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How to plan family Christmas dinner

How to plan family Christmas dinner

If you’ve been put in charge of organising or helping with Christmas dinner for family and friends, there’s no need to panic just yet. Getting started early makes planning Christmas dinner a stress-free and enjoyable process.1 Start organising the different elements of your party early and make the most of your available resources so you can keep to a sensible budget and be free to enjoy the festive celebrations on the day.

1. Budgeting and financing the dinner

Budgeting and financing your Christmas dinner can add financial strain during a time when you’re already splurging on Christmas gifts for the kids and grandkids. If money is tight, set your budget well ahead of time and start putting aside some money every week for the entertaining expenses.1

Your budget should take into account food, drink, decorations, equipment and furniture hire (for big parties) and all other expenses. Set your budget and work backwards to find out where you might be able to compromise, to stay within your costing estimates. Creative ways to save include using seasonal produce, watching out for specials, and preparing your own nibbles.1

You can even ask guests and family members to bring a plate each or assign responsibilities such as dessert, bread, and salad to different people.2 Ask guests to bring their own wine and drinks. Christmas is about enjoying time together as a family, so everyone should be happy to chip in.

2. Theme and decorations

Christmas is the obvious aesthetic at your dinner but you can liven things up by choosing a theme and letting guests know about it so they can come in costume. For example, you could have a quintessentially English theme or a ’70s or ’80s theme. Ballroom, Winter Wonderland, and Santa’s Workshop are other themes that can make your Christmas dinner both memorable and fun.

Decorate your house with posters, lighting, flowers, and other festive elements that match the theme. All of these visual decorations will take your festive celebrations to the next level of fun.

3. Preparing the food and drink

If you’re having your Christmas dinner professionally catered for or eating out at a restaurant, you won’t need to worry about food preparation. If you’re preparing the food yourself and following a budget, it is better to start preparing sooner rather than later. Planning early lets you take advantage of food specials before the price of Christmas essentials such as turkey, chicken, and ham start to rise. These items freeze well, so if you see them on special stock up and fill your freezer ahead of time.

When budgeting, you’ll have thought about your Christmas menu. Make sure you have a detailed list of entrees, nibbles, drinks, sides, main course, and desserts, so you know exactly what to buy. Alongside the menu, write down the ingredients you’ll need for each item.1

Work out what you can prepare well in advance (for example, pastry, stock, and sauces freeze well) to minimise the work you have to do in the days leading up to the dinner. If each family member is doing something, work out a way to divide up the menu items into individual tasks and let them know what they’re responsible for.1

Consider also how the food should be served on the day. Whether it’s a casual self-serve buffet or a sit-down meal with five courses, you should have some idea about how everyone will be served.

4. Music and entertainment

Even a casual Christmas dinner needs some entertainment.3 Think about what music you’ll be playing and ask the kids or grandkids to prepare a digital music player or CD with suitable music in the spirit of Christmas. Your entertainment options could be as simple as a Christmas-themed movie that every can watch together after dinner, or it could be as fancy as live performers. Games such as casino tables, pool, jumping castles, or murder mystery kits for parties can keep the adults, grandkids, and friends entertained for hours.

5. Send out the invitations

Don’t forget to let everyone know about the time of your dinner so they can bookmark it in their diaries as early as possible. You could send out email invitations, formal invitations, or just call everyone to let them know. If you’re having a themed Christmas dinner, make sure you note that in your invitation.3

6. Set out the table plan

A table plan will be essential if you have a big guest list.3 If it’s not an informal family gathering and you have over 50 guests for example, arrange your table plan ahead of time and make sure people are seated appropriately. A detailed table plan will ensure everyone gets a seat and everyone can be served in a timely and organised manner.3 Print out name cards for each setting and tape up a big table plan poster so guests can find their seats easily.

7. Assign roles

Assign family members and other guests to roles (with their permission, of course). For example, there might someone in charge of serving food, looking after the children, and taking photos. Big Christmas dinners can become disorganised quickly, so assigning a role to each adult enables you to make sure everything is taken care of.2

8. Print out a checklist

Your checklist will help you stay organised on the night of the dinner and remind you of all the things you need to do, and when you need to do them by.3 Your checklist can be arranged according to time, so you’re reminded one week before the dinner that you should start shopping for the ingredients and getting the decorations together, and so on. Your checklist should also have a Christmas Day section where you list out all the things to be taken care of – whether by you or by other family members or guests – on the day.

Staying on top of your Christmas planning will ensure that you get to make the most of the festive season and enjoy a hassle-free Christmas day with friends and family. Remember, Christmas dinner doesn’t need to blow the budget. If you plan ahead, purchase food on special and have everyone contribute a little something, you will have a wonderful Christmas dinner without breaking the bank.


  1. Christmas – tips to reduce the stressBetter Health Channel
  2. 9 Ways to Save Money on Christmas DinnerFrugal and Thriving
  3. Christmas Parties: 18 Steps to Planning the Christmas Partyeventjuice