9 Thanksgiving Side Dishes You Should Buy Instead Of Cook This Year

Opt for side dish curation over cooking. Here's where to get the best takeout sides for the holiday.

Okay, so we've already spilled the giblets on where and how to score the best precooked Thanksgiving turkeys if you can't find one or just plain don't feel like making one this year. We've also given you tips on how to make a killer turkey if you do feel like tackling that task. And now, we're completing the Thanksgiving trifecta with a list of the best traditional side dishes you can buy premade from chain restaurants—consider it a cheat sheet for how to (almost) literally just phone in the whole damn thing.

Opt for side dish curation over cooking this year. We dare you. Save the energy (and energy bills) with your oven on "warming" instead of baking, and spend the day with your family doing whatever you want. Like eating. Laughing. Giving thanks to the fact that we're in the home stretch of yet another tough year.

Here are all the traditional Thanksgiving side dishes, and the best takeout spots from which to buy them for your holiday. Only reheating required.

Mashed potatoes

Most meals start with apps or bread, but for Thanksgiving, nothing is more important than a good set of smashed spuds. Ask my future brother-in-law Jake, who, a couple of years ago, literally went out to Boston Market after an hourlong drive in freezing sleet on Thanksgiving Day when he learned that only sweet potatoes were on the menu at home. In fact, ask any red-blooded American. Most will have strong opinions on skin-on or skin-off and creamy versus chunky, but will stand undivided on the necessity of some version thereof.

Advertisement

For this, Jake had the right of it: Nobody's got better mashed potatoes than Boston Market. The potatoes at Popeyes are pretty good, too (even if they're hella salty), but at Boston Market, they're thick, they're luscious, and they have just enough lumps to assure you that, yes, they're real and they're spectacular. Buttery and beautifully seasoned with layered flavor, these mashed potatoes don't even need the chicken gravy they're served with—but get that on the side anyway, for the turkey. Best of all, Boston Market is open on Thanksgiving Day so you can get them hot and fresh for your potato emergency.

Other potatoes

We already established that mashed potatoes are a must. Cool. But that doesn't mean you have to stop there. There is no other time more appropriate than Thanksgiving to over-potato, if there even can be such a thing. The more the merrier, right?

Advertisement

For this, I want to point you somewhere a bit unexpected: Wendy's. No, no, not the polarizing french fries—I'm talking about the selection of baked potatoes. Get some plain and make a baked potato bar at home. Or get them topped (sour cream on the side) and let the cheese bubble up and crust when you reheat them gently in the oven. Whatever. Either way, Wendy's makes them hot, fluffy, and fresh.

For something a bit more decadent, I give you The Honey Baked Ham Company (which is, yes, also selling turkey this year). This company sells heat-and-eat trays of Thanksgiving sides in the freezer cases, and that grab-and-go selection includes Cheesy Potatoes Au Gratin, which are actually very cheesy indeed, and Maple Sweet Potato Souffle, which feels more real than Boston Market's sweet potatoes, the latter of which feature that infernal, somehow traditional marshmallow topping. (Why do people like this?!)

Advertisement

Breads, biscuits, and rolls

Okay, now we can move above ground, from tubers to flour. And for this, we have a cornucopia of fantastic options, so you can select whatever is most convenient, tacking it onto an order you're already picking up.

Advertisement

For instance, are you getting a deep-fried Cajun turkey from Popeyes for your Thanksgiving feast? If so, go ahead and grab Popeyes' heavy, movie-theater-butter biscuits when you pick up your turkey in store.

Passing by a Hardee's or Carl's Jr.? Don't sleep on their biscuits, either—they're a little more crumbly, with a slight tang to them that will solicit oohs and ahhs from your guests. These biscuits are so beloved that they're even promoted as Valentine's Day treats, shaped into hearts to give as gifts.

Another good one is the Honey Butter Biscuit at Church's Chicken. This is a drop-style biscuit, crunchy and honey-sweet enough to almost forgive Church's for its abysmally cheap cuts of chicken. And don't forget KFC if your taste is for something a little more mild and you prefer your outsides crusty and your insides squishy. Bonus points if you live in the limited regions they're selling a deep-fried turkey, too.

Advertisement

For good old-fashioned bread, there's always trusty Panera Bread. The thawed-to-serve pastries might be mediocre, but the standard French baguette is a chewy joy, especially after a few minutes in the oven.

Finally, if you prefer something sweeter, Boston Market's adorable little cornbreads look as good in a bread basket as they taste in your mouth. Again, just a wee toastie and you're good to go.

Mac & cheese

Yes, we're still talking about carbs. (My apologies to our gluten-free brethren, and my deepest sympathies, too.) But also, cheese! Comforting macaroni and cheese is, for many, a crucial element of holiday feasting food, and there are a couple of great places to get it. Personally, for me, it's a tie of two cities.

