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Christmas can be a wonderful occasion, but the planning for it can often cause stress and financial worry for the people involved. Therefore, in order to try and allow you the most relaxing time with your family, I’ve come up with a series of articles about how to plan ahead for the many and varied aspects of creating a lovely Christmas for you, your family and your friends.
This time, I’m going to take a look at a few ideas for taking control of all the food that’s involved at Christmas, including the meal for the big day itself as well as the time either side of it.
1. Pre-order your turkey (or whatever meat you’re having)
Most supermarkets and butchers will let you do this any time from November onwards. You may have to pay a small deposit (which will be deducted from the balance once you pay for the meat upon collection), but it does give you time, if needed, to save up the remaining cost. It also means that you won’t be panicked into buying the meat well in advance and having to store it for days (most freezers would struggle to accommodate a large family turkey). Even better, you won’t be worrying about missing out altogether because the shops have sold out. If cooking just isn’t your thing, you can also pre-order other elements of a traditional Christmas meal as well, though be aware that you’re likely to pay a premium for things like ready-prepared roast potatoes and ready-chopped vegetables.
2. If you’re catering for a large group, ask others to contribute
I don’t just mean financially, although of course that might be appropriate as well. Ask other members of the party to take charge of the starter, the pudding, the nibbles, the vegetables, the drinks - whatever would make your life a little bit more manageable. People are often very glad to be asked to help out, especially if it means everyone gets more of a chance to have fun and spend time together on the day.
3. Look out for supermarket offers, especially on alcohol
A lot of us like to have a drink or two around Christmas time, but alcohol can be very expensive and if you’re aiming to perhaps provide enough for a party with friends as well as a Christmas meal with family, it can soon add up to a huge drinks bill. Keep your eyes out for supermarket offers in the run-up to Christmas as most of them will have some decent promotions. Remember that regardless of any other offers, the stores will have a permanent discount that applies if you buy in bulk, so work out the total number of bottles you think you’ll need rather than buying it multiple separate transactions.
4. Prepare as much of the Christmas meal beforehand as possible
The chances are good that the weather will be cold enough to store certain things outside or in the garage, and pre-peeled vegetables can be placed in pans, then covered with water and kept overnight as well. Jamie Oliver has a great recipe for gravy (you can find it here), which can be prepared days or weeks in advance and then just finished off on the day.
5. Make your Christmas cake (or Christmas pudding) beforehand
These two treats are traditionally made well in advance of Christmas Day anyway, so take advantage of that fact and get started sooner rather than later to ensure that you can put your feet up nearer the time. Here are a couple of tried and tested recipes to follow to get you started: Christmas cake and Christmas pudding)
6. Plan the schedule for Christmas Day meticulously
Be realistic about how many people may or may not be helping you and make sure you’re aware of the capabilities of your own personal cooking equipment (many a comedy sketch has been formed around a turkey that doesn’t fit into the oven!). Set out clear timings for when things need to go in, and come out of, the oven and remember to allow for resting time, carving, etc. Tick things off as you work through your list and keep a timer or two handy as well.
7. Plan to use leftovers
No matter how accurate you are at calculating quantities for your guests, you’re bound to have some leftovers hanging around after the Christmas Day feast. Don’t plan anything extravagant for meals for a day or two afterwards and just enjoy some delicious sandwiches (or soups, if you fancy making them) to use up what’s already there.
8. Have some other simple meals around the Christmas period
For the sake of your time, your wallet and everyone’s stomachs, it’s often wise to include a few simple meals to eat at this time. There will be so much rich food and so many sweets and other nibbles around that you many well find that you’re begging for a simple toasted cheese sandwich, or a baked potato with salad. Don’t feel you have to cater to dinner party standards every night!
9. Plan your meals for over the Christmas period
This should mean that you’ll be able to avoid braving the supermarkets to do more than one huge shop, although you may well have to pop out for bread and milk a couple of times. Planning ahead to excessive food shopping trips may take a little time at the outset, but is likely to result in a much happier Christmas for everyone involved.
10. Don’t feel you need to include a lot of puddings in your plans!
For all but the sweetest toothed among us, there will usually so many sweet treats lying around that there’s no way we’d need a pudding as well. Make a store of festive mince pies a week or so beforehand (here’s a handy recipe) then forget about it!