You don’t need to feel overwhelmed by Christmas. With some advance planning, it’s possible to prepare for Christmas dinner with minimum stress.
Growing up, Christmas was a magical time. My grandmother on my mother’s side was very much the matriarch, and the Christmas-hosting queen. Back then, in the late 1970s, soft drinks were rare and I remember being super excited at the sight of the crates of different flavored fizzy, in their tall, thin, glass bottles, that would be stored in the garage, and then make their way out into the dining area for Christmas lunch. The house would always be bursting with people, and I would gorge myself on the trifle, laced heavily with sherry, until I could eat no more.
Years passed, as did my grandparents, and Christmas became the domain of my parents. A cooked breakfast on the barbecue followed by a mid-afternoon meal became the new normal. That was until in 2016, when I hosted Christmas for the very first time in our new home.
Hosting Christmas is one of those things that, no matter how old you are, makes you feel as though you are finally a grown-up. I was a little nervous about doing the job, but with some solid organizational skills, I was able to break down the task into manageable chunks which saw me on Christmas Day being able and ready to enjoy myself.
So here I’ll share with you exactly what I did my first year of Christmas hosting to make it a success in my Christmas series! Today, it’s all about the food!
How to prepare for Christmas dinner.
Food can be one of the most stressful areas of Christmas preparation, but it definitely does not have to be. In New Zealand we are super lucky to have Christmas in the middle of summer, which does of course influence the type of food we eat and also when we eat it – for many families a Christmas brunch or lunch is biggest meal of the day and the rest of the day is all about filling up on leftovers!
Starting planning for your food-prep in November is the key to getting yourself organized. Below is the schedule I created for myself.
Preparing for Christmas dinner: November.
- Check all guests for any specific dietary requirements so you can plan accordingly.
- Brainstorm a Christmas menu. When you are thinking about what you want to do, there’s one main thing to consider- how far in advance you can prepare the dish! You want to minimize the time you spend in the kitchen on Christmas Day by making sure as much as possible can be done the day before or even the day before that. Other factors to consider include any childhood favorites of either your husband or yourself.
- Confirm your Christmas menu – take the time now to record any links to recipes and also to make a grocery list of everything you’ll need.
- Check your serving dishes, bowls, plates, cutlery and glasses. I keep a pretty lean ship, so I had to buy another couple of bowls for the salads and borrow some cutlery so I had enough for everyone. It’s much easier to do this now than in the crazy Christmas rush. I’d also never had a whole ham before, so I made sure I bought a ham bag to keep it at its best.
- Order your Christmas ham and / or turkey.
Preparing for Christmas dinner: Early December.
- Practice making any recipes you have not tried before. I chose to leave it this late to ensure that what I wanted to use was in season. You don’t have to practice everything, but it really does help make you feel more comfortable when the time comes for the real thing, as well as refine any things such as how long it really takes you to prep it or if you need to adjust cooking times for your oven. We even bought the steaks and practiced them on the new barbecue to make sure we had the cooking times right!
Preparing for Christmas dinner: Mid-December.
- Purchase what groceries you can in your normal weekly shop. In addition, make sure you stock up on toilet paper, hand soap and similar items.
Preparing for Christmas dinner: The week before Christmas.
- Collect your ham / turkey
- Create a timeline for Christmas Day food preparation and serving.
Preparing for Christmas dinner: 22nd December.
- Defrost your turkey in the fridge and allowing for a couple of days to be safe.
Preparing for Christmas dinner: 23rd December.
- Do your fresh food shopping.
Preparing for Christmas dinner: 24th December.
- Prepare the dishes that can be done the day before.
- Cut up any herbs you are using and put them in a container on a damp paper towel
- Check your timings.
- Set the table if possible.
Preparing for Christmas dinner: Christmas Day.
This will totally depend on what you’ve chosen to make. The key thing is to follow the timing that you’ve set and enjoy yourself!
Our Christmas menu.
So in case you’re wondering, this was our exact menu for our New Zealand Christmas brunch. If you fancy a genuine Kiwi Christmas, consider giving this menu a try!
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- cooked ham, which we purchased ready to go (check to see if yours is frozen and if so, make sure you allow plenty of time for it to defrost!).
- gourmet sausages
- filet mignon
We cooked the sausages and steaks on the barbecue. We planned for two sausages and one steak per person.
- Baby potatoes are always delicious and can be boiled up with very little effort. I bought two packs of 700g. Once you’ve cooked them, chuck in some butter and finely chopped mint. Coat the potatoes in butter and then tip them into a serving dish.
I then also had three large salads:
- Layered garden salad – this one is a traditional family favorite- my dad even made it for my 21st birthday dinner! This salad tastes best when it’s made the day before, so it’s perfect to ease the Christmas Day pressure.
To get the full effect of this salad, you need to have a glass bowl with straight sides.
- Chelsea’s famous kumara and bacon salad. Chelsea Winter is an amazing New Zealand chef. Kumara is our word for sweet potato. This salad is ridiculously yummy and also is best made the day before.
- The third salad was a baby spinach and balsamic strawberry salad, with mozzarella balls and pomegranate seeds. The recipe can’t be linked as it was from a magazine, but it was delicious and simple, yet looked amazing. The key thing about this one was that it was super easy to assemble – which was crucial as it was the only salad I made on the day.
The main meal was a hit, but of course everyone has two stomachs- the main stomach and the dessert stomach!
- Harking back to my childhood years, I made a trifle for dessert. It was another item I made the day before, with the exception of putting the strawberries on top. For the trifle, you also need a trifle bowl
- I also had super simple mini pavlovas which looked amazing and yet were incredibly easy. You need
Simply fill the meringue nest with cream. Then hop each flake bar into 2-3 pieces (about 5 centimeters or 2 inches long) and pop it in the cream so it’s sticking out. Finally, place a strawberry next to the flake.
- To go really retro (and make my husband happy) I had good old fashioned brandy snap baskets full of cream and berries.
- To top it off we had fresh strawberries and French vanilla ice-cream!
This was MORE than enough for the eight people and a baby we had for our first Christmas- in fact my husband and I didn’t have to cook for another two days afterwards!
Much of Christmas is about the act of enjoying a shared meal together. Food also creates memories. The dish you try for the first time this year may be the one your children and their children reminisce over for years to come.
What do you plan to make this Christmas?