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Ideal Home
Andrea Childs

How to keep calm when cooking Christmas dinner this year - experts share their tried-and-tested tricks

Dining room with white wood panel walls and table set for christmas dinner.

It's the 'all the trimmings' bit that can make Christmas dinner so stressful – and turn your usually welcoming kitchen into a no-go area. There are extra courses and dishes to contend with, the expectations of family and friends, and the pressure we put ourselves under to make everything perfect including the Christmas table ideas.

'Christmas can be a little like a wedding. We load all of our emotional hopes and dreams onto it, we have often quite fixed ideas about what it should be like, but in reality, it's only one day. We can make it whatever we want it to be, no one is marking you, it's not a test,' says Debora Robertson, author of Notes from a Small Kitchen Island: Recipes and Stories from the Heart of the Home.

A new survey by Samsung has revealed that 47% of Brits stress over the Christmas dinner, with 27% of us finding the cooking process the most challenging part of the festivities. It's not just the culinary drama that's a problem. A third of us say we miss out on time with loved ones due to the stress of cooking.

But it doesn't have to be this way. 'If your perfect Christmas is a table full of friends and family with a feast that would have honoured Queen Victoria's table, go right ahead,' says Debora. 'But if your perfect day is an all-day grazing buffet of delicious things while you pad about in your slippers, do that.'

How to keep calm when cooking Christmas dinner

Below, Debora and other in-the-know foodies share their expert tips on how to keep calm when cooking Christmas dinner, because the only thing steaming on the big festive day itself is the pudding.

1. Make a list – and check it twice

(Image credit: Future)

Planning ahead can make the reality of cooking Christmas dinner so much calmer on the day. Find some time now to plan the menu, write a shopping list (and double check every ingredient is on it), work out when to defrost the turkey and put in the oven, and all the other things that will take the guesswork and stress out of cooking on the day. This is also a great time to consider any air fryer Christmas dinner hacks to take the strain off your oven.

'Make lists, if only for the joy of crossing things off,' says Debora Robertson. 'A cooking plan will make you less likely to panic and forget things – bear in mind that over-full ovens often struggle a bit, so allow a little more time than you usually would.'

Don't forget to check the dietary preferences of your guests in plenty of time, but let go of the angst if they fail to inform you once you've asked nicely.

'Dietary requirements can’t be helped – however, if someone does accept an invitation, then it’s their responsibility to inform the host of any requirements they have,' confirms Laura Windsor, founder of Laura Windsor Etiquette Academy.

2. Organise your fridge in advance

(Image credit: Future PLC / Phil Barker)

The fridge can get as stuffed as the turkey in the run-up to Christmas, so stay on top of supplies by clearing it out as much as possible in advance and organising the fridge to maximise space.

'You’ll need to clear space in your fridge to hold all the items for Christmas dinner, or all that party food,' says 'Queen of Clean', Lynsey Crombie.

'In the lead-up to Christmas Day, try to use up as many of the fridge supplies as possible to create extra storage space. Remove what still remains, and give the shelves a good wipe down – use warm soapy water with a splash of white vinegar for best results. Create more space by transferring food items from containers and putting them in zip-lock bags or stackable tubs.'

Still not enough room? India Knight, writer of the Home newsletter, keeps her prepped veggies in her car on Christmas Eve. 'The cold car makes a perfect second fridge,' she says.

3. Sort out food storage containers

(Image credit: Future / Millie Fender)

Not the most festive of chores, perhaps, but it will certainly help when you're wondering what to do with the leftover turkey and sprouts when dinner is done.

'It’s likely there’s going to be leftover food from your dinner, so it pays to get your food storage containers organised now so they're ready,' says Lynsey Crombie. 'If you’re going to give guests leftovers to take home, stock up on some reusable takeway tubs or pop to the pound shop, then you won’t need them back.

'With your own storage collection, do a big declutter and get rid of any containers that are missing their lids, chipped or cracked, misshapen, an inconvenient size or ones that you rarely use. With the keepers, stack them by shape and/or size in a drawer or cabinet, and keep the lids separate in a labelled box or basket so you can easily find a matching set when you're packing up leftovers.'

4. Pre-prep as much of the dinner as possible

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Take the heat out of cooking Christmas dinner by preparing as much as possible in the days ahead. As long as you have a large enough freezer, you can have a lot of the dinner cooked in advance, so you can calmly defrost and reheat in time for Christmas dinner to be served.

