Planning Christmas Eve dinner

Christmas Eve dinner, start to finish

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Whether it’s your first or 40th Christmas Eve dinner, sometimes you need a little help making it all come together quickly and efficiently, especially if you’ll have extra-special guests this time. Follow these steps for a delicious and easy Christmas Eve dinner they’ll never forget.

What’s your style?

The first step in planning Christmas Eve dinner is to decide kind of dinner you need to plan. If you’re planning a big Christmas dinner, you’ll want to go light and easy. If you have special guests, you may want to dress your bird to impress.

A laid-back Christmas Eve meal doesn’t have to mean takeout or frozen meals. Try doing a lighter spin on traditional favorites served buffet style or a variety of hearty Christmas-themed appetizers and desserts. If it’s going to be your main Christmas meal (or if you’re serving a VIP), go all out with turkey or ham and all the fixin’s.

Think of special circumstances

Is your son’s new girlfriend a vegan? Does your new brother-in-law expect cornbread stuffing? When you’re having guests in your home, especially people who were raised in different areas or who have special dietary needs, it's nice to go out of your way to make at least one dish that will make them feel at home, even if it means sacrificing one of your tried and true favorites.

Have a specific plan

Christmas Eve dinner will have you working under some specific time constraints. You can’t afford to have dinner on the table late, as parents need to get little ones to bed so Santa can work his magic.

Outline your menu so you know exactly what dish needs to be in the oven at what time and make use of other kitchen appliances, like microwaves and slow-cookers, to ensure your turkey or ham has plenty of time to get done. Remember, your meat will need to rest for 20 or 30 minutes, so you’ll have time to reheat pre-cooked dishes or get those rolls done at the last minute. Pies can usually go into the oven while you’re eating. Just don’t forget to check on them!

Make it fun

If you don’t open presents on Christmas Eve, have a little something special for each guest (especially the kids). For a more relaxed meal, it could be as simple as a small stocking filled with candy and other fun goodies. For a fancy meal, cut sugar cookie or a similar cookie dough into squares, bake as usual, then use frosting to spell out each guest’s name. They can be used as edible place cards or given out as a take-home treat at the end of the meal.

More Christmas Eve tips

Christmas dinner catastrophe: What to have on hand in case of a dinner disaster
Christmas Eve family traditions we love
Healthy Christmas side dish recipes

Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix the Fish. You can follow her on Twitter @HireHeather.