It’s nearly time for the most fabulous feast of the year! The secrets to a stress-free Christmas are straightforward: be prepared, do what you can ahead of time, and have a plan in place for the big day. Whether you’re hosting for the first year ever or simply find it a challenge to bring everything together, read on for our guide to getting your timings right for Christmas dinner. The trick is to start early…
Three weeks till Christmas
- Now is the time to write your menu. Choose as many dishes as possible that can be made ahead of time: think side dishes like potato gratins, starters such as chicken liver pâté, and freezable festive nibbles like sausage rolls and mince pies. (Psst! If you need inspiration, pick up a copy of this year’s Easy Food Christmas Annual, or check out our comprehensive collection of Christmas recipes here.)
- Use your menu to write a complete shopping list for absolutely everything you need.
- Do your shopping in several runs over the next few weeks, stocking up on non-perishables and freezer-friendly items early, then picking up fresh food items closer to the time.
One week till Christmas
- Read all of your recipes thoroughly and repeatedly, making sure you know exactly what’s in store for you when you start cooking.
- Have make-ahead dishes stocked in the fridge and freezer.
- Decide what time you want to serve Christmas dinner, then work backwards from this to create a detailed schedule for the day itself.
- Be realistic about how long different tasks will take, being sure to leave some wiggle room to avoid any panic.
- You’ll need to set the turkey at room temperature for one hour before roasting. Factor in time for this and for resting it after cooking.
Three days till Christmas
- Make any desserts that will keep in the fridge for a few days; chocolate mousse, trifle and tiramisu are just a few.
- Make your stuffing and braise your red cabbage, if serving.
- If your turkey is frozen, thaw it slowly in your fridge for 2-3 days before Christmas.
One day till Christmas
- Defrost any remaining pre-made dishes in your freezer.
- Peel and chop potatoes and vegetables on Christmas Eve and store them submerged in cold water ready for the big day.
- Boil your ham and allow to cool. If you’re planning on glazing and baking the ham the next day, prepare your glaze now and store in a tub in the fridge.
- Read through your recipes and schedule one more time and have everything clear in your mind.
- Once you’ve eaten, set the table to tick one more item off the to-do list.
On the day
- Keep calm and follow your schedule!
- Place the turkey at room temperature for one hour before roasting. The turkey will take longer than anything else, so getting that in the oven early is your top priority.
- Early in the day, par-boil potatoes and vegetables for roasting, then set aside for later.
- Getting all of the elements ready to serve at the same time is a challenge. Make sure you have plenty of tin foil to hand in case you need to keep a few items warm while you get the rest ready.
- Never skip resting time for meat — not only does it free up the oven for other foods, but it’s crucial for a juicy, tender result. Your turkey can rest for around one hour — simply wrap it well in tin foil, followed by a few clean tea towels. Combined with the weight of the bird, this insulation will retain its heat.
- Use this resting time to prepare the remainder of your dishes. First, bake your ham, then cover that with foil and allow to rest. Use the remaining time to heat through prepared dishes such as gratins, to roast your potatoes and to make your gravy.
- Potato gratins will benefit from five minutes of resting on the counter before serving; this gives them time to firm up slightly, making them easier to spoon out from the dish.
- Braised cabbage can simply be heated through in the microwave.
- Be sure you have serving spoons, salt and pepper, condiments and bottles of wine on the table before you start serving.
- Serving “family style” takes pressure off you in these final few moments.
- Put out potatoes and meat first, then vegetable dishes. Leave the gravy in the pan as long as possible.
- You did it! Raise a glass to all your hard work, then dig in.