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This Christmas Day Simple Menu Plan summarises a basic Christmas lunch we prepared one year. It catered for 13 adults and six kids.

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When I’m hosting Christmas Day lunch at our home, I set aside time in the weeks leading up to it for making a dedicated menu plan for the big day. Planning the food in advance means you have time to play with. You can choose some foods in advance and spread out the workload. If extended family are coming over, you can also incorporate their contributions into your plan. It could be that Granny makes the Christmas pudding and Nana brings the brandy butter, and so on. Including relatives’ specialties in the menu plan not only decreases your workload, but also helps to build on Christmas traditions.

Once you’ve decided on your menu plan, you can allocate tasks across preceding weeks. Table 1 shows what the cooking plan for our Christmas Day menu looked like.

Table 1: Christmas cooking plan

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Tip: Enjoying Christmas Day

Christmas Day is such an exciting time for kids. In my early years of parenting I tried to keep all my usual rules and routines in place on Christmas Day. This would either see me pulling my hair out — as I found it impossible to get the kids to follow their normal routines — or the little ones crying because they were unhappy about having to do things they didn’t want to. Most often it was a combination of both.

Five years down the track I grew a little wiser. Christmas is one very special day of the year and, for the family to enjoy it as much as possible, I needed to relax everything a little and take a different approach to the day. Here’s how we celebrate Christmas now.

Include time for resting

It’s possible for us to have every weekend fully booked in the lead-up to Christmas. This takes its toll not only on me, but the kids as well. I’ve started booking time out on the calendar for the family before Christmas to rest and catch our breath. Running into Christmas Day being tired reduces my ability to cope with the challenges a large family celebration can — and very often does — throw my way.

Discuss Christmas Day

We have a chat with the kids a couple of days before Christmas about what’s planned for the day. We talk to them about where we’re going, what we’re doing, who will be there and our expectations of the kids.

Allow yourself time to enjoy the day

I try to remember Christmas is a family event and allow others to help in the preparation. This is another bonus to advance planning: I can easily delegate tasks to others earlier so I know they’re taken care of. As it gets closer, I can involve my husband and kids. Even if they can’t help with the cooking, they can help with things such as cleaning and gift wrapping. Two jobs I always delegate to my husband are:

checking there are enough drinks. Make sure there are enough alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks for everyone and that we have the facilities for keeping them cool. We only have one fridge, so this generally means filling an esky with ice the night before. With the drinks out of the fridge, I have space to store more pre-prepared food.

checking the electronics. Make sure the video and still cameras are charged and have plenty of memory. We always take heaps of footage and photos throughout the day, so it’s great to have them ready to go the night before.

Invoke the Christmas Day rule

On Christmas Day the kids can eat anything they want, when they want for the entire day. My family love to have lots of treats on Christmas Day and it had become tiresome to keep track of what the kids were eating. It surprised me how restrained the kids can be. They also know Boxing Day is detox day and that it’s back to healthy eating again.

Be flexible with routines

It can be incredibly difficult to take a toddler away from family, toys and food for an afternoon nap. In recent years, I’ve let the toddler fall asleep on my lap as I sit and talk with family. Or, other times, I’ve let them keep going and put them to bed an hour or two earlier at the end of the day. Either way, increasing my flexibility increased the enjoyment of the day for both of us.

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