10 Secrets for a Stress-Free Christmas Dinner
The holidays don't have to be stressful. Use our easy-to-follow tips to make your Christmas dinner go 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.
Plan (and prep!) in advance
Be sure to set your menu, guest list and more 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.
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.
Shutterstock / GANNA MARTYSHEVA
Step away from the bar cart
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.
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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Don’t feel bad changing some traditions
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.
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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.
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 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.
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.
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!