Do-ahead Christmas dinner: 10 tips for preparing your food early

Leah Hyslop
All done: take the stress out of Christmas with our top tips - Alamy

We all know the feeling. It's Christmas Day, but rather than enjoying a glass of wine or catching up with family, you're peeling carrots, boiling Brussels sprouts, and hoping you'll have time to get the bread sauce out of your hair before the turkey needs basting.

Dinner will, of course, taste delicious – but by the time you sit down to it, you'll be so exhausted you'll barely have the strength to pull a cracker.

With a little pre-planning, such chaos can be a ghost of Christmas past. At the end of the day, remember, Christmas dinner is just a roast – and there are plenty of elements in a roast that can be prepared days, if not weeks, ahead.

1. Gravy

You can make a deliciousChristmas gravy long before the main event. Simply freeze it in a container, and defrost on the day. You can then add the juices from your Christmas turkey to it just before serving.

Recipe: Stephen Harris's ultimate gravy recipe, which can be made ahead

2. Stuffing

Stuffing freezes well – you can even freeze it in an oven dish, so once it's defrosted, you can pop the dish straight into the oven. Some people go so far as to cook the stuffing before freezing, so on the day it only requires warming up: a good idea when oven space is at a premium.

Recipe: Stevie Parle's Middle Eastern stuffing

3. Red cabbage

Credit: Tara Fisher

Braised red cabbage is one of those foods that actually improves its flavour over time, so it’s well worth making in advance. It will keep a few days in the fridge, and reheats brilliantly.

Recipe: Diana Henry’s braised red cabbage with blackberry jelly and spices keeps well and has a lovely festive flavour.

4. Brussels sprouts

Save time by using what chefs call “blanching and refreshing” – boil the sprouts, drop them in cold water to stop the cooking process, then the next day just reheat them in a pan or in the microwave. You can do this with most other vegetables too.

Recipe: Marcus Waering explains how to blanch and refresh Brussels in his Christmas lunch guide, and Diana Henry has delicious recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts with apples and bacon

5. Potatoes

Roast potatoes coming out of the oven

Some people parboil and freeze their potatoes to give them a headstart on Christmas Day. Personally, I like them cooked from fresh, but you can still get ahead by peeling and chopping them the night before. Keep the potatoes in a water-filled container overnight to stop them browning.

Recipe: The ultimate roast potatoes from the chef director of three-Michelin-starred Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

6. Turkey

Credit:  Michael Powell

Many turkeys are oven-ready, but if you want to do anything messy like deboning, you’ll want to get it out of the way on Christmas Eve. You can also rinse it and pat it dry, and prepare anything you’re planning on filling it with – be it stuffing or something like chopped onions and herbs. Store them in the fridge in sealed containers.

Recipe: Our ultimate guide to cooking a Christmas turkey, complete with tips, timings and side suggestions

7. Bread sauce

Nobody wants to be faffing around with sauces on Christmas Day. Bread sauce freezes well, but it also keeps for a surprisingly long time in the fridge – just make it a few days before, and you won't even need to defrost it. Cranberry sauce can also be made ahead.

Recipe: Bee Wilson's bread sauce 

8. Parsnips

You can boil your parsnips and keep them in the fridge for up to a day before, to cut down on the cooking time on Christmas Day. Alternatively, you could freeze them.

Recipe: Marcus Waering details how to make the perfect honey-glazed parsnips in his guide to Christmas lunch

9. Yorkshire puddings

Credit: Andrew Twort & Annie hudson for The Telegraph

If you’re serving Yorkshire puddings, you could make the batter a day in advance. You could also completely cook and freeze them, then, after they're defrosted, just give the puddings a quick 5-10 minutes in the oven to warm them up.

Recipe: This Yorkshire pudding recipe is foolproof

10. Desserts

Clodagh McKenna's winter berry trifle Credit:  Kirstie Young

Christmas pudding, of course, can be made months ahead: simply steam it for a few hours on Christmas Day till reheated. Make sure any other desserts are simple and don’t require oven space. Cold desserts that can be made ahead and served straight away, like a chocolate mousse or a frozen dessert, are ideal.

Recipe: Try Diana Henry's marmalade Queen of puddings for plum-pudding haters, or Clodagh McKenna's winter berry trifle with crème de cassis

For the classic Christmas pudding, try Stephen Harris's recipe