8 Prep-ahead Dishes for Your Holiday Dinner

French onion soup can be prepared in advance.

There's a lot to look forward to on Christmas Day, but spending hours in the kitchen isn't one of them. Why not break up your Christmas dinner preparation into two days and leave yourself more time to enjoy the holiday with your family? Many of the traditional holiday dishes can be prepped the day before to greatly reduce your kitchen time on the big day. In fact, for many dishes, allowing that extra day for flavors to develop and meld can make them taste even better. Here are some smart, healthy versions of America's favorite holiday sides and desserts to keep you out of the kitchen and with your family where you belong.

1. French Onion Soup

French onion soup is a favorite first course for my family, and is a great choice for cold and flu season. Did you know that onions are high in flavonoids and vitamin C? These boost the immune system to help ward off colds. This recipe substitutes the butter for the healthier fats found in olive oil. It also uses less cheese than traditional recipes, and substitutes whole-grain bread for the crouton to help reduce cholesterol levels. You can prepare the soup through Step 4 the day before and then re-heat it and continue with Step 5 just a few minutes before dinner.

2. Sugarless Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce is a holiday favorite for many families, but the traditional versions are packed with sugar. This recipe uses fruit juice and honey to balance the tartness of the cranberries, for a much healthier dish.

3. Low-Fat Scalloped Potatoes

This low-fat version of a classic favorite can be prepared up through the step where you transfer it to a baking dish. The next day, warm in the oven until heated through, then add the cheese on top and broil until the cheese is bubbly and lightly browned.

4. Turkey Sausage and Herb Stuffing

Turkey sausage and multi-grain bread make this recipe for sausage stuffing much healthier than traditional versions. Prepare the dish through Step 6 a day or two in advance, and then leave Step 7 for an hour before dinner.

5. Savory Turkey Gravy

This make-ahead gravy uses prepared turkey stock rather than your turkey drippings for a flavorful gravy with a lot less calories and fat. You can make it a day or two in advance and then just warm it up a few minutes before dinner.

6. Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts & Sage

In this recipe, the toasty richness of the chestnuts balances the strong and sometimes bitter flavors of the Brussels sprouts. It uses less butter than traditional recipes and skips the bacon altogether. Make ahead and simply heat through before serving.

7. Healthier Green Bean Casserole

Green bean casserole is a holiday favorite, but traditional recipes are laden with sodium from the cream of mushroom soup and fat from the French fried onions. Substitutions of extra virgin olive oil, low-fat milk and a whole wheat bread crumb topping make this version a much healthier choice. Prepare through Step 5 in advance. About an hour prior to dinner, re-heat and then pick up again with Step 6.

8. Fresh Pumpkin Pie

This version of the traditional pumpkin pie is made from scratch using sugar pumpkins rather than canned pumpkin full of additives and preservatives. This time of year you can also find organic sugar pumpkins to make this classic favorite an even healthier choice.

Content by Cherri Megasko.
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