How To Plan Your Way To The Easiest Family Christmas Dinner Yet
All you want for Christmas is... for it to be over!! Am I right?
I get it. Hosting Family Christmas dinner is stressful. All the planning involved; thinking of what to cook, catering for all the different types and tastes, sorting out the table decorations and table setting (where are they all gonna sit?) and so on. Not to mention all the shopping in crowded stores with Jingle bells relentlessly on repeat. And how are you supposed to pay for it all?
Just thinking about the upcoming holiday season instantly exhausts you.
I totally feel your pain. My family is massive; besides my mum, there are brothers and sisters (yes, both plural) and partners and nieces and a nephew. On my husband's side, there are more brothers with partners and nieces and the in-laws. Believe me, that's a lot of people to entertain!
But I do love a big jolly Christmas gathering; the smell of cinnamon, cloves and gingerbread, all the happy faces around the make-shift tables, the loud carefree chatter and laughter and of course the delicious food. Memory-making in overdrive.
So, let's have a look at how to make it all happen, without losing your mind and without breaking the bank.
A Fool-proof Strategy Every Dinner Host Must Know
The key to an affordable and stress-free family Christmas dinner is actually pretty simple: Planning ahead.
It might seem too good to be true, but starting your party planning one month ahead of time is game-changing. Getting ready in advance allows you to divide and conquer: to split up all tasks into bite-sized chunks you can either tackle one by one or delegate.
So that when you come to Christmas week itself, your fridge and cupboards are stocked, you've made some dishes ahead and you've recruited Santa's little helpers. Most importantly, you feel prepared, at ease and in control.
This is how you make this year's feast your easiest yet.
Cooking for a large group of people can be pretty stressful, so let's be smart about the menu:
- Choose dishes that look impressive and are incredibly easy to make (my favourite kitchen hack). I love this cauliflower dish, so festive.
- Choose dishes that you can prepare up front and store till the big day. This works especially well for starters, sides and desserts. Soup is a great option for a make-ahead starter, try any of these recipes:
- Choose budget recipes, meals that use cheap ingredients and contain carbs that make you feel full faster, allowing you to serve smaller portions.
- Choose budget-friendly vegetables like aubergine, leek, courgette and cauliflower.
- Create one Christmas menu for the whole family, adults and kids alike.
Grab the family around the table and brainstorm the menu keeping the above in mind. Do this 3-4 weeks before to allow yourself plenty of time for nr. 2 (the shopping) and nr. 3 (sharing the load).
Although food shopping can be exhausting on any given day, the holiday season takes it to a different level. So let's get ahead of the seasonal panic with these clever tactics:
- Plan your Christmas menu one month in advance, then write your shopping list accordingly. This helps you to take advantage of offers, rather than expensive panic-buying at the last minute.
- Check your pantry for sauces, condiments and seasonings and restock where necessary.
- Start buying non-perishable items. Stock up on canned, boxed and frozen foods. Don’t forget the coffee, tea and chocolates.
- Order your turkey and gammon. If you order frozen meats, make sure you have space available in your freezer.
- Christmas drinks can easily blow your budget when bought at once; add a couple of bottles to your weekly shop (deals only!), so when the big day comes you're all stocked up.
See 10 Clever shopping techniques for more ways to keep your food costs down.
Being the host of Christmas dinner does NOT mean you're the sole person responsible for its success.
On the contrary, sharing the load (both physically and financially) will positively contribute to everybody's sense of worth and belonging. Working as a team is great for family bonding, so feel free to ask for help.
Here are a couple of my favourite ways to get everybody into the Christmas spirit:
- Give each couple a course to prepare. And those who aren't too keen on cooking, can organise the wine pairings. We are thirsty too!
- Turn the kids into Santa's little helpers. Make them responsible for crafting the table decorations, including the menu and the serviettes. My daughter recently got into folding butterflies for all our dinner guests. Deciding who sits where, crafting name cards and laying the table are other tasks to delegate to the elves.
- On the day, task one family member with serving the drinks, so you can focus on the food.
If there's one thing I've learned from all the dinner parties I've hosted over the years, it's this: ONLY use cutlery, crockery and glasses that go in the dishwasher.
Sure, fancy steak knives, your grandmother's china and wooden serving dishes all look fantastic and make your table shine, but it's simply not worth the hassle. Keep them for those intimate dinner parties.
And another thing: make sure your dishwasher is empty when guests arrive. Most guests will offer to clear the table, many will also put plates straight into the dishwasher if there's room. So to appreciate this help, make sure it's empty. And run it anytime it's full, helpful guests will have it emptied without you even noticing.
Don't worry if you don't have a dishwasher, just make sure you have enough washing up liquid and drying towels at the ready. Washing up after family gatherings became quite a tradition at my parent's home.