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Make Ahead Tips for Christmas Dinner

Many Christmas dinner recipes can be prepped, made or even cooked the day before, or days or even weeks ahead of time. From cakes, pies and appetizers, to stuffing, gravy, casseroles and more.  Here are my Make Ahead Tips for Christmas Dinner.

The biggest challenge with any holiday dinner is getting everything on to the table at the same time, at the right temperatures. Here are some time saver and make ahead tips to help you pull together the best Christmas dinner ever!

Plan Early

I like to plan what I’m going to make and serve at Christmas, many weeks ahead of time. This allows me to come up with a menu that we like, gives me time to figure out who’s coming to dinner, and time to put together a comprehensive grocery list. Once that’s done it’s much easier to focus on the timeline of actual food prep closer to Christmas. So if you’re looking for some tips, tools and ideas to help you plan this holiday season (and reduce stress!), you’re in the right place! But before we get started, if you need some Christmas menu ideas, make sure to read my post where I share many delicious recipe ideas for Christmas dinner, I also have this super handy Christmas Dinner Grocery Checklist that you can download and print, or download my free Christmas in the Kitchen planner that has everything you need!

a top down view of a stack of planning paper sheets, a hand with a pen hovers over the paper

A few Christmas Dinner Planning Tips!

  • Plan, plan, plan. Make a menu, put together a grocery list, make a to-do list. The more you plan and write it out, the less stress there is.
  • Don’t try anything new on Christmas day! If you want to try any new recipes, consider do a trial run in November or early December.
  • Ask for help! You do not need to do it all yourself. I repeat. You do not need to do it all by yourself! Ask your family for help. Get them to chop vegetables, grocery shop or take on any tasks that you need! Ask someone to help with grocery shopping, have someone set the table and help clean. People like to help.
  • Keep it simple. You don’t need 20 different recipes on the table…people can only eat so much.
  • You don’t have to make or do it all. Buy buns. Buy pre-made cranberry sauce. Ask a guest to bring something.
  • Make as much as you can ahead of time! That’s where this post is going to be really helpful…I’m sharing all kinds of tips and recipes that you can make ahead of time to take away some of the stress of cooking on Christmas day.
a women sets the table for dinner with white plates decorated with linen napkins tied together with twine, cinnamon sticks, cedar sprigs and dried orange slices

What can be prepped ahead for Christmas dinner?

To Make a week or more before Christmas:

Bread Stuffing

You can make bread stuffing up to a week ahead of time and freeze it in an airtight container in the freezer.  Just take the stuffing out of the freezer on Christmas morning (or even the night before) and allow it to thaw, then proceed with baking. You can also make the stuffing a day or two ahead, and keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to bake it.

Buns

You can bake, then freeze the baked buns until you are ready to serve them.  I make these White Dinner Rolls or these Pumpkin Dinner Rolls, ahead of time and take them out of the freezer on Christmas morning. For dinner sometimes I will wrap the buns in tin foil and heat them up in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.

a tray of freshly baked white buns topped with melted butter

Chop Onions and Celery

One of my biggest time savers is chopping onions and celery, then freezing them.  I like being able to reach into the freezer to measure out what I need.  I usually chop up 1 bunch of celery and several onions, then I use them for things like stuffing.

Gravy

If you really want to save time, or don’t wish to make gravy with the drippings, you can make gravy ahead of time using turkey stock, then freeze it until Christmas day.  Unthaw and reheat on the stove. Bonus tip: if the reheated stock is too thick, add some pan drippings from your freshly baked turkey. Here is my favourite recipe for homemade gravy.

a hand scoops out a scoop of gravy

Pie Crust Dough

Make any pie crusts you need ahead of time, and freeze them until you are ready to assemble and bake your pies.  I don’t freeze the crusts in the pie plates, I prefer to freeze the dough in discs then roll them out after they’ve thawed.  This is the pie crust recipe I use.

Make a Few Days Before Christmas Dinner

Vegetable Prep

Clean, chop, dice or slice any vegetables you will be serving for dinner: like carrots, green beans, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower.

Cranberry Sauce

Homemade cranberry sauce is very easy to make ahead of time. Make it a few days before Christmas dinner and just store it in an airtight container in the fridge (or make it several days or weeks ahead and freeze it). This is the Cranberry Sauce recipe I use for all my turkey dinners. Just warm it up slightly before you’re ready to serve it.

Salads

If you’re serving salad with dressing make the dressing several days ahead of time and keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

Ham Glaze

If you’re making The Best Christmas Ham, make the glaze a few days ahead of time and keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it. Just warm it up slightly before you add it to your ham.

Make the Day Before (on Christmas Eve)

Turkey

The day before Christmas dinner, get your turkey ready.  Clean it and put into the roasting pan. When prep ahead like this I like to rub the skin of the turkey with butter or olive oil to keep it moist. Or, if you’re serving a Bacon Wrapped Roast Turkey, wrap it in the bacon, then refrigerate. Cover the turkey tightly with tin foil and refrigerate. Then the next morning, bring out the turkey and let it come up close to room temperature, then pop it in the oven when you’re ready to roast it.

Mashed Potatoes

You can make mashed potatoes ahead of time with this Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes recipe. This is a 2-step recipe that helps cut your prep time for the big dinner! This is one of my most favourite time saver tips…I hate mashing potatoes when I’m trying to pull the rest of dinner together.

Sweet Potato Casserole

Make the sweet potato base for your Sweet Potato Casserole (no marshmallow topping) the day before you want to serve it.  Just add the marshmallows right before you’re ready to bake. 

Scalloped Potatoes

If you’re serving Classic Scalloped Potatoes, assemble them in a baking dish the day before (even up to 2 days ahead). Just leave the cheese topping off until right before you’re ready to bake them. Better yet, bake the scalloped potatoes the day before Christmas dinner, cover in tin foil, refrigerate, then just reheat in the oven before dinner.

Simple Scalloped Potatoes

Buns

If you don’t want to freeze homemade buns ahead of time, you can make fresh bread dough the night before your Christmas dinner, let it proof in the fridge overnight, then shape and proof once more the next morning before baking.

Pies and Cakes

I used to think that pies and cakes were best the day they were made, but I have since learned that they’re actually better the next day.  I think the reason for this is that they have time to rest and set properly.  So definitely make your pies and cakes the day before the big dinner.

Whipped Cream

If you’re serving whipped cream with your desserts, make it the day before and keep it in a tightly sealed container in the fridge until it’s time for dessert.  This is such a time saver.

Appetizers

You can prepare most appetizers, like dips, antipasto skewers, and such, a day ahead, saving you loads of time.

I hope these tips help you to have a stress free Christmas dinner!  If you have any tried-and-true tips you use, share them in the comments!

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Happy Holidays!

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