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You don’t need to feel overwhelmed by Christmas. With some advance planning, it’s possible to prepare for Christmas dinner with minimum stress.

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. Familiar smells, cozy times and family bonding make this a special and magical time for all. Christmas dinner is the cherry on top of the festive season, and is an enjoyable and comforting meal for all. Cooking it, on the other hand, is famously stressful. Here are some tips on how to you can both prepare AND enjoy your Christmas dinner; how to execute a low stress Christmas dinner. You need to be able to break down the task into manageable chunks which leave you on Christmas Day being ready and able to enjoy yourself.

Food can be one of the most stressful areas of Christmas preparation, but it definitely does not have to be. In South Africa we are lucky to have Christmas in the middle of summer, which does of course influence the type of food we eat and also when we eat it – for many families a Christmas brunch or lunch is the biggest meal of the day and the rest of the day is all about filling up on leftovers! You can start getting ready for your Christmas dinner in November, allowing you more time, closer to the time, to enjoy yourself.

In November, finalize your Christmas menu. Check all guests for any specific dietary requirements so you can plan accordingly. Other factors to consider include any childhood favourites of either yourself or your partner. Making these foods is a great way of creating your own family Christmas traditions.

Take the time now to record any links to recipes and also to make a grocery list of everything you need. Check your serving dishes, bowls, plates, cutlery and glasses and ensure you have enough for everyone now you know who is coming, and also that you have what you need to serve your planned menu. It’s much easier to do this now than in the crazy Christmas rush. Order your Christmas ham and turkey. If you’re going the frozen route, go ahead and buy them now; this will save you having to deal with potential last minute cancellations due to people being out of stock.

When December arrives, you can start practicing recipes. By treating your family to ‘Christmas themed’ meals in the run up, you’ll get a chance to practice dishes which leave you feeling a little uneasy, ensuring the big day goes off without a hitch. You don’t have to practice making your dishes, but it can help make you feel more comfortable when the time comes for the real thing, as well as adjust your Christmas dinner schedule when you discover how long it really takes you to prep it or if you need to adjust cooking times for your oven. Make notes of anything like this that you discover for when you create your timeline for the day. In mid-December, you should stock up on those products with an extended shelf life.

The next thing that can help you out is to create a timeline for Christmas Day food preparation and serving. If you’ve never done this before, it can be quite a challenging task. Have a list of everything you’re going to make. Aim to have everything on the table 10 minutes before you want to eat, and work backwards from there, considering prep time, cooking time, resting time and plating time.

A couple days before Christmas, defrost your turkey in the fridge and allowing for a couple of days to be safe, and do your fresh food shopping. The day before Christmas, do as much as you can. Prepare the dishes that can be done the day before. Cut up any herbs you are using and put them in a container on a damp paper towel. Check your timings again and set the table if possible.

The last step is to enjoy Christmas Day! Your advance preparation should have left you with a much emptier cooking schedule, giving you more time to enjoy the magical day.

The last trick I can give you is this; don’t get caught up on what you think you have to do. This article has offered a lot of advice on how to prepare a ‘traditional’ Christmas dinner, but who says you have to make a traditional dinner? The point of Christmas dinner is to enjoy yourself with your loved ones- no one says you can’t do it over a braai with a simple salad. Do what feels right for you and your family, to make sure you enjoy this time of the year.

Merry Christmas from all of us here at Hurst, and best wishes for a happy new year.

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