20 Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas For Families Who Don’t Feel Like Cooking Elaborate Meals

‘Twas the month of Thanksgiving and every mom and dad had good intentions to stay healthy, on track, and on top of their A-game all month. All is well the first week. Halloween is over, and the whole family is sick of candy and treats. Real, healthy, good food is a must. But by week two of November, the idea of cooking for the family is getting old. You’re gearing up to cook an entire Thanksgiving meal (well, we are, because I’m a control freak and I like everything in my dishes and done my way and I don’t like a ‘bring your own dish’ dinner party), after all. That one meal takes like 3 days to make (I didn’t know my husband sets an alarm every Thanksgiving morning to prep the turkey and get it into the oven because it’s so big?!) and 20 minutes to demolish.


What I’m trying to say is that the mental prep for Thanksgiving dinner is a lot, and you must reserve your energy, savor your talents, and not cook for the family for a few weeks days leading up to the big day. If you’re like me, you don’t cook. But if you’re like my husband, you’re pre-tired of cooking elaborate meals and want options that are fast, mostly healthy, and fulfilling. I’ve got 20 of our favorite pre-Thanksgiving dinner recipes right here (because you still have to feed your family every single day for the rest of your life until you die). Thanksgiving is a great time to practice gratitude with your family, and there are few things we are more grateful for than quick and easy dinner ideas.

A Quick Side Note About the Following Recipes

What’s beautiful about each of these recipes is there is no real recipe. There are ingredients, there are instructions – but there is no measuring, no do this, do that, follow these instructions required. Add as little or as much as you want of each ingredient. Assuming you know how many people you’re feeding, you’ve got this. Each of these recipes is ‘to taste’ per se. A teaspoon or tablespoon or a dash here and there – anyone can do it.

1. Baked Chicken Tacos

This one is a crowd pleaser, and the kids love it…and we all know their picky palettes are the ones that count. My favorite way to do this one is to toss chicken into the crock pot with a few ounces of chicken broth, salt, and pepper. I let it simmer on low most of the day, and then I throw 2 little cans of diced green chile peppers (in a little yellow container under the taco mixes and boxes in the store), a plastic container of cherry tomatoes (cut them in half), and half a red onion, thinly chopped into small pieces, into a large skillet. I add a touch of EVOO, salt, and pepper to the mix and turn it on low and wait for it to cook a little (stir on occasion). You can even use canned chicken if you’re feeling extra lazy.

Next, I throw the chicken into the skillet after shredding it in the crockpot and draining it well. I add the pre-made taco seasoning mix from the yellow taco kit box into the skillet, mix it all, and turn off the heat. Finally, I arrange my standing hard taco shells and soft taco boats on a baking sheet, fill them with the chicken taco mixture, top with my favorite shredded Mexican cheese, and bake for 10 minutes (you just want your cheese to melt) on 350 degrees. Remove your tacos, add your sour cream and salsa, and serve.

2. 5-Minute Chicken Caesar Salad Wraps

This is our go-to Monday night dinner because we have a teenager at cheer practice until 6, an 8-year-old at tumble class from 6-7, and no time to bother with anything else. Here we go:

Buy a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken (or two, or three depending on your family size) from the store.

Buy a bag of pre-made Caesar salad mix from the produce section.

Cut your chicken, mix it with the salad in a bowl, and grab some wraps. We like the spinach wraps or we like to buy romaine and use that as a wrap. Assemble your wrap, eat it, and you’re done. Aside from a few moments in the store (make a list or your $20 dinner turns into $300 worth of stuff you probably won’t use despite your good intentions), it takes maybe 5 minutes to make this one.

3. Buffalo Chicken Wraps

The beauty of a wrap is that you can put anything into it and make it a meal in under 30 seconds. I love anything buffalo chicken. Wings, wraps, pizza. You name it, and it has buffalo sauce on it, I’m game. Make your own chicken, buy pre-made chicken tenders (my favorite when I don’t care about my health for an evening) and mix it with buffalo sauce (Franks…or whatever other type you like) in a bowl. Grab a wrap (or romaine), add ranch, top with chicken, and add your favorite toppings. We like lettuce (chop it yourself or do yourself a favor and buy the pre-bagged, pre-cut lettuce) and cherry tomatoes. I also like to top mine with blue cheese crumbles, but you do you, boo.

This is a quick recipe, but it’s also a great one for families. You’re only cooking one meal, but everyone gets to personalize their own. It feels like everyone is happy, and there is very little clean-up. The best part? Even though you’re not cooking anything, the ‘I cooked, you clean’ rule still applies for the person who mixes the buffalo with the chicken.

4. Cilantro Lime Tacos

Baked or grilled, you cannot go wrong. All you need is the following:

  • Chicken
  • Limes
  • Chili lime seasoning
  • Cilantro
  • Sour cream
  • Soft taco shells
  • Chopped romaine
  • Yellow rice
  • EVOO

Mix a dash of EVOO with the juice of 4-5 limes (you can use regular lime juice rather than cutting and squeezing limes if you’re feeling extra lazy pressed for time), as well as your chili lime seasoning. Throw in the chicken and let it marinate for 20-30 minutes. Either bake or grill until the chicken is thoroughly cooked – no one needs a bout of salmonella this close to Thanksgiving even if you are only one stomach bug from your goal weight.

