Your Complete Christmas Dinner Planning Guide

A special occasion like Christmas calls for extraordinary food. Whether your gathering is big or small, casual or formal, here's the Christmas dinner planning guide you need to create a crowd-pleasing holiday feast.

There’s so much joy and magic to soak in as the merry days before Christmas unfold: family traditions, a perfectly lit tree and the coziness of a crackling fire. Your celebratory Christmas dinner should be just as special.

This year, enjoy a bountiful Christmas meal that combines elegance and rustic charm. We’ve fashioned up a full Christmas dinner menu, complete with sides, desserts and a succulent beef tenderloin roast that takes center stage. Follow along as this timeline walks you through how (and when!) to prepare each course to ensure dinner goes off without a hitch.

Your Christmas Dinner Timeline

Taste of Home

A Few Weeks Before Christmas

  • Prepare two grocery lists—one for nonperishable items to buy now and one for perishable items to buy a few days before Christmas. For help, check out our secret grocery shopping tips.
  • Bake the brown sugar and chocolate swirl cheesecake, but do not add whipped cream, walnuts or syrup. Freeze in an airtight container.
  • Prepare appetizer pinwheels but do not slice. Wrap in waxed paper and freeze in a freezer container.
  • Bake the garlic-herb braid. Wrap in heavy-duty foil and freeze.

Psst! For extra tips, see what else you need to do when you’re hosting a holiday party.

Two Days Before Christmas

  • Buy the remaining grocery items.
  • Prepare the dressing for the cherry brie tossed salad. Cover and refrigerate.
  • Wash china, stemware and the table linens.

The Day Before Christmas

  • Prepare the creamy red pepper soup. Allow to cool completely and do not add garnishes. Cover and refrigerate.
  • Prepare the smoked almond cheese ball. Wrap tightly and store in the refrigerator.
  • Prepare cranberry-lemon meringue pie. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  • Remove the cheesecake from the freezer and place in the refrigerator to thaw. Remove the braided bread from the freezer and place on the countertop to thaw.
  • Prepare the maple custard, but do not add whipped cream. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  • Set the table.

Christmas Day

  • About 4 hours before dinner, tie the roast for the mushroom-blue cheese tenderloin and let it sit in the marinade in the refrigerator for 2 hours, turning occasionally.
  • At least 3 to 4 hours before dinner, prepare the marinated vegetables with olives. Refrigerate until ready to serve, stirring occasionally.
  • About 1 hour before dinner, remove the beef tenderloin roast from the refrigerator. Prepare and bake.
  • About 45 minutes before dinner, prepare the roasted Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. Keep warm until serving.
  • About 30 minutes before dinner, prepare the fruit and nut bulgur pilaf. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Right Before Dinner

  • About 30 minutes before guests arrive, remove the pinwheels from the freezer. Cut into slices and bake.
  • As guests arrive, assemble the shrimp salad appetizers. Remove the cheese ball from the refrigerator and serve with crackers.
  • Remove the salad dressing for the tossed salad from the refrigerator and whisk. Prepare salad and toss with dressing. Sprinkle salad with sugared almonds.
  • Prepare the mushroom-blue cheese sauce for the beef tenderloin roast. Get a guest to help!
  • Remove the soup from the refrigerator and warm it on the stovetop. Sprinkle with chives, cream and croutons just before serving.
  • Slice braid just before serving.
  • After dinner, remove the pie, custard and cheesecake from the refrigerator. Fold whipped cream into custard and drizzle with maple syrup. Top cheesecake with whipped cream, sprinkle with walnuts and drizzle with maple syrup. Cut and serve desserts.

Taste of Home

With these mouthwatering recipes and other clever tips and ideas, December 25 will be more delicious than ever before. Need more inspiration? Here are some of our favorite traditional Christmas dinner recipes, along with an easy Christmas dinner menu.

Originally Published in Taste of Home Books

Amy Glander
Amy is a book editor at Taste of Home where she gets to pour her passions for food and storytelling into trade and series cookbooks. When she’s not writing or editing, you’ll find her antiquing, cooking and baking from her favorite vintage cookbooks and exploring Milwaukee’s urban beauty with her digital SLR in hand.