Simplifying Christmas Dinner

Just in time for the holidays, this is a guest post from Robert Wall of Finding Frugality.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about Christmas dinner. Christmas is a holiday celebrated by the majority of the people in the United States, and it’s a cause of concern, stress, and unnecessary worry for probably three quarters of the general population.

There’s so much Christmas stress to think about and discuss, but for right now I’d just like to hone in on the topic of Christmas dinner.

At this point you’re probably expecting me to spout some sort of great minimalist platitude, something along the lines of “forego your usual Christmas fare, and learn to enjoy the simple beauty of a steamed turkey breast.” Yeah, that’s not me. I’m about traditional food – but that traditional food doesn’t have to stress you out.

In order to keep your stress to an absolute minimum, I’ve identified a few issues with what we’ve done with Christmas dinner, and I’d like to propose some solutions. If you’re not the one who cooks Christmas dinner for your family, read this with an eye toward lightening the load of the person who does!

The first issue with Christmas dinner is variety. Specifically, there’s too much of it. My mother is known for this – she’ll prepare ten to twelve dishes. Everybody samples a bit of each, the popular ones disappear, and she’s stuck with leftovers. Some of these are for dishes that she doesn’t want or even like, but she prepares them because she thinks other people want them. Most years a family of six could eat for a week on what she has left over from Christmas dinner.

There’s a simple solution for this. Ready?

You only make an amount of dishes and/or quantities that people have a chance of eating.

If you have six people coming, and you have ten dishes that each serve twelve, you’ve got way too much food. Even if you have twelve or thirty people coming, ten dishes is still ten separate things that you have to make. Why not double up on the stuff that everybody likes, and forego a few of the oddball ones? Get your food variety under control, and you’ll be on your way to a stress-free holiday.

The second issue with Christmas dinner is unwanted leftovers. There’s nothing wrong with leftovers, except when you have a three-quart casserole dish full of a green bean casserole that Aunt Mildred absolutely loves – but nobody else within a ten-mile radius will even consider eating. I propose a new rule:

You don’t make any dish that you personally won’t eat as a leftover.

If Aunt Mildred loves the green bean casserole, give her a call. Tell her that you’ve got a lot going on this Christmas, and ask her if she could lighten your load by making the green bean casserole for you. That way she brings it, and it’s her responsibility to haul it off at the end of the day.

The third issue with Christmas dinner is that it’s not planned organically.

No, I don’t mean that you need to go to the organic market to buy things. I mean that planning Christmas dinner should be a nice quiet area alongside the stream of normal meal planning – not a sudden whirlpool in the middle of an ocean where you’re lost without an engine or navigational equipment.

Some cooking practice throughout the rest of the year will translate nicely into Christmas dinner success. And some advance planning will allow you to easily deal with the miscellanous leftover items. Let’s look at a few options:

  • Leftover meats can go into soups, or be used on sandwiches. Turkey can go into chicken noodle soup or vegetable soup. Or you can add some southwestern spices and turn it into burritos. Ham goes great in bean soups, or cut up into some macaroni & cheese.
  • Leftover potatoes freeze well, for quite a long time. You could even double or triple your potato recipe (provided you have the cooking space) with the intention of not having to make mashed potatoes for the next several months. Or you can mix some leftover potatoes with an egg or two (to bind them together) and fry them up as potato patties.
  • Leftover gravy can be served later in the week over meat, or on leftover potatoes. You can even chop up some turkey into the gravy if you like. This is really good over potatoes!
  • Leftover stuffing can be frozen with some meat and potatoes for a homemade TV dinner.
  • Leftover vegetables can go into soups or stews. Even if you served them with butter, adding a little flour gives you the base of a roux, which is the base of a thick stew or chowder.

The idea is to have a plan for what you’re going to do with leftovers before you have them.

The fourth issue with Christmas dinner is trying to do too much yourself.

You know what you’re capable of. You know what you can put together, and what you can’t. Figure out a base amount that you can do, and find appropriate ways to divide labor.

Maybe there’s a child or a grandchild that’s getting to the age where they can do some of the work. Perhaps you have a friend that could come over and help you get things ready the day before.

Most importantly, don’t over-analyze things. Sure, if 8 year old Susie mashes the potatoes a few may get on the counter. There might be a couple of lumps. So what? Life will go on, I promise. Between a couple of lumps in potatoes and a ton of extra stress on my shoulders, I’ll take the lumps any day!

