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With Christmas day just around the corner it’s time to start thinking about what to have for Christmas dinner and more importantly, how to cook Christmas dinner. Cooking for a lot of people is not an easy task, especially if you have to cater for meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in your circle of family and friends.

Thankfully, the Guru has been busy cooking up some wisdom for you to feast on. It includes a shopping list for you to use when heading to the shops and advice about timing the cooking of your Christmas dinner. Read on to find out how you can cook for family and friends without getting burnt on Christmas day.

Planning a Christmas dinner

When cooking for a lot of people, things can get complicated to say the least. Everyone likes things their own way and it can be difficult to please everyone.

However, there’s nothing stopping you from cooking something fantastic and keeping your guests well-fed. It’s also important to find out about any allergies or dietary requirements so you don’t get a nasty surprise on Christmas day.

  • Find out how many guests you’re expecting – make sure you know how many people you’re cooking for, as this will tell you how much you need to buy. Overestimate as much as you can when buying as it’s better to have too much rather than too little
  • Check for allergies – importantly, ensure that you’ve catered to anyone who might have a serious food allergy. There’s nothing worse than finding out that one of your guests is allergic to something
  • Ask about Vegetarian/Vegan alternatives – in the same vein, if you’re having any new friends or extended family, it’s best to check if they need a vegetarian or vegan option
  • Get emergency snacks – is it your first Christmas dinner? Plan ahead and make sure that if you have any delays, you have snacks such as breadsticks, crisps or healthy carrot batons with dips to keep your guests from dying of starvation

What you need to buy for Christmas Dinner

Everyone has their own version of a Christmas dinner, so there are a lot of variations on the classic Christmas dish. The most important thing is to get all the major staples down and then if you’re feeling brave, take on some extras depending on how peckish your friends and family are.

We’ve put together a shopping list of the main things you will need to prepare, along with some added extras you might want to consider.

  • Meat
    • Turkey
    • Pork
    • Chicken
    • Beef
    • Lamb
  • Vegan alternatives
    • Nut Roast
    • Mushroom Wellington
    • Sweet potato Rosti
  • Vegetables
    • Carrots
    • Swede
    • Parsnip
    • Sprouts
    • Broccoli
    • Peas
    • Roast Potatoes
  • Stuffing
  • Gravy
  • Sauces
    • Mint Sauce (for lamb)
    • Cranberry sauce
    • Horseradish
    • Bread sauce
    • Vegan gravy
  • Extras
    • Pigs in blankets
    • Yorkshire Puddings
    • Cauliflower cheese

How to cook Christmas dinner

It can seem very daunting to cook so many food elements at once, but as long as you can time it right, you should be able to tick everything off in logical order and end up with something resembling a Christmas dinner.

Have a look below at each different step of preparing a Christmas dinner and tick them off one by one as you go. Rather than be a strict recipe for how to cook each element, this is more a way to organise your time and ensure you start cooking with enough time to spare before people arrive.

Before you start, make a list of everything you have to cook and put an estimated time by the side. This will help you work backwards from the time you want to serve and get all the food out at the same time, so it’s warm and ready to eat. Alternatively, you can navigate using our Christmas Cooking Countdown below.

Christmas Cooking Countdown:

Please note: this schedule will need to be adapted depending on whether you’re cooking vegetarian or vegan alternatives to anything involving meat, cheese or eggs (which could be everything!).

1. Prepare the Turkey (plus additional meats)

4-5 hours before serving

First things first, your Turkey will take the longest to cook, so you’ll need to prepare this as well as any other meats you plan on cooking. Depending on what you’re cooking, this will usually include covering in butter, seasoning with salt and pepper and even stuffing if you’re feeling adventurous. Give yourself at least 20 minutes for this step but you may need longer if you have Ham, Pork, Chicken, Lamb or Beef to prepare as well.

2. Put the Turkey (and other meats) in the oven to cook

3-4 hours before serving

If you’re cooking a cut of meat that is quite large, it will need to be in the oven for a long time. There should be an indication of timing on the packaging or if getting from a Butcher, ask them for advice before you leave. Depending on the size, you might find that it will need at least 3-4 hours of cooking.

