Planning For Christmas Dinner Success

Are you ready? Ready for Christmas dinner, that is?

I know Christmas food is essentially a simple meal to prepare (it’s basically meat and potatoes, plus a few sides) but with all the moving parts, this traditional turkey dinner can quickly turn into a challenge on the big day.

There is plenty involved with preparing a great Christmas dinner, starting with who’s coming for dinner, what you’re cooking, the shopping, meal prep, decorations, and of course…the clean-up.

That’s why I suggest sitting down ahead of time to map out how you want your “game-day” to play out. Think of yourself as a coach, planning for a big competition.

This way, if things do go awry, you’ll be okay because you have a strategy firmly set in place.

This happened to me one Christmas dinner when my oven broke down while cooking the turkey. The family of 16 was anxiously waiting for the big bird to appear on the table. I kept checking and checking and couldn’t figure out why the turkey was taking so long to cook.

Finally, when my 16-year-old nephew asked for the third time when Christmas dinner would be ready, I stuck my head in the oven and realized the bottom-heating element was stone-cold - not a good time for a mechanical failure!

With an undercooked turkey and many hungry nieces, nephews, grandparents, siblings, and in-laws to feed. I quickly went to my plan B.

The partially cooked turkey was craved and then finished in various ways. The microwave started humming, the toaster oven was singing, and the broiler (the top heating element still worked) was sizzling. It was a success (sort of) and luckily all the other dishes went as planned. The bird was presented to the unsuspecting crew and enjoyed by all.

I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, so to help with your Christmas dinner preparations, I’ve brainstormed some ideas for you to consider when planning your game day.

Planning Christmas Dinner Success

Here are some ideas to consider when organizing Christmas dinner:

1.  Decide who will be invited and confirm your numbers as early as possible.

2.  Create a running to-do list of everything that needs to be done, and when.

3.  Decide if you will buy a frozen or fresh turkey.

If you are ordering a fresh turkey, do it early. Also, allow for time the day before to pick it up. If frozen, make sure you have room in your fridge to defrost the turkey. Plan for about 24 hours for every 5 pounds (or, about 4 days for a 20-pound bird). You’ll want to make sure the bird is thoroughly defrosted so that it will roast evenly.

4.  Determine what size of turkey you will buy.

A good rule of thumb is one pound per person.

5.  Decide if you will serve appetizers or not.

If so, try not to make too many because there will be a big meal ahead.

6.  Decide what other dishes you will serve and find recipes for them.

Preferably, choose some that can be made ahead of time because fridge and oven space will be limited on Christmas day. Try to add colour to the plate as well, because turkey is…well, beige. Christmas food looks and tastes better with more colour.

7.  Decide if you serve a salad and, if so, what kind.

8.  What stuffing will you make?

Will you cook the stuffing inside the turkey or cook the stuffing separately? If you cook it separately, will you have enough oven space?

9.  Will you make homemade gravy or use a package?

Can you make it ahead of time?

10.  Have you accounted for any people with allergies or food preferences?

Are there any vegetarians on your invite list?

11.  What will you serve for dessert?

12.  Choose all your dishes and side dishes. 

Then create a shopping list. Plan when you will grocery shop.

13.  Strategize what you can cook ahead of time.

Decide when to cook everything else on the big day.

14.  Check that you have the right tools.

Such as a roasting pan, oven thermometer, carving knife, fat separator, meat thermometer, transparent blub baster. Also ensure you are not out of essential spices or herbs that you will need.

15.  Check to see if you have enough dishes.

Do you have enough chairs and table space?

16.  Make a seating chart.

Set the table the night before, or delegate this task to a family member to do on the day of your dinner.

17.  Ensure you have plenty of containers for leftovers.

Phew! That’s plenty to think about and I’m sure there are scads more things you can add to your list - especially if you have your own family traditions.

Hopefully, this will get you started and into an organized frame of mind. Planning will eliminate the stress and anxiety of synchronizing and executing all the many moving pieces on the big day.

Good luck! And one last thing…remember to check that your oven works before Christmas day!