How to Do Christmas Dinner on a Budget

The holidays are just around the corner! This means that the time has come to start thinking about your holiday menu and plan your holiday dinner budget.

Let’s talk about how you can throw a delicious and memorable Christmas dinner on a budget.

1. A good meal is a good meal

In the past, I always made a huge spread at the holidays: I made ham, turkey, two vegetables, deviled eggs, stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams, macaroni and cheese, homemade noodles, and an entire kitchen table full of desserts – a few basic ones and some innovative ones I had come up with that year.

A lot of these things that I made were tried and true family recipes that people looked forward to when they came to my house. That kind of a meal would cost at least a couple hundred dollars to make. I never tracked what I spent on the holidays because I assumed that all the leftovers made up for the cost of the meal.

However, last year I scaled it way back. I made one vegetable, one meat, mashed potatoes, stuffing, deviled eggs and about three desserts. Everyone was full and satisfied, and there was still food for people to take home.

This made me realize I had been so hard on myself every year for no reason. No one cares that I have been cooking for three days, what matters is the togetherness and the celebration. The food is just a wonderful addition to that gathering. It truly does not matter what you serve.

If you are conflicted between what is traditional and what you can afford, always remember: a good meal is a good meal.

When I had young children and we were very short on money, there were several years that we only had baked chicken instead of turkey. The kids were young, they did not know the difference.

The sides I made created a feeling of a holiday meal, and it really did not matter if it was chicken and not a turkey. A good meal is still a good meal, and there's no shame in that.

I believe that no matter what financial situation you are in, you can still make a great cheap Christmas dinner that your whole family will enjoy. It just takes planning ahead of time to decide what you can afford, what are some of the dishes that you can work into that menu, and what your menu will look like when you are done.

So here are some Christmas dinner planning advice that I have for you if you want to save time and money.

Christmas dinner

2. Make decisions

To create your holiday menu, be prepared to make decisions. What is traditional for your family? What affordable options can you bring in? What is something that is not holiday-related that your family enjoys that you can add into that menu, like deviled eggs?

For me, there are some dishes that I am not willing to give up on because they are that special, like my homemade noodles, which are my family tradition that dates back to the Depression era.

It is very cheap to make and my kids always look forward to it, so I do not mind it still being a basic thing that carries us through every single holiday.

3. Think ahead

Look for sales, for discounts, for markdowns. Use down your freezer enough that you can make space for that turkey or things that you find that are on good sale prices. Whipped cream is only about a dollar a container, so you can start slowly stashing that away, while hardly increasing your weekly budget.

4. Brunch and dinner

Something that could save you a bit of time and money on Thanksgiving day is skipping breakfast and doing brunch and dinner instead.

Our tradition has been cinnamon rolls for brunch and then our main meal later, followed by an option to have some of the leftovers. There have been times on Christmas Eve that I have made chicken and dumplings in one big pot for the family that comes in early.


5. Look for your own traditions

We have tried some different things over the years. One year, I made all different types of stews and soups for Christmas, like chili, green pepper stew, potato soup.

I had four or five crock pots full of stews and soups that I made ahead of time. All I I had to do was heat them up on Christmas day, and serve with a roll and two or three desserts.

My daughter-in-law’s family has snacks all day long on Christmas instead of preparing an actual meal. My husband's family will choose a different kind of meat to serve each year, instead of always going for turkey, for example, brisket or corned beef.

They also serve one choice for the dessert and everybody gets a plate. My daughter-in -law's family has a different themed Thanksgiving each year: they have had Chinese, jambalaya, and once in a great while they will do the traditional turkey meal.

All those are very different from the spread I have always prepared, but are amazing family traditions that work great.

Do not be afraid to try some different new things. Maybe you will find a new family tradition. Get creative and find what suits your own family.

6. Accept offers

When I grew up and I went to my grandmother's, she would provide the meat and maybe a couple of dishes and everyone else that came provided a dessert, a vegetable, a potato.

The rule was to bring one dish per member of your family. We ended up with a huge spread because we had a huge family, but grandma did not have to make that much or spend that much.

If you are hosting, there will always be people asking what they can bring, and our instinct is often to refuse those offers and take care of everything ourselves.

Instead, try choosing something off your menu and letting them bring those things. For example, stuffing, mashed potatoes or dessert are excellent options: you were going to make those anyways, but now will not have to spend the money and time doing it.

Try saying yes to those people and see how much it helps your holiday budget. You know that you would offer to do that if you were going to someone else's house as well.

Christmas dinner on a budget

I hope you have found these cheap Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner ideas helpful. What kind of dinner are you going for this year? Let me know in the comments!

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