Advertisement

Boston Market has those great spirals that stay firm as they hold onto a creamy cheddar-cheese-based sauce. They're like honey dippers, but for dairy. On the other hand, if you have a ton of kids at the table, you may want to opt for KFC's softer-cooked elbows. Both options have that uber-creamy Velveeta feel we all secretly love, plus a mild cheesiness that just feels like comfort. Panera's cheesy shells evoke a bit of nostalgia, too, but the sauce texture isn't quite as pleasurably gloopy as Boston Market's or KFC's. Popeyes mac and cheese is objectively terrible.

Stuffing

We've been on a (dinner) roll here, but unfortunately, your pickings for stuffing are slim. Used to be that Boston Market had a pretty good one that was served hot, but that was inexplicably removed from the menu to the consternation of 525 folks.

Advertisement

If you really can't deal with the hassle of making it from a box or a bag mix, you can find Honey Baked Ham's country cornbread stuffing in the frozen case at brick-and-mortar Honey Baked stores. It's pretty good, with real butter, chopped celery and onion, and rosemary. But during a holiday where oven space is at a premium, you might as well make it Stove Top.

Salad

Okay, ready to move onto something green? No matter how decadent the spread, I need some color on my table to make it really feel special. Salad brightens up the Thanksgiving meal and lightens up the meat and protein.

Advertisement

Panera's catering menu is a no-brainer for this, especially the Fuji Apple Salad. The fruit and pecans with peppery arugula and kale make it feel seasonal, especially with the rich gorgonzola to warm things up further. There's a reason this is a best seller for them, and you can make a catering order with just the salad and no chicken.

Quizno's is also a good salad pick. The Apple Harvest Chicken Salad catering size salad bowls provide a similar flavor profile, with apples, dried cranberries, and pumpkin seeds to make it feel autumnal. And if you live in a city where there's a Chopt, you can cherry-pick what you want to go into your salad for 10 people. However, that's gonna cost you—twice as much as the classic salads, which are much more summery in feel.

Advertisement

Soup

Sure, it's been unseasonably warm this year, but bring on #soupszn regardless. The Autumn Squash Soup at Panera is November in a bowl, and it's the chain's best-seller this month, for obvious reasons. Featuring a blend of butternut squash and pumpkin, the soup is sweetened with honey and apple juice and given dimension with curry and cinnamon. It comes finished with sweet cream, which you can get on the side for at-the-table drama, plus roasted and salted pumpkin seeds.

Advertisement

Bonus: this soup also comes with some of Panera's signature French baguettes so you won't have to make a separate order for bread. Get as many of the bigger size containers as you need; Café Soups for a Group feed four apiece, and you'll want enough for leftovers!

And while Panera's broccoli cheddar soup is also well-known and well-loved, my personal fave is from Quizno's. The sandwich chain offers a tangy, thick, just plain good broccoli cheddar. The caveat is that you might have to reach out to your individual location about volume pricing, since it's not readily available on the catering menu. It's worth the effort, though.

Cooked vegetables

Let's continue to eat the rainbow. You have a couple of options for cooked and seasoned veggie sides. You can hit up Boston Market again, but this time for the Fresh Steamed Vegetables, which are kind of bland but do the trick with broccoli, carrots, and zucchini. There's the creamed spinach, which can look untrustworthy, but I mean, it exists. This chain also has the best damn side of corn not only in the quick-service world, but like, the general world. It's buttery, juicy, sweet, and kissed ever so gently with garlic.

Advertisement

If you want a light medley, head for Panda Express, which sells "party size" trays of Super Greens mix. This includes cooked broccoli, kale, and cabbage. It's lightly seasoned with ginger and garlic, so it won't clash with the Americana on your table.

Otherwise, it's back to Honey Baked Ham's freezer case, where you can get Tuscan-Style Broccoli with lemon, garlic, olive oil, and parm, or one of the best renditions of Green Bean Casserole I've had. It's zhuzhed up with red peppers and real mushrooms, and the fried onions come on the side.

Dessert

If you feel like things got too hot and healthy for you for a minute, don't you worry, darling. Pie is traditional, and again, Boston Market's got your back. This pie is made with Granny Smith apples and Korintje cinnamon, and the crust is a good one, also featured in the pot pie. You can get a brownie tray, too, but everything else is by the slice.

Advertisement

That's not to say you can't have your cake and eat it, too. KFC has a chocolate chip Bundt cake, but my pro-tip is to go to the specialists. Nothing Bundt Cakes rocks in every flavor I've tried, and I've had nearly all of them. For Thanksgiving, the bakery chain offers a Give Thanks decorated Bundt cake, featuring five "Gratitude Feathers" that your guests can write on so they're not caught with their (now-unbuttoned) pants down when you do the traditional around-the-table thankfulness speeches. Anyway, you can get these cakes in 8- or 10-inch sizes in a bajillion flavors, including the seasonal Pumpkin Spice bundt, which is sticking around until November 27 to fuel your holiday shopping.

Recommended

Advertisement