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How to Cook a Big Christmas Dinner When Your Kitchen is Depressingly Small


It’s your turn to host Christmas dinner for a large crowd and suddenly you realize how small your postage stamp sized kitchen really is. And how little counter space you have. And how much you curse the fact that your countertop depth is 5 inches less than standard, forcing you to have a bar sink as your main sink. (Just me on that last one?) Seriously, how are you going to host this huge holiday meal?!

Don’t call the whole thing off. I have a depressingly small kitchen with a laughable amount of counter space, and I’ve still been able to host parties with up to 30 people. Here’s the strategies I use to make our small house work when it’s time to cook a meal for the holidays.

Once you’re done reading these strategies for hosting a large meal in a small space, head over to this post about making the rest of your small house or apartment work for a large party.

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Plan the Meal Around the Appliances Everything Will be Cooked in

In order to create a Christmas dinner menu that won’t leave you tearing your hair out and yelling at those you love, you need to allocate each dish to a different cooking appliance. For example, meat in the oven, potatoes boiling on the stove, dressing in the slow cooker, something else in the instant pot, and a couple fresh salad or vegetable items that you made the night before waiting in the fridge.

Don’t have one of these appliances or need an extra? Borrow from friends or hit up the thrift stores and garage sale pages. I’ve included links if you’re in the market to purchase.

Also, slow cookers and instant pots don’t need to take up precious counter space. You can easily plug them in and set them on the floor in an out of the way location. (We have to do this out of desperation, but it works and allows me more space to chop vegetables, mix food, etc.)

Think of Your Table as an Extra Counter Space

As long as you use cutting boards to protect the surface, there’s no reason you can’t use your table as an extra prep space.

Prepare Vegetables In Advance

Chopping and cleaning vegetables is one of the biggest time sucks in preparing a meal for a large crowd. Thankfully, vegetables can be chopped and stored in the fridge a day or two before, so all you have to do the day of is take them out and use them.

Even potatoes can be peeled the day before and left in a pot of water. Or if you’re making baked potatoes, you can poke the holes in them and wrap them in tinfoil, so all you have to do the day of is tuck them around the roast in the oven.

Salads can be completely chopped and ready to go–just leave the dressing to the side so lettuces and other tender greens don’t wilt.

The more tasks you can do ahead of time, the more time you’ll have on Christmas day to relax and actually enjoy your company!

Wash Dishes as You Go

When space is at a premium, precious real estate can not be taken up with dirty dishes. Immediately wash the dishes from one food item as soon as you’re done with it. If you have help, designate that person the dishwasher and their only job is to wash and put away every dish as it is used.

When company comes and they ask if there’s anything they can do? Send them to the sink, and don’t feel bad about it.

Consider Paper Plates

Paper plates are not the most environmentally friendly option, but if you have no help and no dishwasher, they will save your sanity. Look for compostable options like this one, to minimize the waste.

Make it a Potluck

You don’t have to do it all. If you simply can’t make a giant meal for everyone, make the main course, one side dish and supply the drinks. Everyone else can contribute a salad, dessert, vegetable side, and the like.

Make sure that you know what everyone is bringing so you don’t end up with 5 pies and no salad.

Sample Menu

So let’s pull this all together. How do you properly plan out a holiday meal for a large crowd so you don’t lose your mind? Here’s what I’d do. . .

One Week Before. . .

  • Confirm menu
  • Purchase non-perishables, like pop, alcohol, baking supplies (like flour, sugar, etc.) and large freezer items like the turkey.
  • Order any parts of the menu that you will not be making yourself, or confirm with guests what they’re bringing if it’s a potluck.
  • Ask to borrow any crock pots, instant pots, or other large serving dishes you might not own or not have space for.

Two Days Before. . .

  • Make dessert and store in the freezer. You can warm it in the oven after the meat comes out.
  • Purchase the rest of your groceries.
  • Pick up any items you are borrowing.
  • Figure out how long the meat needs to defrost and cook. If you’ve never cooked a large turkey before, you might be surprised at how long it takes to both defrost and cook. Depending on the size of your meat, you might need to set it out today.

The Day Before. . .

  • Chop and prep all vegetable dishes.
  • Assemble casserole dishes and salads so they are ready to go.
  • Rearrange your furniture for the party (if needed). I chat more about what works for our small home in this post.
  • Set out drink station
  • Defrost meat

The Morning of. . .

  • Start slow cooker items.
  • Take the dessert out of the freezer to defrost.
  • Get yourself ready for the party. You won’t have time once you start preparing dinner. One exception–don’t put your outfit on until 30 minutes before everyone is scheduled to show up. Aprons are great, but I find I always get a bit sweaty running around the house all day and it’s nice to change into a fresh outfit.
  • Set an alarm on your phone for what time you need to put the meat in the oven–or any other alarms so you don’t miss the window for time-sensitive stuff.

The Afternoon of. . .

  • Start cooking!
  • Work backwards, starting with the items that take the most time, and ending with the items that need to be served fresh (like salads) or need to be fried.
  • Ask for help! Once your guests start arriving, don’t be ashamed to put them to work.

I hope you’ve found this post helpful and its inspired you to cook Christmas or another holiday meal for a large crowd. Your small, depressing kitchen and lack of counter space doesn’t have to stop you!!

Have any tips to share about how you make hosting a large meal work in a small space?

Kristen Raney

Kristen Raney

Kristen is a former farm kid turned urban gardener who owns the popular gardening website, Shifting Roots.  She is obsessed with growing flowers and pushing the limits of what can be grown in her zone 3b garden.  She also loves to grow tomatoes, but oddly enough, dislikes eating them raw.

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Hi, I'm Kristen and I help new gardeners learn to grow their own vegetables and beautify their yards. I also share recipes that use all that delicious garden produce. Grab a coffee (and your gardening gloves) and join me for gardening tips, simple recipes, and the occasional DIY, all from the lovely city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

P.S. First time gardener? You'll want to download the quick start gardening guide below!