Food Wise — Holiday Dinner Countdown


I don’t know about you, but I find it easy to get overwhelmed when preparing for a big holiday gathering. I expect this year to be especially busy since Christmas Day falls on Sunday. Yikes!

One thing I find tremendously helpful is preparing ahead as much as possible. I like to make lots of lists to help me stay on track. Being able to check things off my list is like a big ol’ pat on the back. Grocery list made, check. Turkey ordered, check. Yea, me! I’m gettin’ stuff done!

I do as much as I can in the days and weeks before Christmas so I have time to enjoy friends and family when the big day arrives. I’ve used a countdown list for years and it really helps reduce stress. I hope you find it helpful as well. Feel free to modify it according to your own holiday plans.

A month to a couple weeks ahead

-Double check all spices to make sure you have fresh supplies on hand. Any dried spice older than six months should be discarded and replaced. Also, stock up on flour, sugar, baking soda and powder.

-Order or purchase the turkey, ham, crown roast or whatever other protein you may be serving.

-Make any pie crusts, cheesecakes or pound cakes and store them in the freezer. Pie crusts can be made and frozen for up to three months ahead.

-Gather your recipes and make lists of groceries and supplies. I make different lists according to the store I’ll need to visit and then cross things off as I purchased them.

-Hand out assignments to others who will be bringing dishes to the dinner. It’s a lot of work, so don’t be shy about letting others help. This way you can also make sure there are no duplications or missing items.

-Double check equipment and dishes. Make sure you have the right size and amount of pots and pans, serving platters and bowls, dishes, silverware, glasses, and even chairs. If you do this early, you’ll have a chance to try and borrow any needed supplies. Check table linens you are planning to use to see if they are in good condition, clean and whether they need to be pressed.

-Make sure knives are sharpened and double check the temperature in your oven with a thermometer. To do this, set an oven proof thermometer in the oven and turn the oven on the bake setting at 350 degrees. After 30 minutes, check the thermometer to make sure the oven really has heated to 350 degrees. If it’s off a few degrees, at least you’ll know how to compensate.

-Purchase wine, champagne or prosecco and any other alcohol you may need for libations and recipes.

Several days ahead

-Double check your grocery list to make any last minute corrections or additions. Grocery shop and pick up all supplies.

-Thaw the turkey in the refrigerator according to directions.

-Clean out the refrigerator to make maximum space.

-Consolidate any open condiments in the fridge.

-Make any relishes and chutneys.

-Make cornbread for dressing.

-Make some snacks and assemble sandwich supplies for easy eats during the busy prep days leading up to Christmas Day.

Two days ahead

-Make bread cubes for stuffing.

-Make any soups.

-Make croutons for salads.

-Prep and blanch vegetables. Partially cooking the veggies preserves their color and flavor but cuts down on your cooking time on Christmas day.

-Boil and peel eggs for dressing and giblet gravy.

-Cook turkey neck and giblets for stock and gravy.

-Cut and sauté onions and celery for the dressing. Sauté any other additions to the dressing; such as, sausage, oysters or mushrooms

A day ahead

-Brine the turkey.

-Thaw pie crusts, cheesecakes and pound cakes. Assemble pies and cakes. Bake.

-Assemble casseroles, such as sweet potato and green bean casserole. Bake halfway and store in refrigerator until ready to finish Christmas Day.

-Set the table and arrange table decorations. Store fresh flowers in the refrigerator. Make things easier on yourself by using candles, gourds and other decor that doesn’t require refrigeration.

-Toast any nuts for recipes.

-Make salad dressings.

-Assemble stuffing or dressing. Cook halfway and store in refrigerator until ready to finish Christmas Day.

-Make mashed potatoes. They can be re-heated with a little cream when you are ready to serve dinner.

-Wash and prep any salad ingredients. Store wrapped in paper towels, in plastic zip-type baggies.

-Prep and cook ham, except for the browning part. All you do is cook the ham up until you would normally remove the foil and let it brown. You can reheat it, remove the foil and let it brown at service time.

Christmas Day

-Roast turkey.

-Reheat and brown the ham.

-Finish cooking dressing and assembled casseroles.

-Finish cooking blanched vegetables by dipping briefly in boiling water.

-Make gravy.

-Reheat soup.

-Assemble and dress salad.

-Butter and warm breads.

-Warm the plates in a dishwasher set on the dry cycle. The food will taste great on warmed plates.

-Enjoy time with family and friends.

-Take a nap while someone else does the dishes!

I hope this roadmap helps your holiday be a little less stressful and a little more holidayrrrific!  It would be awesome to hear some of the tips that make your holidays run smoother. Email me at and check out my blog at