Stress Free Christmas Secret #1 (Stress Free Thanksgiving too!)

Stress Free Christmas – that means plenty of time for photo shoots BEFORE the meal is served

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

Stress Free Christmas Anyone?

How do you have a stress free Christmas, and similarly, a stress Thanksgiving? I’ve been hosting Christmas lunches (I refuse to call it dinner, like many in the UK do) since before I got married.

First, as a single girl in London with so many other fellow expatriates, then when I got married, because my mother-in-law hates the kitchen and is very proud of it.

Over the years, we’ve had the odd year when the Christmas meal has been cooked by my father-in-law, brother-in-law and my sister-in-law.

The former two get so stressed out, one can’t go into the kitchen in the last hour for a drink! My sister-in-law is perfectly fine; as she says, it’s only a grander version of the usual Sunday roast.

Stress Free Christmas Secret #1

PLAN. EVERYTHING.

And I mean EVERYTHING. From the guests, to the menu, to the tools and equipment you’ll need, everything wants to be accounted for before the big day.

Way before the big day. Even if it’s just the 2 of you.

Christmas meal on the table
Christmas lunch with the family, an eclectic mix

1. Make a Guest List

Besides the menu, this is always a favourite task when I’m entertaining. For Christmas, it’s always with the in-laws, some years, there would be 12 of us, on others, 8, when my brother-in-law is with his in-laws.

Before you can even think about the food, you need to know who, and how many are coming.

Don’t forget to find out if anyone has allergies or just plain doesn’t eat something. My family has an eclectic taste, for want of a better word, so there is always something.

For eg, some years ago, after watching a documentary on poultry welfare, my father-in-law decided that he wasn’t going to eat any poultry ever again. That means, no turkey.

So, I always make some lamb shanks for him, that’s enjoyed by the other non vegetarians too. The lamb shanks are easy, because they’re a one-pot recipe and just go on the stove. And can even be made the day before.

1a. Plan Seating Arrangement

Even if there are only 4 of you, it pays to work it out before hand. And what’s more, once you know who’s sitting where, you can assign little place cards. That just ups your game, don’t you think?

I’ve always done that, and as soon as my kids were old enough and could write, I passed this job on to them, and let them design the cards too.

A great way to keep the kids occupied!

totally chilled out – the year we decided to wear onesies on Christmas Day!!

2. Plan your Menu

Keep it real. Keep it doable.

This is especially if it’s going to be your first time cooking the Christmas meal. Or Thanksgiving.

While Christmas is meant to be extravagant, one has to draw the line somewhere. Be honest with yourself with what you can and can’t do, for a stress free Christmas. You do have some leeway here, because there are many things that can be done the day before. (That’s secret #3 😉).

Look at this image of an old menu I have below, you can see that there is so much on there. But I’m comfortable with making all that, and with a timetable, it’s a breeze. And remember secret #3, make ahead, which I totally do.

Crazy right? Non poultry eater and vegetarians!

By the way, a BIG stress free Christmas rule? Never cook anything for the first time on Christmas Day!

That goes for any special occasion or when you are entertaining. If you want to try something new, you have to do a test run. That way, any second guessing or fails are dealt with in your own time and comfort.

2a. A Simple Christmas Day Menu

Main

Here are some examples of mains we’ve had over the years for Christmas.

Sides, Sauces and Gravy

This will include all the usual suspects and trimmings. For a stress free Christmas, you want to be a little conservative, with maybe just potatoes, 2 vegetables and stuffing. Because everybody loves a good stuffing! 🤣

Here are some ideas. We’ll look at how to get ahead on Day 3.

Dessert

In the UK, the traditional Christmas dessert will be Christmas pudding. My husband hated it and we’d always have something chocolate for him. Very fussy family we have!

Don’t forget any sauces or ice cream that you will need.

2b. Don’t Forget your Drinks!

So when the guests arrive, there are no headless chickens going: what do we have, where are the drinks, where’s the bottle opener? We’ll get to this in Secret #4.

As chef of the day, that’s the last thing you want to be worried about, when you are adding the finishing touches to the Christmas meal.

Drinks are an important part of the entertaining menu, especially if you are aiming for a stress free Christmas.

You need to think about pre (apéritif), during and after. More often than not though, on Christmas day, many people start with a drink that’s going to be taken through to the dinner table. And that’s perfectly fine.

So all you need to think about is the digestifs (after dinner drinks), whether that’s:

  • port
  • sherry
  • brandy
  • Baileys
  • or anything else that’s popular in your household or where you live

We tend to start with a little warmed up ginger wine, mulled wine or sherry, then move on to red wine for the meal. After dinner is usually a lovely, old port and coffee.

Some recipes and ideas for you below.

3. Make a Schedule

This is extremely important for a stress free Christmas, and we’re talking about both a Christmas Eve schedule (or list of things to do) and more importantly, a Christmas Day schedule.

So write down:

  • what time you need to be up
  • when the turkey needs to go in
  • same with the potatoes, carrots, sprouts, etc.
  • gravy
  • puddings
  • even what time to get dressed, if necessary!

Start from the time you intend to sit down for your meal, then work backwards. I’ll give you a sample below that you can print out.

When my kids were little, to ensure a stress free Christmas, I used to even add the times they’d have to get dressed to the planner! And baby feed times. I was always hosting Christmas, even with a 1-year old baby and later on, 4 young kids.

My husband was a very hands on dad, but as all mums will tell you, dads never seem to be able to find anything! Nor get instructions right. (Sorry dads!) Only mums have an answer to, “Mummy, where’s my …?”. So get those changing times in the schedule!

Stress Free Christmas Day Schedule

I’m giving you my Christmas schedule, one that’s been used again and again, and perfected over 20+ years. Change it to suit your needs, as you see fit.

Click here to get your hands on my Christmas Schedule and print it, so you can check it off as you go.

Christmas Eve Planner? That’s in our Make Ahead, Get Ahead post, which is Secret #3.

There are a couple of things you have to bear in mind when making your Christmas planner.

The first is to allow for some extra time here and there, especially in the last hour. Because you are going to, inevitably, run over in some places. That means when you are making a schedule, don’t make it too tight, be generous.

For eg, if you take 10 minutes to prep something, right down 15. That sort of stuff.

Second thing to bear in mind is the fact that in the last half an hour, a lot will need doing, practically all at once. This is because you will be finishing with all the sides and they will need taking out to the table. Get help (Secret #4).

As much as you can, use oven-to-table cookware, so you don’t need to spend time transferring, and there is less washing up (Secret #5).

I haven’t written down what time you need to be up, as that’s personal and will depend on whether you have kids, as well as the size of your turkey!

And that’s it for Day #1!

Phew, that’s it for our Stress Free Christmas Secret #1. I know you are going to find it useful if you are usually close to tears when entertaining, but especially, if this is your first time hosting a Christmas meal.

Let me know with a comment below what it’s like for you, and of course, if you have anything you’d like to add.

This is just Secret #1. Look out for Secret #2 tomorrow!

But if you are too impatient,

All my Christmas Secrets!

Lin xx