While the chicken is grilling or baking, follow the instructions on the yellow rice package. Once the chicken is done, fill your shells, add some romaine, a dollop of sour cream, and garnish with your cilantro. Serve with yellow rice, and you’re done.

5. Taco Night

We’re assuming everyone knows how to make tacos here…this is the generation of Taco Tuesday lovers. Or are we giving credit to the tacos when we should be giving it to the margaritas that accompany the tacos? Regardless, there is no right or wrong way to make a taco – though there is a way to make them absolutely disgusting, but I’m not eating what you’re making so that’s on you. Make your favorite tacos. Have a taco bar. It takes less than 20 minutes. Everyone loves tacos. You already have the ingredients at home. If not, an Instacart shopper will rectify that for you.

The most important aspect of this recipe is the margarita. Pre-mixed is okay, but it’s always better to start with a classic. Lime juice and salt make for a perfect rim. Mix your tequila of choice, orange liqueur, lime juice, and some simple syrup to your shaker with some ice. Shake it, pour it, drink it. Taco Tuesday is a win. And, if not, you have a margarita and no cares in the world.

6. Keep it Simple with a DIY Sandwich Night

Pro Tip: Southerners – pre-order your favorite subs from Publix and have them Instacart-ed home. Or pick them up on your way home. Send your teen driver. Just do yourself a favor and ask to have the toppings bagged on the side so that your sub isn’t soggy when it arrives.

Non-southerners. What do you do without Pub subs? Is there an alternative? For this one, pick your favorite deli meats, cheeses, and produce section toppings. Always go with bakery bread. Never shop the bread aisle at the store. It’s soft, and it’s not delicious. Bring it all home. Let everyone make their own dinner. Add chips or something to the side. It’s easy, it’s literally the quickest, and you can serve this one on paper plates and no one has to do dishes. You’re welcome.

7. Make Your Own Pizza Night

You can make anything you want, but I’ll share my favorite with you for inspiration. I’m not actually overly proficient in the kitchen, but my husband is. He’s a delight, and he keeps us fed and alive. I love when he makes a buffalo chicken pizza. When he’s in a hurry, he grabs the Pillsbury pre-made thin crust dough in the long tube (bottom shelf under the cinnamon roll tubes). Pre-bake the dough until it’s a little brown. My favorite way to make it is with Publix fried chicken tenders. I like them cut into pieces and covered with buffalo sauce.

Remove the dough from the oven. Top with arugula, buffalo chicken, cherry tomatoes cut in half, and red onion thinly sliced. Bake for approximately 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, top with blue cheese crumbles, and then layer the top with decorative lines of ranch dressing. Eat and enjoy. But, you make whatever you want. Let everyone make one of whatever they want. It’s how we keep them happy.

8. 10-Minute Basil Pasta

Let’s see if we can keep the recipe as short and sweet as the meal. Make pasta per instructions. Drain cooked pasta, place it into a skillet. Add a little EVOO, some basil, salt, and pepper. Turn on medium heat and stir constantly for 2 minutes. Remove from stove, place in bowl. Top with your favorite cheese – fresh parm is always a good choice. Serve. Our kids think this is the best meal ever, and even I can make it.

9. Simple Pasta Salad with Chicken

Make your favorite pasta according to the instructions on the box. While the pasta is boiling, add cherry tomatoes, minced garlic, salt and pepper to a skillet with EVOO and allow to simmer on low. Mix occasionally. Drain your pasta, place it into a large bowl, and then add your EVOO mixture to the bowl. Top with fresh basil and fresh parm cheese. Serve with chicken. You can be fancy and make your own, or you can be like me and order pre-made rotisserie chicken from the deli. No one will know.

10. Let the Kids Make Breakfast for Dinner

It’s so much work to cook for these kids all the time, isn’t it? They have to eat every single night, no matter how busy you are, or how busy they keep you, and it never, ever ends. So, breakfast for dinner (did you know there are about a dozen reasons breakfast for dinner is almost always a good idea?). Let them make their own pancakes, eggs, waffles, cereal, poptarts, cinnamon rolls, omelets. Whatever. Just let them do it. The point is not what they are eating for dinner. The point is that you are not required to cook them what they are eating for dinner.

11. Make a Quick Lemon Pesto Pasta

If you’re not in the mood to spend 20 minutes working on dinner, this is not the recipe for you. If you are, you’ll only need a few ingredients:

  • Pasta of choice
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes (a glass bottle of pre-roasted tomatoes make this even faster)
  • Garlic (the pre-cut stuff is terrible – go for the elephant ears and cut them yourself)
  • Pesto
  • Feta cheese
  • Basil


Cooking the pasta is simple – follow the instructions on the box. I’m assuming the make-your-own homemade pasta crowd isn’t reading. Just be sure you add your broccoli into the pasta water the last minute and a half of boiling. Toss your garlic into a pan with a little EVOO and saute on low for a minute.

