Keep cool in the kitchen this festive season

Yes, it’s the most wonderful time of year, but Christmas also happens to be the most stressful. It just is. Last-minute gift shopping, visiting family and friends, and the added pressure of cooking a Christmas dinner all add up to equal portions stress and anxiety.

It seems so obvious, but most people tend to forget one crucial element when it comes to festive season preparation: you need to start early. Early is the cure for a lot of unnecessary headaches. Early keeps you calm when disaster strikes. Early soothes your nerves in the run-up to the big day.

Starting early takes some planning, but the rewards could mean the difference between a Christmas to remember, or one you (and your family) would rather forget. But what if you’re not one of those “to-do list” or “backup plan” types? Fear not, with this handy guide, you’ll be well prepared for any situation.

Three weeks before Christmas

Guest list time. Don’t wait too long to get a grip on who’s attending your shindig. Invite your guests at least three weeks before (you probably should have already). People need to book travel in advance, and you never know if family members have other ideas this Christmas. It’s best to start the conversation early and work from there.

While you’re at it, ask your guests to bring something along to manage costs. A bottle of wine per person goes a long way to saving some cash during a notoriously expensive time of year. Keep track of your invitees (and what they will bring along) in a Google Doc or journal.

Think about your menu, and buy the ingredients that can already be frozen. Shopping malls and grocery stores get crazier and crazier every year during Christmas season. Save yourself the frustration by thinking about your menu now, and buying and storing some of your ingredients well in advance.

You can even pre-prepare things like chicken stock, and store it in a plastic container in the freezer. Just remember to label your meals to avoid confusion when the big day comes. Toss whatever’s taking up too much room in your freezer. If you haven’t used it in months, it’s unlikely you ever will.

Remember to stock up on drinks too. Minimise your trips to the store by buying what you need in bulk.

One Week before Christmas

Make your music playlists, start drawing up your table setting, take stock of your crockery and glasses, and buy whatever extras you need. Also think about purchasing extra take-home containers so your guests can take leftovers home. There’s always something left, right?

It’s also a good idea to start spring-cleaning your space. Break up the work into manageable sessions, it will make things more bearable. And double check that your appliances are working as they should. The last thing you need is for the oven to break with a pack of hungry guests in your home.

Two days before Christmas

Start prepping, chopping, and doing anything else that can be done in advance. Look at your lists, and do your last-minute grocery runs. Soon you won’t be able to venture far from your own kitchen for long.

Then, think about creating a cooking schedule. Whether you’re keeping it small or planning a 7 course feast – it’s helpful to plan out your courses and preparation times to avoid surprises.

One day before Christmas

If you have a roast, how is it coming along? Have you taken it out of the freezer yet? Do you have the right seasoning at hand? Should you be preparing it already? Do as much cooking as you can the day before Christmas. Use your time wisely, so you can enjoy the following day too.

Christmas Day!

You have planned, prepared, bought and set up everything you need. You have more than enough drinks, your side dishes are ready to go, your meat is in the oven, and your guests are having a ball. Pour a glass of red, and watch the compliments roll in. This year, you’ve owned Christmas. Enjoy yourself!