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Mom’s Simple Secrets for Holiday Meal Planning Success

Mom is a certified expert at everything—but especially holiday meal planning. Here are some of her best secrets for a stress-free Christmas dinner.

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Merry Christmas! Happy family are having dinner at home. Yuganov Konstantin/Shutterstock

Are you hosting Christmas dinner this year? Fear not. Holiday meal planning doesn’t have to be stressful! We went straight to the pros—Mom and her friends—for their best no-fuss ideas to put holiday stress on the back burner. For more tips, check out our holiday handbook for hosting Christmas like a boss.

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Make a list and check it twice

Make your meal plan and grocery list a month or so in advance. Then, as the holiday gets closer, check in with your list frequently to make sure you’re not forgetting anything. Need some extra help? We put together a holiday shopping list for you!

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I MAKE PHOTO 17/Shutterstock

Be a super-saver

Making lists in advance lets you scope out sales on the items you need to buy. You can get all of the nonperishable items weeks ahead of time. And, you can split up the shopping to avoid one very expensive trip to the grocery store. Shopping at Costco this year? These shopping tips will save you a ton of money.

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Woman placing container with frozen mixed vegetables in refrigerator.hedgehog94/Shutterstock

Prep a few dishes in advance

There are holiday dishes that can be made in advance, frozen for a week or two and popped directly into the oven when it’s go-time. Think casseroles, dressing, pies, mashed potatoes, gravy, dinner rolls and even unfrosted cookies or cheesecake. Get our complete guide for how to prep, freeze and defrost your favorite holiday dishes.

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An Open Refrigerator Filled With Fresh Fruits And VegetablesAndrey_Popov/Shutterstock

Double up on the appliances

Have a second refrigerator and oven—really. My grandma has a second full kitchen in her basement, which makes it easy to prepare holiday meals for more than 25 people. Here are more cooking tips we learned from Grandma.

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People serving themselves Thanksgiving dinner from various different casseroles and pansCabeca de Marmore/Shutterstock

Try a potluck party

You cook the main dish—a turkey, roast or ham—and ask everyone else to bring the appetizers, sides and desserts. Everyone feels like they are a part of the celebration and it’s easier on the host. Need some inspiration? Check out these holiday potluck recipes.

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Top view of young happy couple is washing dishes while doing cleaning at home.4 PM production/Shutterstock

Pre-wash your dishes

If you’re planning to use the fancy dishes or pulling out extras to accommodate a crowd, wash your dishes and stemware a few days in advance. It’s one less thing to worry about!

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preparing ahead of time makes hearty slow cooker meals are a favorite for fall and winter cookingsherwood/Shutterstock

Use your slow cooker

Make use of the slow cooker to save oven space. It’s the perfect vessel for many side dishes, soups and beverages. Here’s our Test Kitchen pick for the best slow cooker for all your favorite low-and-slow recipes.

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Traditional Sliced Honey Glazed Ham Ready for the HolidaysBrent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Serve a Honey Baked Ham

A Honey Baked Ham is the best $100 I spend around the holidays, and it’s much cheaper than catering an entire party. You don’t even have to cook it! Add a few sides, ask your family and friends to bring appetizers and desserts and you’re all set for a holiday meal everyone will love. Even better? All the tasty ways you can use the ham leftovers.

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Cheese and Wine Tasting Party with Twinkly Holiday Lights in Backgroundviennetta/Shutterstock

Label your dishes

A few days before Christmas, my mom will put scrap pieces of paper in all her serving dishes that say “salad” or “green beans” so she knows what goes where on the big day. Labels also make it easier for guests to lend a helping hand. Work it into this holiday hosting timeline and checklist.

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Variety of homemade sauces and salad dressings in mason jars including vinaigrette, ranch and honey mustardElena Veselova/Shutterstock

Get saucy

Prepare salad dressings, vinaigrettes, sauces and dips the day before and chill overnight in the fridge. By the way, these are our favorite dip recipes.

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blurred Various thanksgiving dinner dishes being prepared and servedAngela Liu/Shutterstock

Let guests get involved

People like to be helpful—so let them! Have a list of jobs in mind to assign out when people offer, like heating up the corn, putting bread in baskets and assembling the salad.

Lauren Naru
Lauren Naru writes about gift guides, sales, and must-have items for the kitchen and home. She loves a good deal is and is always on the hunt for super-savings and products that solve cooking problems. In her spare time, you’ll find her creating custom cookies for friends and family. Lauren lives and works in New York's Hudson Valley region.