The Complete Christmas Menu Planner

Preparing a Christmas Menu Plan can be a little hard to do. Deciding what to cook can actually be a joy – but putting the plan into action, can quickly become overwhelming. I have had many menus start out wonderfully – but have then spent all morning in the kitchen cooking, lunch has lasted for less than an hour, and then I spend all afternoon cleaning the kitchen. Not to mention eating leftovers for the next week.

I have learnt many lessons along the way though – how to cook the right amounts to minimise leftovers, how to plan and prep, what to cook in advance, how to reheat and serve efficiently, and how to minimise the kitchen mess.

Today – I’ll share what I’ve learnt with you.

And, to help make this super simple – I have created a Christmas Menu Planner for you to download. This includes all the templates that I mention below – and is ready for you to download, print and start filling out today! Click here to get your free copy now.

Once you have your templates downloaded and printed, make yourself a cuppa and get settled. Planning takes time – but it is worth it. And this process is easy and simple to do.

Let’s get started.

The Complete Christmas Menu Planner - free printables!

#1 – Write your Menu

(download: The Empowered Cook Christmas Menu)

Don’t skip this step. It is important to actually take the time to write down your menu. A little bit of planning goes a long way. And include everything on your menu:  from snacks and nibbles to the main and sides. Also include drinks: will you serve cocktails, punch, water?

Writing this down helps you with the next step, but it also allows you to work through how much food you’ll need, and if the flavours all meld together. Sticking to a good theme of either hot or cold, with a single protein can make things so much easier. There is no rule that says you need to serve every possible food item all on Christmas Day. If your family enjoys an eclectic mix – try spreading this over a few celebrations through the holidays: a Christmas Eve feast, a New Years Eve dinner, for example.

Also remember to cater for different tastes and diets as you write the menu. Will you be expecting vegetarians? Are their members of your party that are gluten-free or dairy-free? Any allergies? This is far more common these days, and your guests will welcome the thought and care that you put in to cater to their needs. Make their day special too.

If there is a recipe for the dish that are cooking, make a note of it on here too. This will make finding the recipe a little easier when you need it.

Are you trying something new this year? As I mention in this post, I try and serve one new dish each Christmas. I may try a different way of cooking the main protein, or I may just add a new side. Either way, I find this spices up the menu a little and keeps it from being the same old dishes served up every year. That being said – there are certainly some dishes that you just wouldn’t miss each year. Make sure you include those on your menu!

A special note for big families: writing a menu like this, also gives you an excellent opportunity to delegate. Carve off sides, desserts, nibbles, drinks to the rest of your family – and you simply provide the main dish. This evens out the workload and means that you won’t have to do all the work yourself. Unless – of course – you love it. Like I do 🙂

Once you have written your menu (using The Empowered Cook Christmas Menu download), you can then make this extra special by preparing a special printed one for the table, or small menus for each place. There are loads of templates on Pinterest to inspire you with this activity. It is even something you can give your kids to be in charge of – give them your menu, and they can prepare the printable.

#2 – Total Your Ingredient List

(download: The Empowered Cook Christmas Menu Ingredient List)

Once you have your menu chosen – this step is much easier. I simply do this very systemically. For each meal that I am making, I write the full ingredient list onto a piece of paper. I then write the amounts of that ingredient next to it, and then sum them all up at the end.

If you use The Empowered Cook Christmas Menu Ingredient List, I’ve made this process super simple: with three columns. The first is your Ingredient list. In this column, you’d record things like brie cheese, potatoes, dark chocolate. In the second list, Amount, you would write the amounts you need. This may be more than one amount if you use the ingredient in multiple recipes – so be sure to leave a little more room around common ingredients like butter, chocolate or flour for example. The last column, Total, is where you can sum up all the individual amounts – so that you now have a clear idea of how much of what you will need.

Once you are finished, the first and third columns are the two that you need. The middle Amount column is just your working area.

For example, if I need ½ cup of cranberries for a side salad, and another ¼ cup for a cranberry sauce – then my list will have cranberries in the Ingredient column, with a ½ cup and ¼ cup in the Amount column. Once I have finished with all my ingredients – I then simply write ¾ cup in the Total column next to cranberries.

This does require you to do a little math – but it is so much better than missing a key ingredient! Or running out of something at a critical moment! And see? Your math teacher was right – you would use those lessons in real life. Lol.

#3 – Shopping List

(download: The Empowered Cook Christmas Menu Shopping List)

Once you have your FULL ingredient list – listing all your ingredients, you now need to work out where you are getting all this food from. Do you already have it in your cupboards? Can you get it from the local supermarket? Do you need to order anything online or from specialty stores?

This is where I make my shopping list. I’ve created the The Empowered Cook Christmas Menu Shopping List for you for this step – and I’ve replicated the structure of my shopping list.

I have three separate columns on my list: Pantry, Supermarket, Fresh Food. Items that I generally have in my pantry go in the Pantry column. This list is then checked closer to Christmas to make sure my pantry is stocked (don’t skip this step! I have run out of flour when making gravy on more than one occasion!).

