Christmas Dinner, Meal Planning

Christmas Dinner Planning Made Easy

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It is that time of year again.  The BIG Christmas Dinner will be here before we know it.  The time of year when you put more pressure on yourself to make everything perfect, more than any other day on the calendar.  But getting to the BIG dinner can be a chore. 

How do you put everything together, so everything is timed properly and ready, yet not cold, when everyone is ready to sit down at the table?  It is almost like one of those word problems in math class when we were kids.  “If you want your 24-pound ham ready at 3 PM, but you want the Potatoes au Gratin to be ready at the same time, yet you only have one oven, what time do you put the Green Beans in the oven?”  You get it.  You’ve been there before.  Am I right?  Christmas Dinner Planning is just as bad!

To help, I thought I’d share with you my personal timeline for getting to the big day, so you get everything accomplished that you want to, and yet, you can still enjoy the day, the grandkids, and the true meaning behind the day. 

But before I begin. I have a small caveat.  The biggest tip I can give you is to work backward in time.  No two dinners will be the same, based on the protein you are serving and the number of people you will be feeding.  So, please keep in mind that this timeline is a GENERAL OUTLINE for your Christmas Dinner.

One month before Christmas

Determine what your menu will be. 

  • 1 protein or 2?  My opinion… Keep it simple and limit it to just 1.
  • What carbs will be on the plate?  Try for just 2.  If you are doing a Turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing.  If you are doing something else, a form of potatoes (I like twice baked potatoes because I can prep them ahead of time) and something else, such as a sweet potato casserole, which can be made ahead, then cooked the day of.
  • What vegetables will you be serving?  No more than 3.  Think about the colors of the rainbow and make your meal colorful.  We eat with our eyes first, as they say.  Corn, carrots and brussels are what comes to my mind.
  • Rolls?  Are you going to make them yourself or are you going to purchase ready-made?
  • Desserts.  The best part of the meal in my opinion.  What will you serve?  Pie?  Cake?  Something else?
  • What appetizers will you serve?  Keep them simple.  You will be too busy prepping your main courses to be worried about complicated appetizers.
  • Any traditional food items that represent your family or culture that are a MUST HAVE and need to be on the dinning room table?  Be sure to add them to the menu.
  • Lastly, think about which pieces you can assign to others who will be coming to dinner.  You don’t have to do it all.  It’s okay to give up some control if you can have less stress and enjoy the day more.
December Calendar
December Calendar with Christmas decorations. Festive decor elements

A Few Weeks Before Christmas

Prepare two grocery lists—one for non-perishable items to buy now and one for perishable items to buy a few days before Christmas.  Don’t forget to add things such as paper plates, napkins, plasticware and tablecloths to your list.   This makes clean up so much easier when all is finished.  If there are frozen items you can get now, get them as well and just store them until needed.

Figure out your Cooking Times for Christmas Dinner

Here are the cooking times you’ll need to decide on before you start working on your Christmas Dinner Planner:

  • What time the appetizers should go out?
  • When you want to sit down for dinner?
  • When you should put out dessert?
  • How much prep time is needed for each recipe. (if you’re not a professional chef, add an extra 15 minutes to each one, just to be on the safe side)

Calculate the start time using this formula:  Time Due – Prep Time = Start time

Stop Watch
Stop Watch for determining your timing for your Christmas Dinner

Three Days Before Christmas Dinner

  • Buy the remaining grocery items.
  • Wash China, stemware, serving platters and any table linens you will be using.

Two Days Before Christmas

  • Make your desserts.  Bake your rolls. 
  • Prep your vegetables and other side dishes. 
  • Prepare any appetizers you can make ahead.

The Day Before Christmas

  • Set the table.  Create your table scape.  Make it pretty.
  • Create stations for drinks, appetizers, desserts, and other meal items.  Set out your serving platters where you intend for them to be placed so you can do a trial run.
  • Keep Christmas Eve Dinner simple.  We typically do a simple Charcuterie Board with meats, cheeses, and crackers so there is little prep or clean up.

Consider a Charcuterie Board for Christmas Eve Dinner
Close up of charcuterie board and glasses of wine on wooden table.

Christmas Day Dinner

  • Today is the day to focus on your protein, whether that is a turkey, a ham, a prime rib, or something entirely different. 
  • Time to cook or warm up items that you had previously prepped.
Christmas Dinner spread
Christmas turkey dinner. Baked turkey garnished with red berries and sage leaves in front of Christmas tree and burning candles.

Right After Dinner

  • Remove the desserts from the refrigerator.  Cut and serve desserts.
  • Make coffee, tea and/or other warm beverages.

Additional Tips to make your Holiday Dinner run Smooth

Write out which serving dish and utensil you’ll need so you can literally just hand the list to your spouse (or whoever your assistant may be) and they can get it all ready. You can even put post-it notes on each item with the name of the dish too, it’ll be so much easier than scrambling last minute!

  • Keep a cooler for cold drinks instead of using up valuable space in the fridge.
  • Designate jobs to your guests: napkin folder, dessert slicer, drink re-filler, door opener. Most people want to do something so they’re not feeling awkward!

I hope these tips will help you in preparing your Christmas dinner with less stress and more fun with your family. If you’d like my complete Holiday Planning Guide, you can grab it here.

Here’s to your Christmas Dinner Planning and RESETTING your life for the upcoming holidays!


“Organization isn’t about perfection; it’s about efficiency, reducing stress and clutter, saving time and money, and improving your overall quality of life.”


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Themed Meal Planning