How to Make Thanksgiving with As Little Prep As Possible
No, you don't need to plan for days to make this meal — especially if you're feeding a smaller crowd.
By Leah Brickley for Food Network Kitchen
You won’t find tips for a make-ahead Thanksgiving meal here. There's no detailed strategy that starts weeks before the holiday or a plan that requires copious amounts of prep lists. Your freezer won’t be full of baked rolls and pies that need only reheating. There won’t be mashed potatoes to heat up or homemade turkey stock waiting to be turned into gravy. This is intended for those who really don’t have time (or the desire) for excessive shopping, chopping, baking, roasting and mashing. Instead, we're offering meal ideas that can be accomplished 100% on Thanksgiving Day (with one exception) — and they're worthy of celebrating over. Best of all: you'll be able to spend more time with your guests and there won’t be a pile of dishes waiting for you afterwards.
For the Thanksgiving traditionalist with no time:
A traditional Thanksgiving meal requires quite a bit of planning and time spent prepping and cooking. If you're not up for that kind of culinary commitment but don’t want to sacrifice the familiar flavors and smells of the holiday, then we have some ideas:
Small gatherings: In under 3 hours you can make a full Thanksgiving meal in the oven for up to 4 people: turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts and cranberries are split between two sheet trays. Clean up is minimal and you can serve the meal right on the sheet trays. Finish with a store-bought pie and homemade whipped cream (totally worth the effort).
A slightly larger group: Consider a small roast turkey that is straight forward and easy. Pair it with a sheet tray loaded with five traditional sides and a simple green salad with a cranberry vinaigrette. You can also splurge on a store-bought or restaurant-made pie (again, serve with homemade whipped cream) or pastries from a local bakery.
Any size: Nobody said you have to do all the work yourself. It's OK to ask your guests to bring a side dish or a dessert — like a batch of their favorite cookies. You can provide the turkey, wine and the space for celebrating. Or, call around to local restaurants and grocery stores: many may offer a full Thanksgiving meal that you can order, pick up and serve. Or perhaps maybe you just want to rely on them for the roast turkey or pie. Then you'll have time to focus on something else festive like decorations for the table or a big batch of cocktails.
For someone who doesn’t mind breaking with tradition:
If you're not beholden to the usual Thanksgiving spread, then the options are endless — even with a constraint on time and prep. Here are some easy breezy menu ideas that don’t require lots of chopping and stirring and will still feel special:
Slow cooker Sunday gravy needs only a little bit of prep and cooking early in the morning. While it bubbles away on the counter you can throw together these easy tiramisu trifles. Bring the meal together with a salad, a loaf of nice bread and some salted butter.
This roast pork with apples recipe is a 2-for-1: thickly sliced veggies (so, minimal chopping) roast along with the meat. Pair it with an easy Gorgonzola polenta. Serve store-bought biscotti and coffee after dinner.
Turn a Bundt pan into a clever roasting stand for this easy chicken and potato recipe with an Herbes de Provence upgrade. Serve with some easy 5-ingredient sides like lemon almond string beans or an arugula salad.
Roasted salmon with walnut-pepper relish is so simple and such a show-stopper — it’s the perfect alt Thanksgiving meal and can feed a crowd. Then satisfy your guests sweet tooth with these insanely easy poached apricot sundaes.
If you have any free time the week of Thanksgiving — make this one thing:
There was a promise that all of these meals could be made the day of Thanksgiving, but if you have a little extra time consider making turkey leg and wing confit. The meat is slow-roasted in a vat of fat — it's fall-off-the-bone good. Make it a couple days ahead, roast the breast and reheat the legs and wings day of. It’s a dream come true for anyone not into prepping.