Christmas dinner is arguably the most important meal of the year. It’s a celebration, a time for the family to come together and share a special meal. But there’s no getting away from it, cooking all the elements of the Christmas dinner perfectly and getting everything ready at the same time is a stressful exercise!

If you’ve suffered a nerve-shredding Christmas Day in the kitchen before, help is at hand! Here are some useful tips that will ensure that next time it falls on you to serve up a generous spread on 25 December, you’ll sail through it like a pro.

1. Plan ahead

This may seem obvious, but you’d be amazed how much easier serving a delicious Christmas dinner is if you make a proper plan that covers numbers, portions and ingredients. Having a good idea of how much to serve will mean you save money when it comes to doing your big festive food shop.

2. Do you really need a super-size turkey?

A beautifully roasted turkey is a wonderful thing, but think about how many people you’ll have to feed on the day – if there six to eight people sitting round the table, then you don’t need a 6kg turkey, so make sure you buy the right-size turkey for the table. Eating turkey dishes throughout the festive period is pretty soul-destroying, too, so opt for a small bird, or consider buying a turkey crown instead, which will still give everyone lots of tasty, juicy white meat.

3. Save time on the side dishes

Everyone loves the trimmings as much as the turkey, but there is an awful lot of them! Roast potatoes, sprouts, stuffing, pigs in blankets, gravy, bread sauce – all require prepping, cooking and serving, and you may find you run out of room in your oven and hob very quickly. One great time-saver is fluffy roast potatoes from McCain – they don’t need peeling or par-boiling, so that’s two jobs saved at once!

4. Cook ahead

One great tip to save stress on the big day is to cook part of the Christmas dinner ahead of time. Making gravy is a good one to get out of the way ahead of time – if you’re cooking a roast chicken in the run-up to Christmas, you can make a delicious gravy from the leftovers, freeze it, then you’ll have it ready and waiting on Christmas Day. Your vegetables can all be cooked ahead of time, too, then reheated on the day.

5. Use foil trays

When you have several things to cook at the same time, you’ll be amazed how quickly the pots and pans pile up. One simple solution is to use foil trays. They are incredibly handy things to have around the kitchen at Christmas time. You can get jumbo-sized ones that will fit a decent-sized turkey, as well as smaller versions for roasting and reheating veg. And the best bit? Once you’re done, you screw them up, throw them away, and there’s less washing up to be done!

6. Microwave your Christmas pudding

It may not be the traditional way of doing it, but you’ll save a lot of time and effort by microwaving your Christmas pudding, as opposed to steaming it. Steaming a Christmas pudding is all well and good, but you need to keep checking that the water hasn’t boiled dry, and you need to keep the heat low – in short, it’s quite a labour-intensive exercise. Some may turn their nose up at using a microwave, but trust us – it is worth it! A Christmas pudding will only take 5-10 minutes to cook in the microwave, leaving you to enjoy the main course without dashing back and forth to the kitchen.

7. You don’t have to cook everything from scratch

There may be a few domestic gods and goddesses who are able to knock up a Christmas dinner for 24 without batting an eyelid, but I’ve never met one! It’s absolutely fine to buy a few dishes ready-made, such as the stuffing or cranberry sauce. People are not going to complain, given all the trouble you’ve gone to to put a delicious feast on the table. Look for good deals in the shops in the run-up to Christmas, and stock up!

8. Make a list of timings…and stick to it

Cooking a Christmas dinner from scratch may seem daunting, but if you have all your timings written down beforehand, it should go like clockwork. Make sure the turkey goes in on time – you don’t want hungry guests twiddling their thumbs at 8pm! – and tick each dish off as you go, so that nothing gets missed. Simple!

If you follow these eight tips, you should have a relaxing, enjoyable Christmas dinner. Remember that even if the odd thing doesn’t quite go to plan, you should still enjoy the day. And don’t feel bad about roping in family members to help. You’ve done all the hard work in preparing and cooking the food, so let others serve and clear up afterwards. Merry Christmas!