Use your precious time where it’s most needed this holiday season.

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After hosting holiday gatherings of all sizes for more than three decades, I've learned a lot about how to make the best evening for everyone while not killing myself in the process. Part of that plan is always to be clear about what I should make from scratch and what I should buy. For Christmas dinners, you always have extra pressure for things to be special, and that means that while you can certainly fill in with some store-bought helpers, certain things really should be made from scratch.

Turkey
Credit: Getty / Thomas Barwick

Here are the 6 Christmas dishes that you should make, not buy. Trust me -- they're worth the effort. 

Holiday Ham with Apricot Glaze
Credit: Alison Miksch; Styling: Caroline M. Cunningham

Christmas ham

It is so easy to grab a spiral sliced wonder with the packet of brown sugar glaze and just reheat. But if ham is the centerpiece of your meal, not to mention the key leftover for the days to come for post-holiday sandwiches, it is worthwhile to make the extra effort. Spiral sliced hams tend to dry out when you reheat them, and pre-sliced meat spoils faster than whole cuts. Buy a whole or half ham, on the bone, from your local butcher. Make a killer glaze and watch your family swoon.

Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy
Credit: Tara Donne; Styling: Alistair Turnbull

Gravy

If you do a Christmas turkey, you know that a great gravy makes it extra. Those jars and cans always feel like a great time-saver, but they always do taste canned. Instead, make the gravy from scratch, but make it ahead! Gravy freezes beautifully, so lean into that time-saver without losing homemade flavor. Buy and roast some turkey wings, necks, or drumsticks to get the drippings you need as the base for your stock and make that gravy anytime between now and the week before the holiday. Just reheat gently. 

Get the recipe: Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy

Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes Recipe
Credit: Southern Living

Potatoes

From mashed to scalloped to a cheesy casserole, potatoes are not the place to save time and energy. Potatoes are just always better made fresh, and while many recipes can be prepped ahead, be sure to cook the day of. Leftover potatoes are delicious, but they do always taste like leftovers. 

Green Bean Casserole
Credit: Caitlin Bensel

Green vegetables

Whatever your family tradition calls for -- that green bean casserole, roasted Brussels sprouts, or braised collards -- make it from scratch. Christmas dinner traditionally is a rich and heavy meal, and the vegetables are there to bring bright balance. Store-bought, frozen, or pre-prepped are always going to taste a bit pale.

Get the recipe: Green Bean Casserole

Hugh's Southern Mac and Cheese
Credit: Iain Bagwell; Styling: Annette Joseph

Pasta

Whether you have Italian traditions centered around lasagna or a Southern mac and cheese on your buffet, these are definitely going to be better if you make them from scratch. Most pastas can be prepped ahead, especially casseroles, so do the hard part in advance and then bake off the day of for all that decadent indulgence.

Double Apple Pie With Cornmeal Crust
Credit: Beth Dreiling Hontzas; Styling: Lisa Powell Bailey

Fruit pies

From apple to cherry, if a fruit pie is part of your family dessert table, unless you are sourcing from an artisanal bakery, make these from scratch. Grocery store fruit pies almost always rely on processed fillings, and the crusts get limp and rubbery. Need that shortcut? Go semi-homemade! Buy a good quality store-bought crust and make the filling from scratch.