Holiday dinners tend to come with this pressure to be special. And while special doesn’t necessarily mean fussy, it can be overwhelming to try to live up to those expectations. You start by planning out each part of your meal: Will there be appetizers? Are you making cocktails or just drinking wine, soda, or water? What kind of food do you want to eat, anyway? Then you have to find recipes, write up a grocery list—and that’s all before you even get to the actual cooking. Even if it’s just Christmas dinner for two, it can feel like a lot really quickly.
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Holiday dinners can absolutely be both special and easy. Especially if you’re keeping celebrations close to home and smaller than you maybe otherwise would, I would argue they should be easy. To help with your planning this year, we’ve pulled together eight different Christmas dinner menus that will set your meal apart from the usual workweek fare without leaving you feeling like you’re in way over your head—because no one needs that kind of stress this time of year.
Cranberry Rosemary Chicken with Kale Salad and Champagne Spritzer
Side: Kale Salad with Lemon Dressing
Main: Cranberry Rosemary One-Pan Chicken
Cocktail: Pomegranate Champagne Spritzer
With rich colors of red and green, this menu will make your holiday table feel extra festive. The main dish comes together using a single baking dish, so post-meal cleanup will be super easy. You can even marinate the chicken in the fridge overnight to cut down on prep time the day of. If you’re only making Christmas dinner for two, you may want to half the recipe—or be prepared for plenty of leftovers! Feel free to whip up the dressing ahead of time, but don’t mix it in with the kale until you’re ready to eat to avoid soggy greens. Finish it off with a sparkling cocktail for a surprisingly easy yet ultra-festive meal.
Lasagna Soup with Garlic Breadsticks and Almond Florentines
Side: Buttery Garlic Breadsticks
Main: Lasagna Soup
Dessert: Almond Florentines
A warm pot of cheesy lasagna soup and a basket of breadsticks is just the thing for a cozy Christmas dinner at home. For dessert, keep the Italian theme going with a plate of classic almond florentines. You’ll want to whip these up the day before, as the caramelly coating needs time to set before you add the chocolate layer to the bottoms. On the day of your meal, start by mixing together the breadstick dough, which needs to rise for about 45 minutes before it’s ready to cut and shape. In the meantime, start on the soup. As that simmers on the stove, you’ll have plenty of time to finish up the breadsticks and get everything on the table.
Pasta Dinner with Brussels Sprouts and Chocolate Cake
Side: Fried Brussels Sprouts with Lemon, Parmesan, and Breadcrumbs
Main: Slow Cooker Red Wine Sunday Ragù Pasta
Dessert: Flourless Chocolate Cake (with Mocha Whipped Cream)
Delicious pasta, savory Brussels sprouts, and a creamy, dreamy flourless chocolate cake? A pretty ideal Christmas dinner menu (if I do say so myself, as the person who paired these dishes together). The day before, make your flourless chocolate cake. It needs plenty of time to chill before you serve it (only a couple of hours, but you don’t want to feel stressed, right?). The mocha whipped cream can be made the day before as well but preferably not too early. The day of, start with your sauce, which will spend plenty of hands-off cooking time in your slow cooker. Then, while the sauce finishes off, you’ll have plenty of time to focus on frying the Brussels sprouts and pulling the whole meal together.
Lobster Ravioli and Prosciutto Rolls with Sautéed Greens
Side: Simple Sautéed Greens
Main: Lobster Ravioli
Appetizer: Prosciutto, Pear, and Arugula Rolls
At first glance, this might seem like it’s a tricky menu. Homemade lobster ravioli? But don’t fret, you’re not making any fresh pasta for this recipe, and everything comes together without too much fuss. Make the filling for the ravioli ahead of time to help cut down on last-minute stress (or even the ravioli themselves—Alex from The Defined Dish advised in the comment section that you can simply cover them with plastic wrap so that they don’t dry out!). Slice your pears right before you put your appetizer together to keep them freshest. Finally, cook your greens while your ravioli simmers—neither take very long.
Vegetarian Cauliflower Piccata Dinner with Vegan Red Velvet Cupcakes
Side: Smoky Maple Brussels Sprouts and Carrots
Main: Instant Pot Whole Cauliflower Piccata
Dessert: Vegan Red Velvet Cupcakes and Bourbon Vanilla Buttercream
Looking for a vegetarian main that’s still a show-stopper? A whole roasted cauliflower never disappoints. This one is seasoned with delicious, savory spices and a sauce reminiscent of chicken piccata. Because you’re cooking your cauliflower in an Instant Pot, it cooks quickly. Prep your cauliflower, but don’t start cooking until you’re nearly ready to sit down to eat. The cupcakes can be made the day before so you’re not spending your whole holiday in the kitchen. Make sure to leave plenty of time for the cupcakes to cool completely before you ice them. If you don’t, the icing will melt off the cake (not really the look you were going for). Then, when you’re ready to make dinner, roast your Brussels sprouts and carrots, and finish with your cauliflower once the veggies are almost cooked (or even once they come out of the oven).
Sheet Pan Salmon and French Onion Tartlets
Appetizer: French Onion Tartlets
Main: Maple Mustard Salmon Sheet Pan Dinner
Cocktail: Holiday Negroni
Start the day before with the filling for your onion tartlets. Pop that in the fridge—one less thing you’ll have to do tomorrow. Then, on the day of, mix up the cocktail and fill your pastry shells for the tartlets. Since the main dish is a sheet pan meal, you’ll even have a bit of time for a snack break before making dinner.
Beef Tenderloin and Green Beans with Cranberry Cake
Side: Green Beans with Bacon Breadcrumbs
Main: Garlic Peppercorn Crusted Beef Tenderloin
Dessert: White Christmas Cranberry Layer Cake
Beef tenderloin is one of those dinners that looks impressive but isn’t actually all that difficult to make. Though this recipe technically serves a crowd, you can cut down the recipe on the website (it’ll do it automatically!) by adjusting the number of servings you want. Make sure to do that if you’re only cooking Christmas dinner for two. Since this menu includes a layer cake, that’s where you’ll start. You can make and fully assemble your cake the day before. Then, on the day of, start with the beef tenderloin. You need to let the beef sit out for a bit to come to room temperature, so leave yourself extra time. Make sure you have a meat thermometer handy—it’s the only way you can be absolutely sure if it’s cooked to your liking. While the meat is cooking, you’ll have a little time to prep your green beans. Finish your green beans while the meat is resting, then slice and serve.
Sheet Pan Turkey and Stuffing with a Side Salad
Cocktail: Mrs. Claus Cranberry Whiskey Cocktail
Main: Sheet Pan Herb Roasted Turkey and Cranberry Pecan Stuffing
Side: Harvest Fall Salad
If your family traditionally eats turkey and all of the fixings on Christmas Day, you don’t have to completely scrap that tradition this year if you don’t want to. Opt for this sheet pan turkey and stuffing situation to get all the flavors you love without the work of a full roasted turkey and all the sides. Start with the star of the show and get that turkey and stuffing in the oven. While your turkey is roasting, you’ll have plenty of time to make your salad. Finish with a festive, seasonal cocktail to tie it all together and make dinner all the more celebratory.