Holiday Meal Planning: Practical Tips To Save Money on Cooking

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The holiday season is finally upon us, with its blend of joy, family gatherings, and festive meals. However, with food prices up 3.3%, many people worried that enjoying the season will also mean breaking the budget.

According to Statista, 81% of US adults plan to have a home-cooked holiday dinner this year, and 54% will cook these meals in their own homes. This trend is even more pronounced among millennials, with 89% planning to host a holiday dinner this year.

However, these would-be hosts might need to think twice about their decision or regret it come January. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported at-home food prices are up 2.1% versus last year, so it's more essential than ever to find ways to enjoy holiday traditions without straining finances.

However, it’s possible to create a memorable holiday feast that’s delicious, economical, and won't break your budget.

Plan Your Menu Carefully

A well-planned menu is your first step toward a budget-friendly holiday meal. When selecting dishes, prioritize cost-effective options. For instance, a traditional large turkey might be swapped for a smaller bird, a turkey breast, or a different main dish that's less expensive.  

Remember to check your pantry and freezer. You might be surprised to find ingredients that could be used for your holiday meals, saving you from unnecessary purchases. Whether it's leftover cranberries from Thanksgiving or a whole chicken in the freezer, you can save a lot of money by utilizing what you already have instead of adding to your shopping list.

The key is to focus on the essence of the holiday, togetherness and gratitude, rather than struggling to create an extravagant menu.

Choose Your Favorites

The charm of holiday meals often lies in the variety of dishes. However, serving numerous appetizers, sides, and sweets can quickly break your budget. Instead, simplify your menu by choosing one or two favorite sides or appetizers to go with your main dish.

When it comes to sweets, we all love a big spread of cookies and cakes. But if you're honest with yourself, how many of them are essential? Choose those most important to you, and skip the rest.

This approach not only saves money but also reduces the stress of cooking and minimizes food waste. A few well-prepared dishes can be just as festive and satisfying as a table overflowing with options, and it will also help you avoid that overly full feeling holiday meals so often provide.

Opt For Cost-Effective Ingredients

With rising food prices, using cheaper ingredients can make a big difference. Consider less expensive cuts of meat, incorporating more in-season vegetables, or opting for more affordable, frozen options like frozen Brussels sprouts instead of fresh.

Another option is to reduce the amount of protein served overall or even try out a completely vegetarian or vegan holiday menu this year. Not only will it save money, it's also a fun way to switch things up and try something new.

These choices can help significantly reduce your grocery bill, all without compromising the quality and taste of your meal.

Shop Smart

Shopping smart requires a good plan. Plan your menu, choose your favorites, and see where you can get these for the best price.

However, smart shopping is more than just hunting for the lowest prices. It’s also about balancing cost, convenience, and quality. While it might be tempting to travel further for cheaper items, consider the cost of gas and the value of your time. Sometimes, purchasing an item at a slightly higher price at your local supermarket is more economical than driving to a distant discount store. And sometimes, even opting for a home delivery service is the better option.

Watch for sales and discounts at local supermarkets for even smarter shopping. Don’t forget to use any coupons or loyalty points you have saved for additional savings!

Embrace Leftovers

Leftovers are inevitable in holiday feasts, but they don't have to be bad. Getting creative with leftovers can further extend your holiday budget and ensure you eat well into January.

You can transform leftovers into new meals like sandwiches, soups, or casseroles, or freeze them for quick meals during the start of the year. This approach saves money and is a great way to reduce food waste.

Share the Costs

Consider a potluck-style holiday meal if your budget is particularly tight or you have a family of avid home cooks. This method is excellent for sharing the financial load and brings a variety of dishes to your table. It allows guests to contribute and feel part of the celebration while easing the cooking burden on the host. And who doesn't love to share their favorite dishes with family and friends?

If you prefer providing the main meal, consider asking your guests to contribute to other parts of the feast. This contribution could be an appetizer, dessert, cookies, or even flowers for the table. Anything helps ensure the dinner cost is divided up, allowing you to stick to your budget.

Sharing the cost and workload doesn't have to feel cheap at all. In fact, it can be a great way to have an even more extravagant holiday meal, but at a lower cost.

The holiday season doesn't have to be synonymous with financial stress. With some planning and creativity, you can prepare a festive, budget-friendly meal that your family and friends will love, without feeling like you're missing out. And remember, the holiday spirit is about warmth, love, and togetherness, not the abundance of your table.

This article was produced by always use butter and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Author: Emmeline Kemperyd


Emmeline Kemperyd is the recipe creator, food photographer, and food writer behind, a website that provides quick and easy recipes for busy people. She has extensive experience creating recipes that taste good while being quick, easy, and approachable. Her recipes have been featured by various publications, including Well + Good, The Guardian, The Good Men Project, SheKnows, and Vulture.