For a lot of people, the most important thing at Christmas is family. Food comes a very close second! But what if you don’t want to spend all day in the kitchen on Christmas Day?
How to prepare Christmas Dinner in advance
This year more than ever, spending time with family will be a priority. Did you know that you can prepare ahead and freeze almost every component of your Christmas dinner? Some careful planning and a well-organised freezer could ensure that you spend most of the day relaxing with your loved ones, rather than peeling veg and slaving over a hot stove. Read on to find out more!
Foods You Can Freeze for Christmas
Every family has their own traditions for Christmas dinner, but there are a few staples that make in on to nearly every festive plate. We’ve listed these with methods you can use to prep and freeze them in advance, along with a few surprises.
Pigs in Blankets
At my parents’ house, it’s not Christmas until I’ve jostled with my brother to snaffle the first sausage wrapped in bacon from the dish before my mum has even put them on the table!
You can prepare these delicacies ahead, simply by pre-wrapping the sausages in their bacon blankets, freezing them raw, then popping them in the oven on the big day. Or you can go further and pre-cook them, freeze and reheat – you could even do this in the microwave if you wanted to save oven space. Just ensure they are piping hot before serving.
If you’re from across the pond, this might be more what you have in mind when pigs and blankets are mentioned. This pastry version can also be made in advance and frozen too – I’ve never tried it, but I’m sure it would be a great addition to a Christmas dinner, or a fun pre-dinner nibble.
Peeling all the vegetables for Christmas dinner is one of the most time-consuming tasks, especially if you have a big family. This can be done the day before and the vegetables kept overnight in pans of cold water, to prevent them from going brown.
Alternatively, you can parboil or blanch any vegetable and freeze, then roast or prepare according to your favourite recipe on the big day. This is my favourite recipe for honey-glazed roasted carrots. For the ultimate in convenience, you could fully cook the vegetables then reheat in the microwave – but that oven-roasted crisp finish is nice to have and only takes a few minutes to achieve.
Mashed potato is one of those things that is an essential addition to Christmas dinner for some, and an oddity for others that they would never consider. Equally controversial is whether it’s acceptable to freeze.
Personally, I’m a big fan of batch cooking and freezing mashed potato. It’s a good way to use up any surplus potatoes and I find it freezes well if you don’t add milk before freezing. It’s also recommended to allow the mash to cool fully before you put a lid on the container, to reduce moisture inside which can lead to sogginess on reheating.
Theoretically, you could also fully prepare and cook roast potatoes then reheat in the microwave or oven on Christmas day. My view is that the crispiness of roast potatoes is sacred, and worth the extra time even if oven space is at a premium. This recipe offers the best of both worlds – it saves you prep time but protects the crunch!
Families have their own traditions around favourite side dishes. Personally, I love cauliflower cheese, often with broccoli added too, as a side for any roast dinner. This is a super easy dish to prepare in advance and can be reheated in the oven from frozen. I like to mix breadcrumbs, grated parmesan and cheddar for the topping, with a little bit of nutmeg added to the white sauce.
Red cabbage is another favourite. This recipe will keep in the fridge for two days, or can be frozen for up to a month. It’s simple to reheat in a pan or in the microwave.
Gravy and Sauces
All of your favourite sauces to accompany Christmas dinner – bread sauce and cranberry sauce are the most common choices – can be made in advance and frozen. These Soup ‘n’ Sauce freezer bags are perfect for storing sauces in a space-efficient way in your freezer. They’re also a great option if you’re considering a festive soup as a first course on Christmas day.
Now, onto gravy. Personally, I am deeply suspicious of any gravy method that doesn’t involve using meat juices. This, as far as I am concerned, is the perfect way to make gravy and the way my mum and my grandma taught me to make it. But there are recipes for make-ahead gravy which can be prepared in advance and frozen. You can always add your meat juices on the day. Perhaps I will try it out one day and see if I’m convinced!
Yorkshire puddings with Christmas dinner? It’s a yes from me! No more should these marvels be consigned only to accompany roast beef dinners. My considered opinion is that Yorkshire puddings should accompany every roast dinner ever consumed, and many other meals too.
They’re super easy to make in advance and reheat, and this is a great way to avoid stress on Christmas day, as we all know what happens if you open the oven door at the wrong time! And no one wants a collapsed pudding!
The final controversy. Now, I suspect that the best approach would be to roast the turkey from fresh on the day (and make the gravy fresh from its juices) and prepare as many other things as possible in advance, to reduce overall stress and oven capacity required.
But it’s possible to cook the turkey a day or two before, store in the fridge and carve and heat up meat slices in the microwave. Equally, you could cook, carve portions and freeze in advance, then thoroughly defrost and reheat.
If you choose this option, be sure to really closely follow food safety guidelines on managing this safely, and reheat until piping hot to avoid illness.
Have a Stress-Free Christmas!
These ideas should help you plan in advance to reduce stress and maximise enjoyment for Christmas. Don’t forget that a lot of other festive treats can be made well in advance too. And remember to order plenty of booze to wash it all down with!
Make sure you have a timetable for cooking, to keep track of what time everything needs to go in and come out of the oven. It’s a good idea to work backwards from the time you want to serve dinner, so everything is ready at the same time.
Or you could even have the main event on Christmas Eve, like people do in many European countries, then just kick back with leftovers and festive movies on Christmas Day. Whatever option you choose, here’s to a happy Christmas for all of us in 2020. We sure deserve it!