This time of year we need to remember that Christmas is a holiday that’s about people, family, and togetherness. Bring some of that togetherness to the kitchen, share with each other, and teach the next generation. It’s worth your time, I promise.

Robert Wall is the author of Finding Frugality – a blog dedicated to conscious living through the application of minimalism, simplicity, and good old-fashioned frugality.  If you liked this post, stop on over and check it out.


  1. Fantastic post. I am currently planning Christmas Dinner, and a priority is reducing waste. Totally agree with limiting variety. Ultimately Christmas dinner is no different to the UK’s Sunday Roast apart from Turkey being the meat choice. Do we ever remember the Christmas dinner we had last year or the year before? No in my case. There are many elements to my planning this year but this is one tip I would like to share – and it may seem rather unexciting! This year I am issuing the menu in advance, and asking for my guests to advise what they would like so I can ensure portion control. Told you – very unexciting! I will of course contingency plan and there will be extras – but as quite rightly advised it will be easily used up foodstuffs – that I anticipate can be used for Christmas supper with a variation on a theme to liven it up – Jo (simplybeingmum – family life simply done)

    1. Thanks for commenting, as always, Jo. I know Robert will be glad you did.

      I think he did a great job. And I hope he’ll guest for me again sometime. In fact, I hope you will, too.


  2. Hi Jo! Hi Gip! Yes, comments are *wonderful*, either on my blog or Gip’s! Gip, I’m definitely hoping I’ll have more good guest posts for you in the future.

    1. Robert, I don’t know why guest posts never generate many comments around here.

      I suspect people are busy this time of year doing things that the average minimalist speaks out against — like shopping for useless presents.


  3. Hi Guys – Thought I’d get another comment in – why not! Firstly thank you Gip for your reply and of course I will guest in the future – it would be an honour. Robert – the posts were great, meal planning for me is the equivalent of handbag shopping to my Big Sis! – Jo – have a great weekend y’all – we have snow – hurrah! enforced slow down for the UK! Go Snow! Yay! (Do you think I have used up my exclamation mark quota?)

    1. Jo, I’ve been hearing about the cold weather and snow in the UK. We had snow for Christmas last year — about a foot of it, something that never happens in North Texas. It made for a terrible drive on Christmas morning, but otherwise it was beautiful and nice.

      Thanks for commenting, Jo, during a slow period here on So Much More Life. I’ll do what I can to make sure things pick up in January.


  4. Hi Gip

    Everything you say about Chrismas Dinner is correct… but it’s become tradition.

    Why would any sane person eat turkey?
    It must be the driest meat you can find.

    And don’t forget the salt content of the sausages, stuffing, and the bacon covering the turkey.

    And finally the sprouts!
    When do we eat sprouts other than at Christmas?

    Having said all that…
    I shall still be having a traditional Christmas dinner this year.
    Like I said… it’s tradition. LOL

    Merry Christmas Gip.

    1. Thanks for the comments, Keith. I’m glad you enjoyed Robert’s guest post.

      I actually like turkey. It’s only dry when it’s prepared poorly. Now, sprouts… I’m not interested in those at all!

      Thanks for joining the conversation, Keith.

  5. Pingback: The Bright Light At The End Of Dinner – Souper Leftovers
  6. I can honestly say I’ve never had bacon covering a turkey, and I’ve never had sprouts for Christmas. Although we did have some really bad egg rolls one year (for reasons that are altogether unclear to me, even to this day). Do those count? 🙂

    My thoughts on Christmas dinner revolve around trying to strike a nice balance between tradition and sanity. There’s so many things we do, just because “we’ve always done that.”

    Sometimes it’s nice to step back and think for a minute. Thanks for commenting Keith – Merry Christmas!

  7. Hi Robert

    My apologies for addressing my previous comment to Gip, I missed that it was a guest post.

    Love your comment “strike a nice balance between tradition and sanity.”
    It can be difficult to break away from tradition… especially as we get older.

    Merry Christmas to you Rob and a very prosperous New Year.

    BTW – try covering your turkey with bacon – stops it being so dry.

    1. Thanks for stepping back in, Robert, and responding to Keith.

      Keith, I’m really glad to have you here. I hope you’re already subscribed to get RSS or email updates from So Much More Life. We say lots of useful and interesting things around here!

Comments are closed.