Items that I will pick up at my local grocery store are on the Supermarket column. I buy these over the course of a few weeks – they are all non-perishables and will last between now and Christmas. Things like crackers, canned goods, grains. I find setting myself a budget each week and then shopping to that amount helps enormously when being conscious of spend in the lead up to Christmas. Also – check out this post. This mentions another great way to save some cash in the lead up to Christmas Day.

My Fresh Food list is the last column and will generally be items that are bought as close to Christmas Day as possible. The only exception to this is where I am cooking in advance – more about that later.

Once you have these 3 steps completed – we are almost ready to start cooking.

#4 – Make a Plan

(download: The Empowered Cook Christmas Menu Cooking Plan)

I say ‘almost’ ready to cook because we still need a plan as to how we are going to actually get all these things made, stored, reheated, and served on Christmas Day.

This is where people tend to get into a fluster: leaving things until Christmas Day, attempting to cook a new recipe for the first time an hour before you are due to serve it – all of these things can just add to a stressful situation, and can be ringing the toll of a Christmas Day disaster.

Instead – we’re going to spend a few more minutes (pour yourself another cuppa while you are here – I’ll have one too!), planning out what you’re going to cook when. And I’m not just talking about a plan for Christmas Day. My plan extends far backwards from then.

On The Empowered Cook Christmas Menu Cooking Plan – you will see three columns: Cook Ahead, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The rule of thumb here is that the lists in these columns should decrease in size as you move towards Christmas Day. On the actual morning of Christmas, you want to be doing the least amount of work as possible. This is when you want to be sitting on the floor with your kids playing with their new toys, or enjoying a lazy breakfast before the family arrives for lunch. You do not want to be running around like a mad woman trying to clean the house, roast a turkey and make custard for dessert – all while trying to make that supposedly easy table centrepiece you saw on Pinterest. D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R.

So – let’s put that crazy image away – and imagine one of organised calm. My Mum always said: If there’s going to be panic, let it be organised. And never is that more true than when cooking Christmas lunch for a group of people.

Go through The Empowered Cook Christmas Menu that you prepared in #1 – and write each of the items under one of the three columns on The Empowered Cook Christmas Menu Cooking Plan.

Be realistic about what you can actually cook on Christmas morning – and be equally realistic about what you can actually cook in advance.

Keep in mind a few logistical things too – how much food can you fit in your fridge, freezer and pantry, for example. Ideally, ensure you clean out the fridge and freezer regularly in the lead up to Christmas (see this post). Keep only the essentials – and you’ll have plenty of space for the Christmas lunch.

Also remember that the more that you cook ahead, the easier Christmas Day will be. Less stress, less time in the kitchen and more time with your family and guests. If you are in Australia – it also means less hot ovens on Christmas Day – which is such a blessing if we get a screaming hot Christmas Day. I remember many Christmas Lunches sweating to death while helping Mum in the kitchen – and taking it in turns to waft each other with a tea-towel as we stirred something on the stove. These were the days before air-conditioning – but still, cooking on a hot day is nobody’s idea of fun.

So what can you cook ahead of time? Well, everything. You can, if you like, cook an entire roast dinner ahead of time and serve it reheated on Christmas Day. This is really not that unusual – and it is how our grandmothers cooked. Everything would be cooked in the days leading up to Christmas – with maybe just the finishing cooking time being done on Christmas morning.

A few recipe ideas to get started:

Jamie Oliver’s Get Ahead Gravy – this is honestly the best thing I have done. Gravy is my achilles heel. I don’t know if it is because I have such high expectations (my Aunt used to make the BEST gravy of all time – and I am not kidding), or I just lack this skill – but if I try and make gravy the day of the dinner, it will fail. Jamie Oliver’s recipe removes the pressure and stress – and yet still makes a delicious gravy to simply reheat and serve on Christmas Day. Remember too – there is something particularly scrumptious about leftovers. The flavour is often better than when they are first served. This is true of this gravy. Depending on when you make it, you can store it in the fridge or freezer.

Christmas Stuffing – this is another Jamie Oliver recipe – but it is another awesome option for making stuffing and making it in advance. You can freeze this, or make it Christmas Eve.

Christmas Turkey – I love this video of Gordon Ramsey’s turkey. It is easy and delicious.

Once you’ve identified what you can cook ahead (either way ahead or on Christmas Eve), you’ll simply be left with a few items that you need to cook on Christmas Day.

This part of the plan will need to be written in chronological order – ideally with a timeline next to it. For example – 10am pop spuds in oven, 12noon pop greens into steam, etc. Take some time to really carefully plan this out. The clearer this part of the plan is, the easier it will be to follow on Christmas Day.

The added bonus with such a detailed Christmas Day cooking plan is that it makes delegation really easy. If someone offers to help, a quick glance at your cooking plan will easily identify the next item on your list – and you can choose to accept the help and delegate that task (or another one!) to the helper. Many hands make light work!

And that, my Empowered Cook readers, is that. You now have a full Christmas Planner ready for you to use and action.

Where will you start? What will you cook this year? Leave me a note in the comments and let me know.

And don’t forget to share this post if you think your friends will find it helpful too. Let’s make Christmas Day stress-free, easy and relaxed – and enjoy a beautiful, delicious meal together.

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