The following is a Guest Post Written by David K.
It can be a challenge to do up a nice, home-cooked holiday meal in the midst of a national recession. If you are feeling like one of those credit report commercial pirates who has no job and no money, you are not alone. The good news is that it IS entirely possible to do Christmas dinner without breaking the bank. Pair resourcefulness and some advance planning with my tips to a deliciously cheap holiday meal, and you are sure to find some very merry eats indeed.
1. First things first. If you are hosting Christmas or Hanukkah dinner, I cannot urge you strongly enough to have your guests bring appetizers, dessert, and even side dishes. (In the same token, if you are dining at a friend or family member’s house this season, one of your first inquiries should be, “What can I bring?” I promise it will go a very, very long way.) This takes the pressure off of you having to make an entire meal from start, to finish. If you have an idea of what you’d like the sides to be, give some guidance to relatives and friends who will be contributing. But be open to suggestions as well. You can let them know what the main course will be, and tell them to bring something that will compliment the dish.
2. Christmas is December 25th. Hanukkah begins December 20th. So when do I recommend you start thinking about and shopping for the menu for the big day? NOW. Prepare your food menu well in advance, and write down the ingredients for each dish individually. Keep a checklist of all ingredients that you will need, and scour the Sunday papers and weekly supermarket ads to see what is on sale each week. If you do it this way, you are bound to get most of or all of what you need on sale. You can use this guide to keep your eye on grocery sale cycles, and see which items should be popping up at discounted prices in the coming month.
3. Raid your pantry. Take a look at the items you already have that you could turn into potential dishes. The key here is to be creative! Rather than pick a recipe that requires you to go purchase ingredients, let the ready-bought ingredients do the talking. Do a Google search including the spices that you already own, and inserting the word “dessert” or “soup” depending on what course you are looking for, and see what pops up. Or, look at the menu you’ve written out and see which ingredients you need to go buy could be substituted by things you already have.
4. Believe me, I understand how delicious the homemade versions of dishes are compared to frozen or store-bought. But lets be realistic here. If you are considering preparing cranberry sauce from scratch and you need to go out and purchase the 11 ingredients it takes to prepare, you might be better off money-wise sticking with the canned version. Paula Deen’s biscuit recipe, on the other hand, calls for six simple ingredients, most of which I bet you’ve already got stocked: flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, butter and milk. If it’s a question of simply having to buy another bag of flour to double the batch of biscuits, go nuts. My point here is to make sure you evaluate whether it will be less expensive to go store-bought or homemade. (This is another reason that doing an inventory of your pantry ahead of time can save you some bucks—if you’ve already got half the items you need for a particular dish, chances are you will save money making it from scratch.)
5. You could use veggies and side dishes as a way to bulk up your meal, rather than having to make a gargantuan ham, turkey, or roast. Some vegetables that are in season in December are brussels sprouts, winter squash, sweet potatoes and yams, spinach, turnips, cauliflower, carrots, and broccoli. Get a load of this yummy recipe for sweet potatoes that costs roughly 50 cents to $1 per serving. Likewise, some of the tastiest brussels sprouts I’ve ever eaten have involved nothing but salt, pepper, and maybe a dash of cheese. Your table will look more colorful, and both your guests and table will be much fuller if you go with a plentiful assortment of sides.
6. And lastly, I recommend talking to your neighbors and friends to see if anybody wants to go “half-sies” on ingredients. Invite them over for a cup of cocoa and compare ingredient lists. You might even find that you already have what the other needs and can happily trade.
Happy Holidays, and happy cooking!