Christmas is just around the corner, and with it comes family, festivities and, of course, food. One thing many of us look forward to each year is the sight of Christmas dinner, with plates full of turkey, roast potatoes, parsnips, stuffing and gravy. However, if you’re the one hosting and cooking, Christmas dinner can prove somewhat more stressful than intended. You have to juggle timings, dietary requirements and all kinds of spills and stains, all while still appearing joyful, relaxed and chatty.
As a result, many of us take turns hosting, or offer help where we can around the kitchen. But, even with all this, there’s no doubt that putting on such a spread causes quite a lot of stress — not really what you want on Christmas day. To help out, we’ve pulled together a list of 10 tips to make cooking Christmas dinner less stressful. Follow these, and you might just gain a whole new perspective on cooking over the holidays.
For more help, be sure to check out how to set a dinner table and how to carve a turkey.
1. Check for allergies
It’s of the utmost importance to check for allergies and dietary requirements before you order your food. The last thing you want is someone sitting down at the table and saying they can’t eat the majority of what you’ve cooked. Clarify what you’re preparing to serve for guests in advance; that way, they can confirm that they’re happy with the entire menu.
Take any changes into account when you order your food, and remember that additional dishes may require extra oven space, so be sure to check you can accommodate. Otherwise, additional time may be required for cooking.
2. Get your timing straight the night before
Speaking of which, get all of your cooking times calculated and written down the evening before. That way, you can see exactly what you need to do and when, so the whole process is more controlled and streamlined. Start from the time you want to serve, and work your way back to the turkey first going in the oven. Don’t forget to factor in the time to preheat the oven as well as time to peel and prepare vegetables. You will feel much more calm and confident if there’s a plan in place.
3. Pre-prepare what food you can
If you want to save time on the day itself, there are certain foods you can pre-prepare to make things easier. For instance, if you prefer your cranberry sauce from scratch, you can store it in one of the best refrigerators for up to two weeks before consuming. Many dishes can also be prepared, cooked and then frozen beforehand, so you simply need to heat them up on the Christmas day, such as stuffing, roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings. Your potatoes can either be frozen after parboiling or after cooking them if you really want to reduce the timings.
Make sure your turkey is given ample time to defrost ahead of Christmas Day as well. Instructions should be supplied on your turkey in terms of the time required in your refrigerator. However, for guidance, the USDA recommends one day in the refrigerator for every 4-5 pounds of weight.
4. Clear the workspace
It’s important that you pre-prepare your kitchen as well. Your worktops will always be overcrowded with dishes and utensils on the day, so clear what you can from the workspace in advance. Store away anything decorative or unlikely to be used — such as plants and bulky appliances. Then add mat protectors to your worktop to prevent any hot dishes from doing damage, such as these Gasare Silicone Countertop Mat Protectors ($36.06, Amazon).
Remember to do the washing up as well — ideally, you want an empty sink and dishwasher by the time you start cooking, so there’s space to stack and wash up what you need on the day.
5. Lay the table in advance
Just like pre-preparing your food, it’s a good idea to lay the dinner table in advance as well. That means there’s one less thing to worry about on Christmas Day itself. Find all of the serving dishes that might be hidden away in the back of the cupboards, such as gravy boats and side plates, and lay them out ready. Consider if you will need any extra pots and pans for cooking as well and locate those.
Make sure your table has sufficient chairs around it and that there’s enough cutlery to account for starters and dessert. Lay out the crackers on the table as well, which will give your guests something to do as you serve up.
6. Keep the drinks out of the kitchen
If you want to avoid obstructions in the kitchen, it’s best to leave any alcohol and soft drinks in a designated area out of the way. That way, people won’t be bending over you to reach for glasses in the cupboards and regularly pouring out drinks where you need to be. This also prevents people from stopping and chatting to you as you cook, which is great in small doses, but can end up becoming quite distracting and stressful.
7. Cook what you want and keep things familiar
If you’re cooking a menu you’re excited to eat yourself, it can make the whole process less stressful and more rewarding. The same can be said for cooking recipes that you’re used to. Don’t feel bad if you choose to adjust the traditional Christmas Dinner to suit your style of cooking — you might even improve upon it. For instance, you could try spatchcocking your turkey, to produce more moist and even results.
Try suggesting alternative dishes to your guests and see how they react — they may even have some ideas of their own. For instance, you could swap out traditional Brussels sprouts for Asian influenced Brussels sprouts cooked in one of the best air fryers (see our 5 best air fryer recipes for more details).
8. Accept help where you can
We’ve all been there: you want your guests to have the best time, so you absolutely refuse to accept any help in the kitchen and send them away. But, cooking Christmas Dinner is a huge task at the end of the day, so consider taking the help where you can — it may not even revolve around the kitchen.
For instance, an adult can keep a watchful eye on any young children running around, while someone else may be able to start on the washing up, or carry dishes back and forth to the table. Don’t feel bad about accepting a helping hand — your guests would rather you didn’t feel secluded and stressed over the meal.
9. Keep an eye on the children and pets
It’s a good idea to make a dedicated play space for any kids. That way, they’ve got games and toys to keep themselves distracted, so they won't come running into the kitchen where there's a hot oven and the chance that they could burn themselves. Try to keep a space for any curious animals as well for the same reason.
10. Don’t cook too much
It's easy to go over the top when it comes to Christmas dinner. However, make sure you keep on top of how much you’re purchasing and the overall quantities, because there can be a lot of waste at this time of year. While freezing leftovers is entirely possible, a lot sadly ends up going down the garbage disposal, so keep on top of how much you’re cooking and save yourself the added cost and effort.
For more Christmas tips, tricks and how tos, check out how to care for a poinsettia and walking dogs in the snow — 6 essential safety tips