Which parts of Christmas dinner can you make in advance & then reheat in the microwave?

Family enjoying Christmas dinner
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Let’s face it, cooking Christmas dinner can be overwhelming. Feeding a crowd can be stressful as it is. Add in all the complex side dishes, and it can be a recipe for chaos. If you want a stress-free celebration, you may wonder whether you can make some parts of Christmas dinner in advance.

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to prep for your festive feast and save time on the day. With a little organization, you’ll have more time to socialize with your guests and relax. 

Here, we’ll cover the parts of Christmas dinner you can prep ahead for a hassle-free celebration. We asked a chef for their pro tips on properly reheating your food to avoid a nasty bout of food poisoning.

When cooking multiple dishes at once, a microwave is your friend. It’s a super convenient way to reheat food quickly, so you don’t keep your guests waiting. Check out our guides to the best over-the-range microwaves (opens in new tab) and the best compact microwaves (opens in new tab) to serve up a feast in no time. 

Which parts can you make in advance?

So, which parts of Christmas dinner can you make in advance?  Get a head start and take the pressure off with these ideas.

Veg side dishes

“Side dishes are the best things to make in advance for any holiday dinner,” says chef George Duran (opens in new tab). Save on vital oven space by reheating roasted veggies in the microwave. Your guests won’t know the difference. 

Mashed potato

Mash is a real crowd-pleaser, but did you know you can make it ahead? George advises that dishes with liquid such as milk or cream are ideal candidates for reheating. 

“I personally love to make a large batch of my creamy herbed mashed potatoes, then cover them and refrigerate a day or two before,” says George. “To reheat the mashed potatoes, preheat the oven to 350 F and remove the foil from the casserole dish. Place the dish in the oven and bake the potatoes for about 20-30 minutes, or until they are heated through.” 

But if you’re pressed for time, you can reheat mash in a microwave. George’s top tip is to “add a little milk or cream to the potatoes to help them stay moist and creamy while they reheat.”

Gravy and sauces

No Christmas dinner is complete without gravy. Making it on the day can unnecessarily add to stress levels. You can make gravy in advance and keep it in the fridge for 2-3 days, or even freeze it up to 3 months beforehand. 

Want a fast, convenient way to reheat your gravy? Look no further than the microwave. For best results, warm the gravy for short intervals and stir in between. You can also use this method for other sauces.

Which parts should you not reheat?

Yet some dishes aren’t the same when reheated. “Personally, I would avoid reheating meats in the microwave. They tend to dry up and turn rubbery and tough pretty quickly,” says George. 

“Instead, place meat in a non-stick skillet. Add a little bit of stock to the pan and bring it to a low simmer, uncovered. You can also place it with some stock in a 300 F oven and cover it with aluminum foil.” George cautions against overdoing it - you want to reheat it, not overcook it. 

You should avoid reheating certain foods because of the food safety risk. Let’s face it, the last thing anyone wants for Christmas is food poisoning. Reheating stuffing can be questionable. The FDA (opens in new tab) recommends preparing stuffing immediately before putting it in the oven. 

Another top tip is to avoid reheating anything more than once. It’s a good idea to only reheat what you think you’ll eat to reduce food waste. 

How to reheat your Christmas dinner

Patience is a virtue when it comes to reheating. “The key to successfully reheating food is to do it slowly and gently, using low heat. This will help preserve the texture and flavor of the food and prevent it from drying out or becoming overcooked,” advises George. Ideally, it’s best to reheat your food the same way you cooked it, so a casserole dish would go in the oven, for example. 

If you are pressed for time, a microwave can come to the rescue. Here’s how to reheat food in a microwave safely and effectively.

1. Prepare

Place your food on a microwave-safe plate or bowl. Cover with a lid to retain moisture and avoid annoying splatters.  

2. Cook

Cook until your food is piping hot. The USDA (opens in new tab) recommends stirring food mid-way through to warm food thoroughly and kill bacteria.

3. Check 

Check your food is steaming hot and cooked evenly. Allow standing time before serving. 

Discover more guides for the kitchen…

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Louise Bond

Louise Bond is a UK-based writer specializing in health and wellbeing. She has over eight years of experience in management within health and care and brings this passion and expertise to her writing. Louise has been published in The Guardian, Live Science, Fit & Well, Tom’s Guide, Planet Mindful, Breathe, and Psychreg. She is at her happiest when she is out in nature, whether that’s on an invigorating hike or pottering in the garden.