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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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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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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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! Here are some other shortcut party foods you can rely on.
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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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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.
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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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.
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.