How To Make An Awesome Christmas Dinner With Little Effort

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The pressure to cap off Christmas with a perfectly prepared dinner goes all the way back to Dickens’ Victorian idyll of the prize turkey on the Cratchit’s table. Here’s the thing…in Victorian England, dinner was the main celebration of Christmas. For 21st Century American families with kids, there’s **cough** just a bit more to focus on.

So if the prospect of preparing a multi-course meal with your sister-in-law peering over your shoulder criticizing your use of salt, an over-sugared toddler clinging to your leg, and a 35-pound dog hovering exactly where you need to put your feet makes you want to reach for the Merlot and a take-out menu, here are some tips to make Christmas dinner simple.

Throw down buffet-style.


When I went to my first Christmas with my husband’s family in Canada 15 years ago, I was surprised that my mother-in-law served a buffet dinner. Everything was prepared ahead of time and set out for people to eat as they got hungry. At the time, lonely for my own family’s traditional sit-down meal, I thought it was weird. Now I think it’s a damn brilliant idea.

Serving a buffet dinner, especially if you have a crowd at your house, allows people to pick away at their own pace. It removes the pressure to have everything out of the oven and off the stove at the exact right time. Most importantly, it lets you enjoy your dinner in small groups. Want to avoid the Tea Party branch of the family? Take your plate and cozy up next to Grandma and listen to her stories. Or, if you’re like me, take your plate to your bedroom and nibble in blissful silence.

Make some garbage. 

plastic cups

I know. I know. The environment. Look, I’m as granola as they come. I’m such a recycling princess that I produce less than two kitchen bags of trash a week. But this is one day. It’s not a day to stand on principle. It’s certainly not a day to waste precious family time doing five loads of dishes. You have 364 other days to save the planet. On this day, save your sanity.

App It Up.


I serve exactly two appetizers on Christmas: a veggie tray and my grandfather’s super-secret recipe cheese ball. I’d give it to you, but they’d kick me out of the family. If you don’t have a good cheese ball recipe, do cheese and crackers. The raw veggies will get some nutrition into everyone and keep them nice and regular. (Because my GAWD whose digestion doesn’t get wrecked during the holidays?) The cheese will give everyone a nice shot of protein and keep the pre-meal crankies at bay. You don’t need canapés, creamy dips, mini-quiches, pigs in a blanket, or god forbid, amuse bouche. If you want to spend your Christmas day stuffing mushrooms with artisanal goat cheese and plating them with a perfect ginger-cilantro drizzle, you’re a better woman than I.

Ham forever, turkey never.


Everyone just had turkey four weeks ago. Turkey is not so delicious that it deserves to be the star of two holiday meals. Ham is easier. Spiral-cut ham is fully cooked and can be served cold or at room temperature (take it out of the fridge 30-45 minutes before serving). This frees up valuable oven space for heating other dishes.

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