How to prepare for Christmas dinner

Dec 17, 2012 at 8:39 a.m. ET

Christmas dinner is one of the most important meals of the year, along with Thanksgiving. Make it a good one.

Family having Christmas dinner

Most people spend more time and energy preparing for (and stressing over) Thanksgiving dinner. Once that’s out of the way, we breathe a sigh of relief, only to realize that Christmas dinner is a mere month away. This year, give yourself the gift of a stress-free holiday by preparing for Christmas dinner.

listStep 1: Finalize the guest list

Preferably a week before Christmas, get a head count to see exactly how many guests will be coming. This allows you to plan the amount of food you’ll need and how many table settings will be required. If you need extra chairs, ask one of your guests if they wouldn’t mind bringing some. People love helping out, and this is one thing you won't need to worry about.

Step 2: Build a menu

Spend some time browsing recipes to get an idea of the types of dishes you’d like to cook. Choose a few items that can be prepared the day before. Same goes for desserts — select holiday treats you can make at least one day ahead of time so you can spend a little time relaxing on the actual day.

Browse Christmas foods and drinks to get ideas on what to make >>

Step 3: Grocery shop

Once the menu is finalized, it’s time to hit the store. Make a detailed grocery list — and check it twice — so you don't have to run to the store on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Other than food, make sure to buy beverages (for both kids and adults), holiday decor, a centerpiece and anything else you wish to have at your dinner. Again, get this done in advance.

See how to create a formal holiday dinner menu >>

Step 4: Christmas Eve duties

The day before your big dinner, there are a few things you’ll want to make sure are done. These include:

  • Bake all desserts.
  • Cook any dishes that can be prepared in advance, then refrigerate.
  • Set the table.
  • Defrost all frozen foods.
  • Stuff the turkey.
  • Have a glass of wine and get to bed early (after all, it’s your holiday too!).

Step 5: Christmas Day duties

If you feel up for it, make a Christmas-morning casserole to give you the energy you’ll need for later. If not, have some oatmeal and coffee to get you going. Figure out the time you'll need for the dishes that still need to be cooked and accept help when offered! Christmas Day should be as stress-free as possible. If you’ve prepared and worked ahead, you should be good to go.

Delicious recipes for Christmas Dinner

Slow-cooker Scalloped Potatoes
Strawberry Almond Salad
Pumpkin Toffee Cheesecake