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Christmas dinner timeline and tips

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With just two weeks left until Christmas Eve, many parents are hard at work planning for the big day. Whether you will be hosting the whole extended family or just a few friends, everyone can use a few tips to save time.

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Unlike Thanksgiving, there are many tasks to accomplish for Christmas before you begin meal planning. As you finish gift shopping and wrapping, it's time to begin planning your holiday lunch or dinner.

Some families prefer turkey for the main dish, some prefer ham and others opt for heavy appetizers instead of a big dinner. Choose whatever works best for your family.

At Allrecipes.com, you will find many recipes for baked ham and a variety of ham glazes including Honey Glazed Ham and Slow Cooker Ham.

You'll find Christmas cooking tips at Butterball.com. From calculators that show how much turkey, stuffing and other fixings you need to thawing and roasting instructions, Christmas is easy with Butterball.

Your frozen turkey should be thawed completely before roasting. If thawing in the refrigerator, allow 24 hours per five pounds. You can avoid worrying about thawing by purchasing a fresh turkey.

Planning ahead for Christmas lunch or dinner helps to ease some of the stress of cooking for a big crowd. Before the big day, here are some tips to help.

Decide whether your meal will be formal or casual. If you will be opening gifts while eating, it may be more practical to opt for finger foods instead of a big meal.

Try to get a final head count at least a week before Christmas. This will help you know if you need to borrow an extra table or chairs.

Check for table linens before buying new items. If you're organized, this won't be a problem. For many of us, the stacks of boxes in the basement make it a little trickier.

If you are planning to add any special Christmas decor items that aren't already on display, bring them out of storage now to make your table and home more festive.

Check your dinnerware to make sure you have enough plates and glasses. Your group's size may have increased since last year and you may need to pull out more of each or borrow some dishes or silverware.

Make sure you have enough serving dishes and serving spoons for all of the sides you plan to cook. If you plan to use a roaster or crockpot for any of the dishes you're cooking, pull it out of storage.

Check with any guests who will be bringing food to make sure you don't have duplicates. Check to see if any of your guests have food allergies or foods they don't eat.

If there are children in the group, plan some kid-friendly sides like macaroni and cheese, corn or peas and mashed potatoes.

Write your menu in advance and post it on the refrigerator door. Write how long each item takes to cook and you'll find it easier to know when to put each item in to cook.

Determine whether you will prepare anything in advance. Desserts are often easier to make a day ahead of time. This keeps your oven free for the turkey or ham.

Check each recipe for ingredients you need and make up a grocery list so you don't have to go to the store on Christmas Eve with the crowds.

Plan your desserts ahead of time so you don't have to go back to the grocery store for more ingredients. If you'll be buying desserts or rolls from the bakery, place your order now.

Each family has traditions and favorite foods that make the day feel more special. Of course, you may also want to try some of the new recipes you've found on Pinterest.

If you haven't heard of Pinterest, it's a website filled with pictures you can pin to virtual pinboards. Each picture links to a website where you will find the recipe, article or instructions that go with the picture.

If you type "Christmas" into the search box on Pinterest, you will come up with many pins. One of the pins I found links to Southern Living's website with 70 side dish recipes.

From sweet potato casserole to balsamic green beans and cornbread dressing to macaroni and cheese, you will surely find a new favorite recipe at this website.

If you are inviting adult children or friends, ask each family to bring one side dish. This will allow you more room in the oven and on the stove top for the items you will be cooking.

You might want to consider setting up a separate appetizer table or dessert table if you plan to serve a lot of either of these foods.

Set the table in advance and use post-it notes to mark what food goes into each serving dish. If you have help on Christmas, it will be easier to put foods out if each dish is marked.

Ask for help. It's not always easy to ask but others often want to help. Make a list of things that someone else can do and put them to work.

Christmas will be here before you know it. Make sure you're prepared. These tips should help to make your day one of family memories and not a day filled with stress.

Visit the links below to read about other helpful ideas for Christmas meal planning including menu ideas, recipes for side dishes and desserts and more.

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