Holiday Dinner Timeline

Holiday Dinner Timeline

Make holiday cooking manageable with this “less-stress” timeline.

Jennifer Brule

1 Week out: Check Menu and Clean Fridge
Has your cousin become vegan? Did your best friend’s husband find out that he’s got a gluten allergy? Your menu can highlight tried-and-true family favorites, while also having plenty of delicious alternative options (which will be greatly appreciated by those with dietary restrictions). For instance, if you are planning on making your granny’s recipe for gizzard stuffing, consider having a vegetable rice dish as well (because not everyone likes stuffing … or gizzards). Also, clear your refrigerator of those stale condiments you opened last year and make room for all the fresh foods that are coming soon!

1 Week out Continued: Get Cooking (and Freezing)
Right now you can start your soups, bake your breads and rolls, and make your pie dough (and roll it and place into pie pans – all wrapped and stashed in the deep freeze until the day before your dinner).

5 Days out: Relish the Moment
A little something tart and tangy is great to have at the holiday table. Cranberry relish, artichoke relish and pear relish are a few options that you can make and refrigerate in an airtight container until the big day. The flavors will have time to develop, making it even better than if you made it the day of the dinner. The same goes for homemade salad dressing.

3 to 5 Days out: Thaw the Bird
If you are using a frozen turkey, now’s the time to get it into the refrigerator to begin thawing. It takes five hours per pound, so if you have a 15-pound bird, it needs to go into the fridge three days ahead. Never thaw a turkey at room temperature. Once thawed, the turkey can stay in the refrigerator for a day or two before roasting.

2 Days out: Dips and Appetizers
You want guests to have a nibble with their drinks before dinner, but don’t want them to fill up on appetizers. Offering a colorful crudité platter with assorted dips (like homemade creamy hummus, zesty Bagna Caudà, even ranch dip for the kids) will keep guests satiated, but not stuffed. Cut up loads of fresh, raw vegetables (like red bell peppers, carrots, celery, fennel bulb, radishes, artichoke hearts, golden beets, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes) and make the dips. Keep in the refrigerator until the afternoon, and then set out your raw work of art for people to graze on. Also, if you’re making your own stuffing, cube bread now and leave uncovered at room temperature to dry out.

1 Day out: Taming the Beast
Get a good night’s sleep, because this is your heaviest cooking day. Starting in the morning, if you have frozen breads, set them out on the counter to thaw. If you’ve frozen soups or pie dough, get them into the refrigerator. Prep everything that needs to be chopped, minced or shredded (including salad greens). Look over all your recipes; if you need 1/2 chopped onion for three different dishes, chop 1 1/2 cups at once and then divide into recipe-specific portions.


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Clean up the kitchen as you go (or better yet, have someone else do it). Make most sides and all casseroles today – from assembly to cooking – so that you only have to reheat tomorrow. Great candidates for reheating are: sweet potato casserole, creamed spinach, creamed pearl onions, vegetable gratins, baked stuffing and of course, green bean casserole.

The Big Day: It’s in the Bag
Bake the pies first. Set them at room temperature until dinner, unless they are custard-based (like pumpkin), in which case they need to be cooled and chilled. Figure out roasting time for the turkey. A 12- to 16-pound, unstuffed bird will take four to five hours to roast (at 325 F); the same size stuffed bird will take about a half hour to one hour longer (also: never put cold stuffing into a turkey). While the turkey is roasting, make mashed potatoes.

When the turkey comes out of the oven, move it to a serving platter and tent with aluminum foil, allowing it to rest for at least 20 minutes before carving. Turn up the oven to 375 F and reheat the casserole/gratin/side dishes – covered – until heated through and bubbly (about 20 to 30 minutes). Bring soup to a gentle simmer. Make gravy on the stove. In the last minutes, warm breads or rolls, and toss the salad.

MORE: Holiday Music Playlist

MORE: Dealing With the Stress of Family Time During the Holidays

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