'Making gravy on the day is madness – there’s enough going on. Just do it at some point in the next couple of weeks, one evening after work when you have time, and freeze it,' says India Knight in her Home newsletter. Bread sauce, pigs in blankets, parsnips and red cabbage can also be prepared and frozen until needed, while you can make and keep cranberry sauce and brandy butter in the fridge.

'You can pre-cook most elements of the meal – even your roasties can be par-cooked, then tossed in a little oil. Open-freeze them first, then bag up ready to tip into a tin of hot oil on the day,' says Jen Bedloe, group food director at our sister website, Woman & Home. 'Do as much as you can in advance so that you don't have too much to do at the last minute. It sounds obvious, but a time plan helps you stay on track.'

5. Don't turn down offers of help

'Delegate if and where you can – there is no crown awarded for doing it all on your own,' states Debora Robertson, when asked how to keep calm when cooking Christmas dinner.

When guests ask if there's anything they can do, it helps to have thought ahead and have specific jobs to give them. It might be everything from peeling spuds or setting the table, to serving drinks in another room to keep people out of your way in the kitchen.

'Guests will ask what they can do to help. For me there is only one answer, which is to take charge of the washing up/dishwasher whenever they’re passing,' says India Knight. 'It makes such a huge difference to morale not to have to clear up as well as cook'.

6. Don't cook too much

(Image credit: Future PLC/Maxwell Attenborough)

Of course you don't want people to go hungry, but even if you are feeding a crowd, you can help keep things calm when cooking by not over-catering.

'There are so many crimes committed in the name of "all the trimmings". We often cook too much food, and sometimes we even make things we don't really like because of tradition,' says Debora Robertson. 

'The ideal is enough for the feast, plus leftovers so there is no need to cook for a couple of days. Better not to make bread sauce than to find a full container of it in the fridge in the New Year and wondering what it is. If you don't like Brussels sprouts, don't cook Brussels sprouts!'

7. Keep calm when you're carving the turkey

Carving the meat and keeping everything hot is a struggle – often the calmest cook can explode when it's time to get everything on to plates and to the table.

'A handy catering tip is to carve the turkey, lay the slices on a tray and cover with gravy, then cover with cling film or foil to keep it moist,' says Jen Bedloe from Woman & Home.

'You can also do this with vegetables, too. Arrange them in a rainbow pattern on a large platter, cover with foil and keep warm in a low oven, then put in the middle of the table for everyone to serve themselves.'

8. Avoid arguments over who sits where

(Image credit: Future PLC/Joanna Henderson)

You may have worked out how to fit everyone around the table this Christmas, but make sure they don't stress you out by fighting with the person sitting next to them.

'Having a seat plan is key, especially if you’re hosting a larger gathering,' says etiquette expert Laura Windsor. 'If two people are talkative or contentious, split them up and seat them on the same side of the table so it is difficult for them to make eye contact. Don’t put introverts at one end of the table and extroverts at the other. Christmas dinner would end up being very boring.'

If you want people to switch off their phones during dinner, then take the opportunity to ask them while you're showing them where to sit.

9. Have a stress-free clean-up

(Image credit: Future PLC/Nathalie Priem)

The meal is cooked, crackers pulled and you're congratulating yourself on holding it all together – so don't lose your calm at the post-dinner kitchen carnage.

'Inevitably you'll end up with a lot of washing up, but pick up some disposable foil containers for the meat and roasties, then you can throw them away at the end instead of scrubbing,' suggests Jen Bedloe from Woman & Home. 'Ask everyone to take glasses and plates with them to the kitchen then establish a washing and drying up party to get the clean-up sorted.'

Cleaning expert Lynsey Crombie says that having an organised kitchen can make clean-up quicker and less painful.

'Have a stack of clean tea towels ready to go, and stock up on your cleaning supplies, including dishwasher tablets, multipurpose spray, sponges and bin bags,' she says.

'Make sure the dishwasher has been emptied before guests arrive. Clear those countertops so you can stack dirty dishes near the sink, and also lay down a tea-towel to hold extra dishes that you’ve handwashed.'

10. Enjoy yourself!

Ultimately, it's just dinner. It's the fails and mishaps that help to make celebrations like Christmas dinner memorable – as long as you can shrug off perfectionism, comparison and criticism, and celebrate bringing people together at 'the most wonderful time of the year'.

'Everyone else will take their cue from you,' says Debora Robertson. 'So enjoy yourself!'

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