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14/11/2013 16:15 | By Hugh Wilson, contributor, MSN Food

What to eat on Christmas Eve

What to cook - and whether to cook - on Christmas Eve.

Christmas table setting (© Getty Images)

Let’s face it, the meal on the evening before the biggest meal of the year can be a tough one to judge. Some of us prefer a light, healthy menu on Christmas Eve, conscious of the excesses to come. For others, Christmas Eve (unlike Christmas Day) is an opportunity to experiment with extravagant ingredients and exotic flavours.

Still others like to eat out on Christmas Eve, saving their culinary energies for the kitchen marathon that starts in the morning.

Whatever you prefer to do, here are a few suggestions to make this Christmas Eve meal a memorable one.

Christmas Eve: the main event

If you’re cooking something special on Christmas Eve you won’t be alone. In many northern European nations Christmas Eve isn’t the prelude to the main event: it is the main event. It’s the night for the finest feast of the entire holiday.

Moroccan fish tagine (© Sainsbury's)

And even many of us who are eating turkey and all the trimmings on Christmas Day still like to dine in style on Christmas Eve, with a meal fit to mark the beginning of the Christmas festivities.

If you’re planning to push the boat out, we’d only advise that you take into consideration the gluttony to come. Christmas Day roasts and pudding are nothing if not heavy, so don’t spoil your appetite with mounds of starchy carbohydrates and rich desserts the night before.

Similarly, you may want to steer clear of the roasting tin. There’ll be enough of that tomorrow. Unless you’re a vegetarian, great hunks of meat - hot, cold, sliced and, finally, shredded and added to curries and salads - will dominate the culinary landscape for the next few days.

Instead, why not think fish or seafood on Christmas Eve? Haddock, trout, scallops or sea bass (to name just a few) can all be the focal point of dishes that are deliciously different and won’t outshine tomorrow’s bride, currently sitting in the fridge awaiting her moment. A Moroccan fish tagine is light, healthy and sure to impress. This cod recipe is both special enough for Christmas Eve and easy enough to fit in between Christmas planning and Christmas partying.

Winter salad (© Sainsbury's)

If you’re not keen on fish, why not splash out on a really good beef wellington or prepare a winter salad?

Desserts should follow a similar theme. What about a really good, and in this case really quite decadent, fruit salad?

Plan ahead

Of course, it’s also true that Christmas Eve can be a rush, whether you’re busy wrapping presents, getting over-excited kids to bed or frantically throwing together an outfit for a big night out.

In which case, you need to plan ahead. Why not cook a delicious and freezer-friendly meal the week before, so you need only defrost and reheat on the big night? Freezer-friendly recipe ideas include this cottage pie, and these crispy chicken kievs, which are usually a big hit with kids.

Citrus fruit salad (© Sainsbury's)

Treat yourself

And staying on the easy theme you could always avoid cooking altogether. Whether you’re frantically stringing up decorations or simply want to enjoy an evening out of the kitchen (given the carnage to come), why not stick a favourite ready meal in the oven. How about a Taste the Difference Bistro Al Forno lasagne or Taste the Difference paella? They’re tasty and easy, and on top of it all they keep the washing-up to a minimum.

Then pour yourself a glass of something special, sit down by the fire and relax. It is Christmas Eve, after all.

More Christmas food ideas from Sainsbury's

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