Skip to content

What to do ahead for a stress-free Christmas dinner

You want to relax and enjoy yourself on Christmas day, not spend every minute in the kitchen. So take a moment to plan ahead for fun and family time. Here's what you can do to get ahead for a less stressful Christmas holiday.

Things to do in the run up to Christmas

Plan the menu

Make a list of who’s coming for dinner, so you know how many you’re feeding and whether you need to cater for any dietary restrictions. Also think about what food was not eaten last year so that you don’t cook too much food, and how much leftovers your household will eat. Use our Christmas dinner food planner to calculate how much food you'll need. 

Think about whether you need a traditional turkey or if a boned and rolled or turkey crown is better suited to your numbers. Once this is done you can create your menu and calculate how much food you need for Christmas dinner. 

Eat what you have

A good way to help reduce costs and waste in the run up to Christmas is to use up what you already have in fridge and cupboards. Here are some tips.


Storage space is at a premium at Christmas time, so in the run up to Christmas plan to eat the food meals you have in the fridge and freezer. It’s a win win, you create more storage space, reduce food waste and could also have less cooking to do in the countdown to Christmas day. Remember to check Use by dates to see what needs to be eaten first. 

For extra fridge space in the days before Christmas, store vegetables and drinks (except milk & fruit juices) in a cool place.

In the week before Christmas, you can give your fridge and freezer a good clean with warm soapy water. If you’re having a traditional turkey, make room to put the bird on the bottom shelf so drips won’t land on ready-to-eat food as this could spread germs leaving these foods unsafe to eat.

Shop in your cupboard

Before you go off for the Christmas shop, check your cupboards and shelves for non-perishable items like herbs and spices, honey, mustard, flour, sugar, jelly, custard, stock cubes. There’s no point in buying more if you already have them.

And if you want to spread the cost of your Christmas shop over December you could buy non-perishable items you need in the weeks running up to the big day.

Stale bread

If you’re looking to reduce the cost of the Christmas shop and food waste this year, hold on to your stale bread in December. Use this bread for your breadcrumbs by letting it dry out completely and then blitz it in a food processer. If you don’t have a food processor, using a grater is easy if you freeze the slices first. Breadcrumbs will keep for months in the freezer, or up to a week in the fridge.   


Make gravy

You could leave the gravy until the last minute to get those gorgeous juices from the turkey. Or you could just make this delicious gravy up to a couple of weeks in advance and save yourself the stress. Store it in the freezer and take it out on Christmas Eve to defrost in the fridge. If you’d prefer to make it closer to the time, it will keep in the fridge for three days.

Part-prep the roast potatoes

Part boiling the potatoes and roughing up the surface definitely makes the best roasties. But there’s no rule about when that part boiling has to happen, so get it done when ever’s convenient. Boil them for around 10 minutes, and take them off the hob while they’re still a little firm. Transfer them to a tray and let them cool to room temperature. Before freezing, wipe them with a paper towel to make sure they’re completely dry. It’s best to put the whole tray in the freezer first – that way they won’t stick together. When they’re fully frozen you can transfer them into a freezer bag. Then defrost them in the fridge on Christmas Eve, leaving you with one less job to do on Christmas day.

Make the stuffing

We’d always recommend that you cook your stuffing outside of the turkey, because it cuts down on Christmas cooking time and your turkey is less likely to dry out. So stuffing is one more thing you can cook and freeze ahead of time. Try this classic sage and onion stuffing recipe

Go to MABS for more ways to save on energy costs this winter.

Times for turkey 

December 22nd when you need to start thinking about your turkey. If you’ve a frozen turkey you need to give yourself enough time to defrost it. Allow 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds / 2-2.5kg. If you’ve a 7.5kg / 15lb turkey, it can take up to 3 days to defrost so you should start defrosting on December 22nd. The best way to defrost it is to place it on a dish or tray on the bottom shelf of your fridge.

If in doubt, check out our turkey defrosting time table below:

Size of turkey

Defrosting time in fridge

8-12 lbs / 3.5 – 5.5kg

2- 3 days

12-14 lbs / 5.5 – 6.5 kg

3 - 3 ½ days

14-18 lbs / 6.5 – 8kg

4 - 4 ½ days

18-20 lbs / 8 – 9kg

4 ½- 5 days

20-24 lbs / 9 – 11kg

5 – 6 days


You should cook a fresh turkey within 2 days of buying it. This means you should not pick up the turkey before December 23rd of December. If the turkey is vacuum-packed, you can follow the use-by date. Always store your turkey on the bottom shelf of the fridge so that juices don't drip onto other food.

Whether cooking from fresh or defrosted, we recommend following our advice for cooking your turkey.

Christmas helpers

Making Christmas dinner can be overwhelming so enlist some helpers. Gather them the night before to prep vegetables – carrots, parsnips, brussels sprouts etc. Store the prepped veg in pans or bowls of cold water on the countertop. 

On the big day, keep your helpers close. Divide up the different jobs according to age and ability and let everybody join in the fun of getting ready. 

Ham it up on Christmas Eve

Christmas ham needs to be boiled before glazing and roasting and if you’re cooking a large ham that can take hours.  It’s a job for Christmas Eve. And you could have this for dinner that day, reducing the amount of food you cook and ensuring that the ham is ready to glaze and pop in the oven while the turkey is resting on Christmas day.

Use ready-prepared foods 

Things don’t always go to plan and there are no medals for cooking every scrap of Christmas dinner from scratch. The shops are full of all kinds of pre-prepared canapes, sides and even full dishes.

Follow the cooking instructions on packaging as a guide, and always check that the centre of the food is piping hot. But remember, leftovers from pre-cooked food should never be reheated.

What to do on Christmas day 

All going to plan, on Christmas day all you’ll have left to do is put the turkey in the oven, set the table, and when the turkey is done and is resting, glaze the ham and pop it in the oven, cook the pre-prepped vegetables and reheat the gravy.

Related pages

Safefood Logo

Sign up for our family focused healthy eating and food safety news.

Safefood logo

The site content is redirecting to the NI version.