How to Make a Frugal Christmas Dinner from the Pantry

A frugal Christmas dinner…that doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? Somehow, a traditional holiday meal has become a license to overspend, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

In days gone by, people didn’t spend hundreds of dollars for one day of holiday feasting, but now spending an entire month’s grocery budget on a fancy breakfast, appetizers, and a gargantuan feast is pretty much expected. Hosts try to assemble an elegant meal worthy of Martha Stewart and justify outrageously expensive luxury items at the grocery store because “it’s only once a year.”

Here’s a mind-blowing number: in the UK, one article puts the average expenditure for Christmas day food at £133.70, or $202.32 (USD). I couldn’t find statistics for an average American Christmas food budget, but $202 is nearly an entire month’s worth of food for my family. On top of purchasing gifts and decorating for the holidays, can you really afford to blow your monthly budget for one day?

Stop that!

You don’t have to go broke to enjoy the holidays.  It doesn’t matter what the neighbors are putting on their table this year.  Don’t feel obligated to invest in out-of-season delicacies like fresh berries and asparagus in December. Particularly if the money is stretched thin, there are lots of ways to make your dinner frugal, but still festive.

No one wants to end the day feeling stressed and worried because so much money was spent. You can entertain family at Christmas dinner while staying within your budget.


Make the presentation special

Even if you are serving more simple fare this year, you can still make your meal special.

  1. Buy in-season.  Focus on the produce that is in season, and supplement this with canned and frozen fruits and vegetables. Look for Brussels sprouts (frozen might be a better deal and no one will know!), parsnips, carrots, and potatoes.
  2. Spend time on the presentation.  Use fancy toothpicks in the appetizers, make kid-friendly shapes with your veggies, and use decorative cupcake liners to hold individual servings of snacks. (Portioning out servings like this can also help to cut down on waste.)
  3. Let the kids help.  Instead of worrying about the most elegant meal on the block, get the kids involved with food preparation. You’re secretly teaching them life-skills, and they will love seeing peoples’ reactions when they tell them, “I made that!” Let them make fun centerpieces for the kid’s table like this gingerbread Christmas tree to really get them into the spirit.
  4. Set a beautiful table.  Gather some items from nature and add some Christmas decorations to make a centerpiece. Light some unscented candles and set the table with your nicest china and linens. Move store bought items into real dishes to place on the table.

Recipes for a frugal Christmas dinner

Historically, Christmas dinner has always been a feast but by necessity, the feast was made up of what was able to be acquired locally and seasonally, or what had been preserved. (Check out these menus from Christmas dinners over the past few centuries.) One way to keep your food  bill under control this year is to focus on treats that you can make right from your pantry.  If you’ve been following the stockpile principle, then the food in your pantry was purchased at the lowest prices available. Because of this, you can focus on purchasing only a couple of specialty items, like a ham or turkey and a treat that is traditional for your family. Then, enjoy delicious yet thrifty treats for the rest of the holiday feast.

Following are some ideas for homemade goodies that will make your guests feel well-fed and pampered, without emptying your pockets. You’ll discover that many of the ingredients already reside in your pantry, or are standard groceries that will be in your fridge, like eggs and cheese. Links to the recipes are embedded – if the name of the item is underlined, just click the name and it will open up a new window with the recipe!

Breakfast Treats

Appetizers and Party Food

Holiday dinner recipes

Serve these alongside your turkey.  Also remember that with the addition of bacon or a topping of breadcrumbs and cheese, nearly any vegetable that you have canned or frozen becomes a little bit fancier! Don’t forget simple yet delicious foods like mashed potatoes and salads.


What are your favorite holiday dinner traditions?

Are there any dishes that are absolutely necessary to your family traditions? Please share your favorites, as well as your ideas for keeping the holiday meal budget under control.

by Daisy Luther

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