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The Sanity-Saving Shortcuts You Need This Thanksgiving

Created October 14, 2019
groceries for thanksgiving dinner
There are loads of pre-made dishes and convenience items available at Thanksgiving. To find out which of these are the best, we turned to the Betty Crocker Test Kitchens for answers.
We all know Thanksgiving is a high-stakes meal. Every year, we look for ways to pull it off without piling too much on our plates. That’s why we asked Meredith Deeds, a consultant to the Betty Crocker Test Kitchens, to help us identify the highest-quality shortcut ingredients. Meredith Deeds is a recipe developer and cookbook author with a knack for everyday elegance, and she’s also the the mother of three grown boys, so she knows a thing or two about hosting Thanksgiving, including how to use practical shopping and cooking techniques to get the most delectable results. Here’s Meredith’s list of sanity-saving shortcuts that’ll simplify your meal prep without sacrificing on the flavor of classic dishes.


Progresso Broth

The week before Thanksgiving your time and your refrigerator’s space are both maxed out. This is why we like to make our bread stuffing and gravy (to supplement when there aren’t quite enough drippings) with store-bought Progresso™ chicken broth. When possible, we prefer using reduced-sodium broth, as it gives us more control over the salt level in our stuffing and gravy. No one will be able to tell a difference in the taste of the finished dishes, and this convenience makes a world of difference for the cook. The day after the big feast is when we like to pull out the stock pot, toss in the bones and veggie scraps from the day before and make Use-It-Up Turkey Stock, as the base for Homemade Turkey Soup!

Canned Pumpkin

Pumpkin Pie

Steaming or roasting fresh pumpkin and then pureeing is a time-consuming step, which is reason enough to skip it, but the real reason we prefer canned pumpkin puree is that it makes for a great pie. Fresh pureed pumpkin never turns out as thick and concentrated, which can make for a watery or weepy pie filling. So, add canned pureed pumpkin to your grocery list, just remember to avoid pumpkin pie filling, which includes sugar and spices. Using the plain version will allow you to season your pie as you desire.

Dried herbs

While fresh herbs are certainly a joy in the summer, anyone who doesn’t have a year-round growing season, knows they can be expensive the rest of the time. The good news is dried herbs are economical and can infuse just as much flavor as fresh—sometimes even more! Further, you’ll need less of the dried variety than you would of the fresh because dried herbs are more concentrated—it typically takes three times the amount of fresh to equal dried. One thing to keep in mind when using dried herbs is that they’re best added early in the cooking process as this allows them to rehydrate and release their flavor. Added at the last moment, as you might do with fresh parsley, dried herbs won’t be as flavorful, and their texture can be unpleasant. Thyme and sage, two herbs starring in many a holiday dish, are especially good dry because they are sturdy and tend to retain their flavor—whereas cilantro, basil and parsley are really best fresh.

Which brings us to one caveat, sometimes a garnish of fresh herbs can really elevate a special occasion. So if you want to add a little zjoosh to your tray of turkey, pick up a bunch of parsley, sage or bay leaves—for everything else dried will do just fine!

Cut-Up Fresh Vegetables

classic candied sweet potatoes

If you only need a small quantity of a fresh ingredient—like two stalks of celery for Bread Stuffing—it might be worth it to check the salad bar at your grocery store. Many grocery stores also sell peeled and cubed containers of fresh sweet potatoes, butternut squash and other vegetables that are cumbersome to prep in the produce section. And really, what could be better than getting the exact amount of vegetables you need already prepped and ready to go?

Canned or Frozen Corn

Slow-Cooker Chive-and-Onion Creamed Corn

November isn’t fresh corn season in most of the country, so buying this ingredient in canned or frozen form makes sense, and since the corn was picked peak season, it will be as fresh as you can get it for the time of year. Both canned or frozen work well in classic Thanksgiving dishes like creamed corn and baked corn pudding. One note, salt is typically added during the canning process, so keep this in mind when seasoning your dish. Canned cream corn is just fine too, especially when you’re making a baked corn casserole.

So add these test-kitchen approved ingredients to your grocery list and you can rest assured your Thanksgiving dishes will turn out great—no one will ever suspect a shortcut!

Want a few more shopping tips? The Betty Crocker Test Kitchens have shared a list of unexpected ingredients that will elevate your favorite traditional dishes—find out about the New Staples of Thanksgiving. And when you’re ready for the next step in your prep, find out the dishes that are really worth making homemade and the ones that turn out delicious no matter if their made homemade or with mostly store-bought ingredients.

Meet Meredith

Meredith Deeds is a professional chef and a consultant for the Betty Crocker Kitchens. She’s an accomplished food writer, the author of seven cookbooks, and has been a working recipe developer and cooking instructor for over 20 years. Meredith has been nominated for the prestigious James Beard award for The Big Book of Appetizers and has also written for various magazines and newspapers such as Bon Appétit, Cooking Light, Better Homes and Gardens, Chile Pepper Magazine, Prevention, Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Dallas Morning News. She is currently a weekly columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and also writes frequently for She has three grown boys and has enjoyed cooking on a large scale to satisfy three big appetites. Now, with the boys moved out of the house, she enjoys cooking meals for two.