12 Tips for Cooking Christmas Dinner That’ll Take Away the Stress

The holidays don't have to be stressful. Use our tips for cooking Christmas dinner so it goes off without a hitch.

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Low section of unrecognizable people cutting pie and vegetables standing around dinner table with homemade food on it

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

If you could use a hand setting the table, drying dishes, peeling potatoes or with any other task, wrangle up some helpers. (It will give the kids something to do other than watch “Frosty the Snowman” for the fifteenth time.) Most guests offer to lend a hand anyway, so don’t be too quick to turn them down. Helpers can prep ingredients for these easy Christmas dinner recipes. These Scrub Daddy Christmas sponges will help you banish the grease and grime after dinner, too.

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E-Gtong Fridge and Freezer Bins with Handles, Refrigerator Storage Organizer Bins BPA-Free Stackable Food Storage Containers for Fridge, Freezer, Pantry

Organize the fridge

Before head out to the store with your Christmas dinner grocery list, make sure there’s room in your fridge for it. Clear out lingering leftovers, unopened beverages, nearly-empty condiment bottles and other bulky items to make space. This is especially important if you’re planning on preparing any sides or desserts in the days before Christmas. Here’s how to organize your fridge like a pro.

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Woman with notebook in grocery store, closeup

Plan Christmas dinner in advance

Be sure to set your menu and create the guest list well in advance. You can even get a head start on the meal itself. Christmas cookies freeze well, as do make-ahead dishes like mashed potatoes. It’s likely that there will still be some day-of surprises (like when your niece shows up with her new boyfriend), but prepare as much as you can. Check out these make-ahead Christmas dinner recipes.

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Meat and potatos being done in oven; Shutterstock ID 522490159; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH

Prep your oven

From dozens of cookies to a delicious dinner roast, your oven is going to go into overtime over the holidays. Make sure it’s in tip-top shape by giving it a good clean and recalibrate it to ensure the temperature is accurate. That way none of your goodies will turn out under- or overcooked. You can learn how to calibrate an oven here.

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Step by step. Preparing classic mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner
Shutterstock / Arina P Habich

Stick to tried-and-true recipes

Christmas dinner is not the time to try a brand new recipe, so save the croquembouche for another snowy day. Sticking to simple, classic dishes that you already know how to make will boost your kitchen confidence. These traditional Christmas recipes are sure to fit the bill.

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Wine in a glass and snacks.

Avoid pre-Christmas dinner cocktails

Have a pre-dinner glass of wine, but don’t over-indulge. Alcohol gives you the illusion of feeling more relaxed, but in reality, it’s throwing you off your game. Drinking while cooking is not only dangerous, but more likely to result in major mistakes, like a burnt ham. Instead, sip on some of these festive mocktail recipes.

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Black man works in pastry shop.
Shutterstock / Oscar Carrascosa Martinez

Take a few shortcuts

There is no shame in picking up a bag of rolls from the grocery store bakery or opening a jar of gravy. Not every menu item on your table needs to be made from scratch. Before you start cooking, evaluate your menu and determine what elements can be bought pre-made, then head to the store ASAP!

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Christmas cookie decorating
Shutterstock / petrunjela

Don’t stress about every Christmas dinner tradition

If Christmas traditions have become a source of stress instead of joy, consider scaling back. Remember, you don’t have to make 20 different types of cookies—just pick your family’s favorites. Take a look at these new Christmas traditions you can start this year.

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Tasty roasted turkey on plate
Shutterstock / Africa Studio

Keep it simple

When making fewer dishes there’s less room for error, so keep your menu simple. An entrée, two or three sides and dessert is a perfectly acceptable Christmas feast. If your table is full of picky eaters or guests with dietary restrictions, do your best to accommodate them, but don’t be afraid to ask them to bring a dish to pass. No one expects you to make three different versions of the same stuffing. Talk about simple, these 5-ingredient Christmas dinner recipes come together in a snap.

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Mix of dried fruits and nuts
Craevschii Family/Shutterstock

Set out snacks

One of the most stressful elements of dinner prep is timing—and it’s easy to underestimate how much time the turkey or ham truly needs in the oven. To keep hungry guests from invading your kitchen to ask when dinner’s going to be ready, pick up pretzels, a vegetable tray, dried fruit or other snacks to tide everyone over. Pick one (or more) of our favorite Christmas snack recipes.

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Picture showing group of friends celebrating Christmas at home
Shutterstock / Kamil Macniak

Avoid certain conversation topics

You spent hours laboring over the meal. Don’t let a fight about economic policy ruin it. Try to keep the conversation flowing around pleasant topics and avoid divisive subjects (like politics). If necessary, set a few ground rules with your guests before the dinner even begins. Take a look at these other holiday etiquette mistakes to avoid.

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rustic christmas served table
Shutterstock / Kristina Bessolova

Lower your expectations

The real secret to a stress-free Christmas dinner? Lower your expectations. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to make a nice meal for your family. But as soon as you come to terms with the fact that your dinner isn’t going to look like a Norman Rockwell painting, the happier you’ll be. Remember the true meaning of the holidays—and enjoy spending time with loved ones! Next, check out these jolly Christmas decoration ideas.

Katie Bandurski
As Senior Shopping Editor, Katie connects Taste of Home readers with the best gifts, deals and home products on the market. An avid foodie and a holiday enthusiast, Katie is an expert at cultivating meaningful moments. When she’s out of the office, you’ll find her exploring Wisconsin, trying out new vegetarian recipes and watching Christmas movies.