GEARING up for Christmas day can be exhausting, but a little preparation can take the weight off.

Planning is key, spare a little time for the days before and after so all your energy isn't just channelled into one meal.

It's all well being ready for the big day, but take a few moments to plan the Eve so you can relax the day before the day before as well.

Christmas day is a sit-around-the-table affair for your traditional meat, veg and gravy, so make the 24th more of an informal take-what-you-please occasion.

Why not prepare a sumptuous smorgasbord of cold and cured meats, pates and homemade antipasti.

Do it yourself a few days in advance and you're good to go.

A great accompaniment with any platter of cold meats, is Italian style antipasti.

Head to Growing with Grace, Clapham, where they have medium sized tomatoes at £3.20/kilo. Slice them in half, cover with salt and pepper and sprinkle with basil and oil before slow roasting for three hours. Cool, fill up jars and cover with oil. Add garlic cloves for extra flavour.

They also have sweet Romero peppers at £2.99 for a two pack. Follow the same instructions but preserve in oil, vinegar and salt.

For your standard cold meats, Watson and Woollard, Kendal, has ham at £1.55/100g, beef at £1.69/100g and turkey at £1.50/100g. They also have spare rib of pork at £5.75/kilo to make your own rillette (best done with belly).

Marinate the meat in salt, pepper, garlic, thyme and dry white wine before covering and slow roasting for three hours with duck fat. Separate the meat and juices, shred the meat then pour over the juices and refrigerate.

If you are a pate lover, Higginsons Butcher of Grange has chicken liver pate at £1.99 per pot or 12oz pots of chicken livers at £1.99.

To make your own pate, fry butter, onions, garlic and the livers in a pan, then add brandy, mustard powder and seasoning. Blend and transfer to a ramekin for the fridge.

Why not try fish pate for something different? Kendal Fisheries has smoked salmon at £5.95/200g or £3.25/100g. Just whiz together with cream cheese, lemon and chives. Or, try smoked mackerel at £11.95/kilo blended with butter and lemon.

No board of goodies is complete without cheese and bread.

The Courtyard Dairy, Settle, has Winslade - a British Vacherin style cheese for baking at £9.15. They also have a light and fresh goat's cheese, Dorstone, at £7.80 each. Enjoy alongside antipasto on a bed of spicy rocket.

For the bread, Hazelmere Cafe and Bakery, in Grange, has a range of tear and share focaccias from £1.45 - £2.20.

Flavours include garlic, olive, sun-dried tomato, caramelised onion and courgette and cheese.

Finish off with their new Bee Sting ice-cream at £4.95/500ml with cherries, almonds and toffee in a vanilla base.

Added extras are available from Burton Community Stores where they have chorizo at £1.99/pack, pickled walnuts at £2.99/jar and green olives at £1.19/jar.