My guilty TV pleasure of the moment is Celebrity Masterchef – it’s one of my favourite shows.
I think I enjoy it because (a) I love food and (b) there’s something weirdly addictive about watching celebs get stressed about soufflés!
Cooking is also one of my favourite things to do – but only when I’m making something simple and tasty for my partner and I. That’s definitely my comfort zone.
Creating posh dinner party food and/or cooking for any more than two to three people are not things I do on a regular basis, and, when I do, I find it stressful (just like those collapsing soufflés on Masterchef!).
I know from experience it can feel the same if you’re in the Christmas dinner hotseat.
There can be a lot of pressure to get it ‘right’ and make a stand-out meal your family and guests will be impressed by.
So the best advice I can give for making Christmas dinner stress-free is to keep it really simple.
It’s your Christmas too, and if you don’t want to spend the whole day slaving away in the kitchen, then don’t!
Here are more top tips for a stress-free Christmas dinner:
Plan carefully and make a list
Write down all the food and drinks you want to serve, for example, snacks, starters, mains, sides, desserts, cheese boards, wine, beer, cocktails, spirits and soft drinks.
By the way, these are not items I’m advising you to serve, just ideas! It’s your Christmas, your menu – make it yours (and, above all, manageable).
Once you’ve planned your menu, review it carefully, asking yourself if you really need to serve everything on the list.
It’s very tempting to overdo things, so you may well find you can cross a few things off and save yourself some money and unnecessary work.
Once you’ve finalised your menu, write a shopping list for all the ingredients and other items you’ll need and don’t already have in stock. Plan when and where you’ll buy everything.
Now think about your prep and cooking timings, starting at the time you want to serve lunch and working backwards.
This will ensure you actually do have time to do everything you’re planning to, you have enough oven space, and keep you on track on the big day.
Keep it simple
I avoid making anything on Christmas Day that I haven’t done before – tried and tested favourites you can make in your sleep are the order of the day!
Everyone is always full up after Christmas dinner, so it’s also worth considering whether you really need to serve loads of different courses.
You could skip a starter, for example (is it really worth the extra work?), or serve nibbles or a cocktail instead.
You can make life a lot easier for yourself by involving your family and guests with prep, keeping everyone’s glasses filled, or setting the table.
Or you could ask everyone to bring a dish with them – or if anyone is a fussy eater or has dietary restrictions they could help by bringing something they’re able to eat.
If you’re going to delegate, give people plenty of notice so they have time to plan their own time – and check out my post on Christmas delegation for loads more tips!
Prep your fridge
Running out of fridge space has always been one of my Christmas Eve stresses!
Before the turkey arrives, clear your fridge of forgotten jars, leftovers, nearly empty ketchup bottles and unopened drinks.
Most fruit and veg will survive out of the fridge (or even last longer) if you keep it in a cool garage or shed.
Show your oven some love
From baking to the Christmas roast, you’ll be using your oven a lot more than usual during the festive season.
Give it a good clean (or book a professional to come and do it for you) well in advance, and make sure it’s in full working order.
It’s also a good idea to check you have enough baking trays and roasting tins – and ensure they fit comfortably in the oven.
Do as much prep as you can in advance
You can make cakes and desserts now and freeze them, and vegetables can also be peeled, chopped and frozen until needed.
Gravy can turn out to be a last minute cause of stress, so consider making this before the big day (it can also be frozen) – or, even easier, buy ready-made!
Pre-prepared veg, ready-made pastry, shop-bought puddings…these are all brilliant shortcuts that make cooking Christmas dinner a stress-free experience.
There’s absolutely no shame in taking shortcuts. Your guests won’t notice the difference – and they’ll be super happy that you’re able to enjoy your Christmas Day that little bit more.
Watch your pre-dinner alcohol intake
I totally understand wanting to get into the Christmas spirit, or calming your nerves if this is the first time you’ve hosted Christmas.
But over-indulging whilst cooking Christmas dinner can be when things can start to go wrong – let’s face it, you’re more likely to forget something or get behind schedule if you’ve been drinking cocktails all day!
Mocktails are just as delicious as the alcoholic variety – and you can enjoy your favourite tipple(s) once the cooking is done.
Remember to have fun
And finally, enjoy it! Keep in mind the things you love about the festive season and what makes your family’s Christmas special.
I’d put money on people preferring a simple but tasty meal where everyone is happy and relaxed compared to an exhausted, stressed-out you and posh food with lots of cheffy flourishes which are more likely to go wrong.
Something may well not go quite to plan, your timings could be out or the parsnips might burn – but it’s really not the end of the world.
If you shrug it off and continue enjoying yourself so will everyone else – and, at the end of the day remember…it’s just another dinner!