cheese
Thanksgiving is about everyone coming together and sharing a feast no matter their dietary restrictions. Make sure the vegans at your table have some good side dish options too. This vegan mac and cheese uses cauliflower and nutritional yeast to replicate that creamy texture and gooey, savory flavor that everyone craves from mac and cheese. Top the dish with vegan bacon or breadcrumbs for crunch.
14. Sweet Corn Muffins
Start your Thanksgiving feast early with a batch of sweet corn muffins. Made with cornmeal and flavored with cinnamon, vanilla and tangy Greek yogurt, they're a perfect Thanksgiving breakfast, late-night snack or complement to the main event. Plus, these freeze well, so you can easily make them a week or more ahead of Thanksgiving. Just let them defrost to room temperature and enjoy.
15. Baked Cranberry Meatballs
The combination of cranberries and barbecue sauce might sound strange at first, but these tangy flavors blend together beautifully as a sauce for beef meatballs. Making baked cranberry meatballs is a lower-fat alternative to frying your meatballs. Serve them for Thanksgiving and you might want to make them again for Christmas.
16. Cranberry Brie Flatbread
Maybe you've been invited to Thanksgiving, but cooking isn't really your thing. No worries – these cranberry brie flatbread bites are deceptively fancy and nearly impossible to screw up. Store-bought pizza dough makes a basic base. Melted brie adds creaminess, and the cranberry and orange topping adds sweetness and acidity. Rosemary and sea salt bring everything together in a surprisingly sophisticated package.
17. Pineapple Casserole
Some people hear "pineapple casserole" and immediately think of childhood; others think "... what?" This Southern classic combines sweet and tangy pineapple with buttery cracker crumbs and sharp cheddar cheese. Made with only seven ingredients, this dish takes just minutes to whip up.
18. Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes
This Thanksgiving, give thanks for the kitchen gadgets that make meal prep easier than ever. Instant Pot mashed potatoes require less hands-on work than a traditional recipe and still yield the fluffy, creamy potatoes everyone craves. Pressure cooking the potatoes takes just four minutes, so peeling them is the most time-consuming part of the recipe. Unfortunately, they haven't yet created a gadget that will peel potatoes for us ... maybe next Thanksgiving?
19. Mashed Potato Casserole
Listen – plain mashed potatoes are delicious 365 days a year, but if you believe that Thanksgiving is all about decadence, add mashed potato casserole to your menu. Seasoned with sour cream, half and half, cheese and bacon, you might be dreaming about this casserole well into December. Adding fresh parsley on top gives it a little bit of bright, fresh color, but let's be honest: This dish is not pretending to be healthy.
20. Traditional Ambrosia Salad
Whether or not you grew up with traditional ambrosia salad on the Thanksgiving table, it's easy to see why this sweet dish is a classic. Made with fruit, nuts, coconut, whipped cream and mini marshmallows, ambrosia salad is a decadent treat befitting a special holiday. Mix it up a day or two ahead of time and keep it chilled until dinner. Just be careful not to call it a "salad" around any kids who are looking to get out of eating their vegetables; they might load up on this dish and then claim they already ate their salad as an excuse to refuse anything healthy.
21. Meatloaf Muffins With Mashed Potatoes
These meatloaf muffins with mashed potatoes are a little more labor intensive than some Thanksgiving sides. If you wish, take a shortcut by using instant mashed potatoes, but there's no substitute for making homemade meatballs loaded with herbs and sautéed veggies. Baking them in a muffin tin makes the cooking process easy and lets you give each meatball a flat top that's the perfect base for a scoop of creamy potatoes.
22. Thanksgiving Dinner Turkey Casserole
Thanksgiving dinner turkey casserole combines everything that you love about Thanksgiving into every single bite. This is the perfect dish to make if you're attending multiple Thanksgiving meals. Save leftovers from the first dinner and mix them into a casserole to make a side dish for the second. Serve the casserole with plenty of gravy to pour over each bowlful.
23. Instant Pot Sweet Potato Casserole
Instant Pot sweet potato casserole is another easy twist on a classic. Use the Instant Pot to quickly cook a batch of mashed sweet potatoes and then mix up a sweet, crunchy topping using pecans and maple syrup. Sprinkle mini marshmallows on the assembled casserole and bake until everything is gooey.
24. Loaded Turkey and Veggie Meatballs
Are you looking for a way to sneak more vegetables onto the Thanksgiving table? These loaded turkey and veggie meatballs fit the bill. Pack them with carrots, broccoli, kale or other veggies you have on hand. Paired with gravy, these turkey meatballs are like fall on a fork.
25. Southern Squash Casserole
Southern squash casserole combines nutritious summer squash with onion, garlic, sour cream, buttery crackers and plenty of cheese. In other words, it's one of those recipes that technically counts as a vegetable side dish but tastes indulgently rich and creamy. In other words, it's the perfect side dish for Thanksgiving.
26. Sweet Potato Casserole With Crunchy Pecan Topping
You can never have too many sweet potato dishes on the Thanksgiving table. This sweet potato casserole with crunchy pecan topping is one that you can easily pass off as a classic family favorite even if it's your first time making it. The thick crust of brown sugar topping is studded with chopped nuts and filled with fragrant cinnamon. Don't bake this casserole while hungry because the smell of it cooking is bound to make you drool.
27. Rosemary Turkey Meatballs With Pumpkin Cream Sauce
From the name alone, you know that rosemary turkey meatballs with pumpkin cream sauce will be a winner at Thanksgiving. The combination of turkey, rosemary and pumpkin makes this the perfect autumnal side dish or appetizer. Serve meatballs right in the cream sauce or stick toothpicks in them and serve the pumpkin sauce on the side for dipping.
28. Southern Oyster Casserole
It doesn't matter where your Thanksgiving feast is happening. Southern oyster casserole brings the flavors of the Southern United States to your table. This recipe calls for fresh or canned oysters, which are combined with mushrooms, onion and bell pepper and a simple cream sauce made of just lemon juice, cream, Worcestershire and grated Parmesan. A topping of buttery breadcrumbs mixed with more Parmesan gives the casserole a salty, crispy finish.
29. Mashed Potato Cheesy Bites
What's better than a hot, crispy ball of mashed potatoes? How about a hot, crispy ball of mashed potatoes with a core of melted cheese? These mashed potato cheesy bites start with basic mashed potatoes wrapped around cubes of cheddar and then rolled in breadcrumbs and baked to golden perfection. Once everyone at the Thanksgiving table realizes that cheese comes oozing out of these potato balls, you can forget about your hopes that there will be leftovers.
30. Ritz Squash Casserole
Ritz crackers are a holiday staple for good reason. They add salty crunch to any number of recipes, including this Ritz squash casserole. Vidalia onion and plenty of garlic accentuate the mild sweetness of summer squash while the Ritz crumbs create the buttery, crunchy crust. There's a secret perk of making this casserole as a Thanksgiving side dish: Turning the crackers into crumbs gives you a good reason to hit something over and over with a rolling pin, which can be a nice bit of relief when the Thanksgiving stress starts to get overwhelming.