For smaller cuts of meat, leave them aside and only put in the oven closer to your serving time. Just remember to give yourself plenty of time for cooking so you don’t overrun.

3. Prepare the vegetables

2 hours before serving

You’ll likely have lots of different types of veg to prepare, but thankfully it doesn’t take long to cook. In fact, the prep will usually take around the same time. This will include peeling, seasoning and then setting up for either boiling or roasting.

4. Check on Turkey

1-2 hours before serving

Half way through cooking, check that the Turkey is cooking well and doesn’t need any further basting. This is where you take the juices and pour them over the top with a spoon. If it’s cooking too quickly, try moving it down a level or turning the temperature down temporarily.

5. Put potatoes on to roast

1 hour before serving

Most of your veg will not take long to cook so put it aside and concentrate on your roast potatoes. They will need to be peeled and boiled for between 5-10 minutes prior to roasting. Use goose fat or olive oil, heat in a roasting tin and add the potatoes in to be cooked for at least 30 minutes. Keep your eye on the time and keep checking to get them nice and crispy. Add sprigs of rosemary in for extra flavour.

6. Make Yorkshire puddings and prepare stuffing

45 minutes before serving

Feeling brave? Well thankfully, making Yorkshire puds from scratch is relatively straightforward in that you only need flour, eggs and milk. Use a non-stick muffin tin to get individual puds and leave to cook around 20 minutes. Like the roast potatoes, keep checking on them to see if they need taking out early. Alternatively, get some pre-made puddings and pop them in the oven.

Whilst you can make stuffing from scratch, there are so many pre-made versions that just need heating in the oven it’s sometimes easier to go for the simple option. Prepare your stuffing and pop in the oven for the indicated amount of time. Both Yorkshire’s and stuffing can usually come out of the oven at a similar time.

7. Cook Vegan or Vegetarian options

30 minutes before serving

This is all dependent on what you plan to serve your vegetarian or vegan guests, but it will usually need to be cooked for up to 30 minutes. Follow packet instructions or leave extra time if you want to make something from scratch.

8. Prepare your Cauliflower cheese

30 minutes before serving

Even though Cauliflower Cheese is optional, it will still make a tasty addition to your Christmas dinner. Once you’ve boiled your cauliflower, break it up into florets and put it into a small casserole dish, before pouring homemade or shop-bought cheese sauce over the top along with grated cheese and pop in the oven for 10 minutes, or until the top gets crispy.

9. Put vegetables on to boil

20 minutes before serving

Make sure you have plenty of boiling water and put on your vegetables to boil for at least 10-20 mins. Try and put them on a medium heat so they are simmering, meaning they don’t cook too quickly, so you have time to take things out of the oven and serve up.

10. Make gravy

15 minutes before serving

Ready-mix gravy is available as standard, but you could try and make your own if you’re feeling up to the challenge! This involves taking some of the fat off the turkey or other meat you happen to be cooking, mixing it with stock, flour and gravy browning to thicken.

11. Carve Turkey

10 minutes before serving

Hopefully your Turkey should now be ready to serve, but it’s worth checking using a knife to check if the juices are running clear or you can use a thermometer (check that it is over 70C for more than 2 minutes). Once you’re happy with that, carefully remove from the oven and carve so you have enough for all your guests.

12. Strain vegetables and serve up


Strain all of your vegetables with a colander and make sure you split them evenly so you have enough for all of your guests. You can also start serving the rest of your Christmas dinner so make sure you have enough plates out. There you have it – Christmas dinner complete!

Spread the cost of your Christmas shop

If you’re thinking of doing your Christmas shop soon and would like to spread the cost, you could use a 0% purchase credit card. This will help you combine the cost of food, presents and any other Christmas expenses and pay off the total over a few months, rather than all at once. Use the link below to start your comparison journey through moneymatcher. Good luck!