Drain your pasta and broccoli, throw it into the pan with the garlic, add your pesto and tomatoes, add a portion of your feta, and mix for approximately 1-2 minutes. Remove from the stove and serve. Garnish with basil and a little more feta, if you like.

12. Chicken Summer Rolls

Here’s what you need:

  • Romaine
  • Chicken
  • Cucumber cut into long, thin slices
  • Carrots cut into long, thin slices
  • Ranch or your favorite dressing

Make your chicken how you like it, and then cut it into small pieces. Throw it into a large piece of romaine to use as a wrap. Add your favorite sauce or dressing, some cucumber slices, and some carrot slices. Roll it up, eat it. It’s healthy, delightful, and quick.

13. Support a Small Business

I love supporting a small business. We aim for a weekly family date night with the kids where everyone takes turns choosing the restaurant (any whining or complaints about someone else’s choice results in a lost turn choosing). This time of year, though, we like to make it a rule that the restaurant has to be a locally-owned restaurant. It allows us to support a small business, not cook for ourselves, and still have a great meal. Simply put, giving back to your community during the holiday season is always a good choice.

14. Make Your Grandmother’s Favorite Chili Recipe

I don’t like chili, so I don’t have a favorite recipe. But, everyone’s grandmother has a favorite chili recipe. If yours does not, someone you know has a grandmother with a favorite chili recipe. The internet has a few, too. People love chili, no? It’s something of a cold-weather staple (we don’t have cold weather, so that might be why chili is not a thing here). My point is that I’m almost positive chili is a crockpot recipe. If there’s one thing people seem to love more than chili, it’s a crockpot recipe.

15. A One-Pan Rosemary Chicken Bake

It’s one pan, but it’s a little more time-consuming. We’ll call this one a recipe for the overachievers this season.


  • Cranberries
  • Olive Oil
  • Soy sauce
  • Maple syrup
  • Garlic (minced)
  • Rosemary
  • Dry white wine (see, sweet wine is so bad you cannot even cook with it)
  • Chicken

Cooking the Meal

With the exception of your chicken, toss everything into a blender or processor and let it mix until it’s all smooth. Line a baking dish with chicken, and then pour your new marinade sauce from the processor into the dish with the chicken. Cover the dish and let it marinate (inside the fridge) for a half hour. You can also make this ahead and let it sit for up to 24 hours. Bake at 375 (uncovered) until the chicken is done. Once it’s done cooking, throw a few more fresh cranberries and a few sprigs of rosemary in the dish, and serve. Voila.

16. Club Sandwiches Without the Bread

Everyone loves a club sandwich, or at least most of the ingredients in a club sandwich. Try making the family a healthier version without the bread. Wrap your club sandwiches in either romaine or a wrap of your choosing. This is a simple recipe because it’s not difficult to make, but it’s a little more special than a plain sandwich.

17. Invite Yourself Over to a Friend’s House

Or a family member, we don’t mind either way. Now is a great time to invite yourself to dinner at someone else’s house, and you can be tacky about it. Hey, what are you cooking for dinner? Want some company? I’ll bring alcohol and my family and dessert. Love you so much! It’ll be fun. That’s all you have to say. The people who love you will be cool with it. If they’re not, you have 19 other options.

18. Make the Kids Favorite Spaghetti

Turkey or lean ground beef works. Store-bought sauce also works – there are so many flavors to choose from – and some fresh parm thrown on top is all it takes. We are fans of whole wheat pasta. To make this simple meal a little more personal, pick up a loaf of fresh French bread. Cut it into small slices, butter them, add some garlic salt to the top, and bake them for 12 minutes on 350 for homemade garlic bread.

19. Greek Pasta Salad

This is a great dish with orzo instead of pasta. There’s very little actual cooking involved. We like to chop tomatoes, cucumber, onions, and romaine to add to the top of the orzo. If you like olives, add some. We also throw feta cheese on top. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can make your own tzatziki sauce too.

*3/4 cup Greek yogurt, 2 tbsp. lemon juice, a splash of red wine vinegarette, 2 cloves of minced garlic, and some cucumber (seedless) finely chopped – mix together, top with salt, pepper, and fresh dill (add to taste).

To cook orzo, follow the package instructions.

20. Keep it Simple and Order Take Out

If we are being honest here, we are either going out or ordering out the week of Thanksgiving. There’s too much going on to even want to grocery shop, think, or plan a meal. Just order something you love. It’s easier – and this is a great idea for Thanksgiving Eve. You’ll be cooking all day tomorrow (and we know you prepped the stuffing and all the other things today). Let someone else cook for you tonight.

Some Other Great Reads to Help Keep the Kids Entertained During the Thanksgiving Holiday Break – and to Save You Time Cooking:

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