Christmas Dinner Plan

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Get organised and prepare ahead to ensure that everything will run efficiently on Christmas Day. Follow our step-by-step guide to planning and hosting a fuss-free feast, including a time-plan for cooking turkey and the trimmings and how much food to order to serve 8 with enough leftovers for Boxing Day, but no more.

Here, woman&home's Food Director Jane Curran shares her countdown to Christmas lunch and how she makes cooking Christmas lunch as simple as possible.

Super simple Christmas countdown

To serve lunch by 2.15pm, with a 3.5kg turkey, follow this simple time plan.

  • 9am Remove the turkey from the fridge. The bird should be prepared, weighed and ready.
  • 10.30am Heat the oven to 180C, gas 4.
  • 11am Put the turkey in the oven. Now you can prep the veg.
  • 12.45pm If you're having a Christmas pudding, put it on to steam. Top it up regularly with hot water.
  • 1pm Put the potatoes in the oven (they'll take around 1 hour).
  • 1.20pm Put the stuffing in the oven (it'll take around 45 minutes).
  • 1.30pm Take the turkey out of the oven, cover with foil and leave in a warm place. Whack up the oven temperature to 200C, gas 6. Transfer the potatoes to the top shelf. Put the parsnips and chipolatas in (they'll take around 30 minutes). Have sprouts and carrots ready to cook, and bread sauce and red cabbage ready to reheat. Make the gravy.
  • 2pm Once everything is out of the oven, put the serving dishes and plates in to warm. Warm a jug for the gravy. Transfer the turkey to a large chopping board or carving dish. Enlist helpers to carve, dish up and wash up - so you have space in the kitchen!

Ready to get stuck in to some Christmas menu planning? Find all our Christmas recipes in one place, in our Christmas recipe collection.

The Basics

Timings will vary depending on when you want to serve lunch and how many guests you have. There are a few bits and bobs we've learned over the years, which help all go smoothly. After all, in magazine world, we cook Christmas lunch three times a year!

1. Check your tins

Check you have the right size roasting tin for the turkey you're going to order. If you've bought a new one, check it fits happily in your oven.

2. Allow more time

Allow more oven time that you initially calculate. There is the problem of the National Grid dipping and family and friends opening the oven to have a look at "the bird". Keep it closed!

3. Save fridge space

It's harder to keep a full fridge cold, so think about storing food in Ziplock bags rather than bowls. Leave drinks outside at the back door. You can always put them in a bucket of ice outside, in the unlikely event the day is mild.

4. First, lay the table

Lay the table (better still, delegate!) after breakfast, so another job can be ticked off. Sort out your serving dishes and plates. They can always sit out of the way on the dining table while you cook.

5. Keep your kitchen clear

Start cooking in a clean and tidy kitchen and enlist help to keep it cleared as you cook. It is much more calming and easier to work in a clear kitchen.

Use Your Freezer

There are plenty of dishes that will freeze, saving you a huge amount of time and hassle on the day. Try these:

* Bread sauce * Cranberry sauce * Stuffing * Red cabbage * Rum or brandy sauce (for the pudding) * Turkey stock

To make ahead turkey gravy, buy a couple of turkey legs beforehand, which are well-priced. Make as you would a chicken stock, with carrot, onion, celery, parsley, bay leaves and peppercorns. Then strain, add white wine or dry sherry and reduce. Defrost on Christmas Eve, then add the juices from your cooked turkey. It saves a lot of time and space. The giblets can always be roasted for the four-legged members of the family - they'll go down a storm!

Is the freezer your friend? Find out how to make the most of it with 16 things everyone should have in their freezer.

Buy The Right Quantities

A bit of savvy shopping without over-ordering will mean you avoid chucking loads in the bin by 27 December. Vegetable quantities are tricky - some families hate sprouts, and in our house we love leftover roast potatoes to eat cold.

Here's a guide to what you'll need to serve 8 people:

* A 3.5kg turkey will happily feed 8 people, with sufficient leftovers for a sandwich on Boxing Day. * 1.8kg potatoes for roasting (King Edward or Maris Piper, or other fluffy spuds work best). * 900g Brussels sprouts * 1.3kg parsnips * 900g red cabbage

Cooking Turkey

Specialists will give you their own cooking times for a roast turkey, but you can work out the cooking time using the British Turkey calculator - you just need to enter the weight of your bird.

To help prevent the turkey breast drying out, cook the turkey breast-side down on a trivet. Then turn it up the right way for the last 30 minutes to brown. This way, it won't need to be covered with foil, as the fat deposits on the back of the bird will permeate through, and the fat will gently crisp.


Jane Curran

Jane Curran is a freelance food editor, stylist, writer and consultant based in Cape Town. Former food director of TI Media & woman&home. All about food, wine (dipWSET), gardening and the Arsenal.