Photo: Alison Miksch; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis; Food Styling: Cat Steele

Whether you're cooking for two, for a few, or for a large crowd, planning the Christmas dinner menu can be daunting. With all the excitement and busyness surrounding guests coming into town and presents under the tree, it's easy for the main meal on Christmas Day to get overlooked. Our top suggestions, broken down by how many you're serving this year, will help you nail down the perfect, achievable, and crowd-favorite recipes for your holiday feast.

Emma Crist
December 21, 2016

I know I don't have to tell you that the Christmas season is likely the most chaotic and stressful time of your entire year, because you're probably experiencing that reality first-hand right now. So let's all use that to serve as reminder to take a deep breath and relax. We're all in this together--and we're all feeling the pressure. It's easy to allow the busyness of the season to cloud your vision such that you get bogged down in the tiniest details (been there, done that), but if you can widen your scope a bit and realize that all the craziness will be over soon, you'll be able to more fully enjoy the next two weeks and be present, calm, and joyful even during the peak frenzy. After all, Christmas only comes around once a year. 

Whether you're cooking for a large crowd this year or only you and a significant other, picking out what to make can be a real struggle.  If you're still not sure and feeling like you're coming in a little late to the dinner preparation game, don't stress--you're not too late. You still have time to think through a wonderful homemade feast to serve your loved ones that doesn't require hours/days of slaving in the kitchen. Let's be honest, ain't noboy got time for that right now.

 

Christmas Dinner for Two

If you're only cooking for yourself and one other this Christmas, there's no need to go overboard. Instead of preparing all of the traditional dishes and ending up with a refrigerator full of less-than-half-eaten casseroles, focus on simple adaptations of just a few of your favorite Christmas recipes that are easily modified to serve two.

Main"Ham" for Two

Holiday ham leftovers can take days or weeks to finish off even among a family of four or more. Instead of going whole hog on the ham, treat a basic 1-pound pork tenderloin just as a ham would be. The result is a traditionally cured, brown-sugar-coated "ham," that's perfect for two, made in just one day. It even comes out pink! Here's how to make it:

Side: Brussels Sprouts with Crisp Prosciutto

Sure, Brussels sprouts on the stove aren't practical when serving a large crowd and trying to get a piping-hot meal on the table, but it's perfect when you're only cooking for two. This simple, 4-ingredient recipe calls for bright lemon juice, crisp prosciutto, and warm butter.

Photo: Amy Neunsinger

SideRoasted Sweet Potatoes

Rather than preparing an entire sweet potato casserole that you'll hardly make a dent in, cube as many sweet potatoes as the two of you will eat and roast them along with a handful of delicious, holiday-centric flavors like ginger, nutmeg, and brown sugar. The brown sugar and butter in this dish are reminiscent of traditional sweet potato casserole, but feel free to cut back on the amount of both ingredients if you want to save some calories for dessert. 

Side: Mascarpone-Chive Mashed Potatoes

You didn't think I'd suggest get skipping the potatoes, did you? Mashed potatoes are a staple during the holidays, and they're easily adjusted to serve a couple--just use less potatoes. This recipe is an absolute dream--mascarpone, chives, and milk lend rich, creamy depth.

 

Christmas Dinner for a Few: 

If you're cooking for a few of your dearest family and friends this Christmas, maybe you can afford to splurge a little. Here's what we suggest cooking for an elegant meal that doesn't require too much hands-on prep.

Perfect Roasted Beef Tenderloin image

Photo: Alison Miksch; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis; Food Styling: Cat Steele

MainPerfect Roasted Beef Tenderloin

An elegant Christmas affair calls for beef tenderloin, and this particular recipe is pure magic. It's our flawless go-to for the ultimate roast beef experience.

Side: Lemon-Garlic Green Beans

Skipping the casserole for a small-ish crowd doesn't mean you need to resort to boring green beans. Instead, serve this bright and snappy lemon-garlic version. It might just become your new standard recipe. Note: To serve for two, cut the recipe back to 1/2-3/4 pounds of fresh green beans.

Oxmoor House

SideBrowned Butter Mashed Potatoes

Fact: Browned-butter anything is always better. This 5-star recipes adds a heavenly toasty rich taste and aroma to traditional mashed potatoes. It feels special and elegant for serving an intimate group but doesn't add anything to the typical cook time--this dish will be ready in just 35 minutes.

SideRoasted Cauliflower with Fresh Herbs and Parmesan

Use Parmesan and any fresh herbs you have on hand for this roasted cauliflower dish. While parsley, tarragon, and thyme make a nice combination, you can also try sage, chives, and rosemary for this holiday-perfect recipe.

Photo: Mary Britton Senseney/Wonderful Machine; Styling: Mary Clayton Carl

SideButter-Pecan Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Classic holiday essentials like buttery sweet potatoes and toasty pecans combine in this creamy side that delivers a sweet familiar taste in every bite. This straightforwrad recipe serves 4 and comes together in just 15 minutes so you can focus on your amazing main dish.

 

Christmas Dinner for a Large Crowd:

When preparing a meal for a large crowd, casseroles and large-yielding recipes are your best friends. But just because you're making casseroles doesn't mean you have resort to using cans on cans.

MainSlow-Cooker Turkey & Dressing

Slow cook your way to Christmas dinner for a crowd with this savory turkey and dressing. Simmering for 5 hours in butter, onion, celery, and cranberries, this dish is a flavorful and tender treat for your tastebuds.

Potluck meals are popular during the holidays because they allow guests to bring their favorite foods to the table.

With just 7 ingredients, this five-star holiday must-have is both irresistible and easy. Plus, it can be prepared a day ahead and baked in your host's oven; it's also delicious whether warm or at room temperature.

 Recipe: Traditional Sweet Potato Casserole

SideTraditional Sweet Potato Casserole

There's nothing wrong with traditions, and that is especially true of the crowd-favorite sweet potato casserole. This recipe serves 16, so you should be fine with just one casserole dish--assuming there are some other side options on your table too. Adding marshmallows makes it especially kid-friendly, but feel free to skip them completely if that's not your thing.

Side: Green Bean Casserole

Go beyond the standard “recipe on the can” casserole by adding alfredo sauce instead of cream of mushroom soup, water chestnuts, Parmesan cheese, and toasted pecans.

Photo: Jonny Valiant; Styling: Deborah Williams

Side: Wild Rice Dressing with Roasted Chestnuts and Cranberries

The nutty, delicately earthy flavor of wild rice pairs beautifully with poultry, and this colorful dressing is a consistent crowd-favorite. 

SideSmoky Sweet Potato Mashed Potato Bake

Turn basic buttermilk mashed potatoes into outstanding a Smoky Sweet Potato Mashed Potato Bake with the simple addition of sweet potatoes and chipotle peppers. The peppers lend a smoky kick to this vibrant potato dish. Finishing this recipe in the oven ensures that you can serve the casserole dish piping-hot straight from the oven to your guests.

SideEasy Butter Rolls

There's no better way to round out the plate than with a warm, pillowy, and buttery dinner roll. This recipe is make-ahead friendly, so you can prep the rolls well ahead of time and simply bake them a few hours before eating.

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