There’s no denying that eating is one of the most important – and most fun – parts of Christmas. So having easy Christmas dinner ideas when you’re on a budget can make sure that that this is a holiday season to remember.
After all, the cost of a Christmas meal can quickly spiral out of control, especially if you have extended family visiting and there’s a lot of pressure to make sure everything is perfect.
So these easy Christmas dinner ideas will make sure that your meal is both amazing – and amazing for your wallet!
What’s also important to keep in mind though is that what people enjoy about these experiences doesn’t have to cost a cent.
I mean, think back to your best memory of a Christmas meal.
What made it great? Was it the fact that there were three types of desserts and that someone had gone all out and bought special (read: expensive) festively decorated candles?
Or was it that you were with friends and family having a great time, laughing at old memories and making new ones?
This is something to remind yourself of when you’re tempted to get swept up in meal preparations and feel pressured to buy every Christmas-related item ever made: no one will remember that you bought the fancy ham instead of the Costco one or that you had four different cheeses on offer for guests instead of just one.
But they will remember gathering together and enjoying each other’s company.
No matter your religious persuasion, that is what Christmas – or your other holiday of choice – is all about.
So, with that in mind, take a look at some of these tips and tricks to have both a festive and fiscally responsible Christmas meal!
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And before checking out these easy Christmas dinner ideas on a budget…
I like to buy my groceries online as it really helps me to save a ton of money – both at Christmas and throughout the rest of the year.
After all, it means that I can see exactly how much I’m spending overall – before I actually buy it. Meaning no more nasty surprises when I get to the checkout and it’s “too late”.
It also means that I’m not tempted to “just grab that one thing” I see on the shelf. I buy exactly what I need and close the tab before temptation strikes!
And luckily for me, I’m in an area where I can get my groceries delivered to my home.
While it’s not free, I consider it money well spent. After all, it means that I don’t have to spend time and money going to the store.
And this is an even better option around the holidays! I mean, who actually WANTS to go the mall around Christmas? The lines are crazy, people are stressed, it takes forever to get anything done…
So I thank the Amazon gods every day around this time of year for the fact I can have my groceries home delivered.
I’ve found that it’s easier, cheaper, quicker and healthier. All pretty good things, if you ask me.
If you want to try it out yourself, you can get a free month of Amazon Fresh right here. And if you don’t like it, just cancel at any time within 30 days!
1. Create a meal plan
Meal planning has so many benefits for both your health and your wallet.
It’s definitely something that we should all be doing throughout the year to save money, not just at Christmas.
MORE INFORMATION: HOW I SAVED $300 ON MY GROCERY BILL IN ONE MONTH
It helps you with being more organised. No opening the fridge one night and realising that you have nothing for dinner.
You’re healthier. By having food on hand and set meals in mind for the entire week, you’re more likely to be able to prepare the meal of your choice rather than giving up and ordering takeout.
And, perhaps most importantly, it’s by FAR the best option for controlling your food-related expenses.
You’ll know exactly how much to buy at the supermarket (or online, if you choose that option!) – no more, no less.
This helps you to avoid being at the supermarket and thinking you’ll grab that one extra thing “just in case” – which then goes off in the fridge because it wasn’t eaten in time.
What a waste of food and a real waste of money.
It also means that you can buy everything you need for the week at one time.
No need to pop into the supermarket on Christmas Eve when you realise that you’ve forgotten something. Not only is this a waste of time, but it’s been shown time and time again that the more you go to the supermarket, the more you tend to spend on food.
After all, it’s rare to go in and only buy the one thing that you forgot. With a meal plan, you’re avoiding the temptation to buy more by limiting the chance to even be tempted.
For me, I love the service offered by $5 Meal Plan.
It costs just $5 a month and sends you meal plans each week, including recipes and shopping lists.
The amount of money AND time I’ve saved is worth way more than $1.25 per week. And better yet, the recipes only cost about $2 per person to make, so my wallet’s even happier about it.
So if you’d like to try it yourself, sign up here for a 14-day FREE trial.
And to make this even easier for yourself over Christmas, grab this free printable Christmas meal plan!
2. Include food in the meal plan that you can make in advance
No one wants to be slaving in the kitchen half an hour before your guests arrive.
So take away some of that stress by including things like soups, stews, casseroles and even certain desserts in your meal plan that you can make in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Not only will this avoid a lot of the stress involved in having to prepare food on Christmas Day itself, but it can stretch out the costs of your groceries over several weeks.
For example, if you can make half of the meal in November and then buy the rest of what you need in the days before Christmas, this may help you with balancing your budget a bit more easily.
These foods also have the added bonus of being able to be easily made with a range of different vegetables that are both cheap and filling.
For example, are you worried about how you’re going to feed your army of brothers or your kids who are never not hungry?
Bulk up the stew with vegetables (potatoes are a cheap and yummy option) or even some pasta for an inexpensive way to ensure that they won’t go hungry.
3. Include food in the meal plan that you can make in bulk
Those soups, stews, casseroles etc. that you made based on the last point?
It’s also really easy to make double the amount in almost the same amount of time it takes to only prepare one serving.
You can then use the extra food as work lunches or, if you have people staying with you over the Christmas period, can use it to help feed them during the days before or after your main meal.
This is not only much easier logistically, but can help save way more money through buying ingredients in bulk!
4. Consider replacing some “traditional” Christmas dinner options with cheaper alternatives
While there are certain types of food that we are “supposed” to serve at Christmas, these are often also the more expensive options.
So rather than stressing over the added cost involved in serving (and the time to be spent preparing) a full turkey, for example, keep in mind the most important part: that you’ll be sitting down with your loved ones, perhaps for the first time in a long time.
And if they happen to be served chicken instead of turkey or pork chops instead of a full ham, then the only Christmas miracle will be if they notice.
5. Limit your perishables only to an amount that people will actually eat
Some people (*cough* my mother) like to prepare food for an army, no matter the number of people that are coming for dinner.
While I definitely understand the need to ensure that you don’t run out, particularly when you have guests, that was never ever a risk. Instead, there were always mountains of food remaining.
This is great when you can freeze it and eat it for the next week – but not so good for perishables. And really not so good for your wallet.
So, on that point, your guests will not die if they are only offered carrots and beans instead of every vegetable known to mankind. One type of bread roll as a side instead of a choice of three different types is more than enough.
Plan well and plan strictly based on the number of people that are coming.
And if you are truly concerned about running out of food, see the point above about making food in bulk. If needed, you can always serve them more casserole.
6. Make Christmas dinner a potluck
Everyone appreciates what a hassle it is to prepare a meal for a large group of people. So why not make it a potluck and have everyone bring a dish?
You could offer to prepare the main but ask your sister to bring the salad, your cousin to bring the pie and your neighbour to bring the dessert.
Not only does this share the cost of preparing the meal, which can easily skyrocket depending on how many people are attending, but it also spreads the burden of having to actually spend time making the food.
And less time standing over the stove is always a win!
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7. Don’t waste money on expensive brands
As mentioned above, no one remembers if you choose to serve something that’s been made using a cheaper brand. Most of the time, they won’t even realise!
(I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember a dinner that I’ve attended where the jars and packets that were used to prepare the meal were lined up to impress the guests…)
In some cases, it may not even make the meal any better. A few years ago, a blind taste test was conducted in the UK of eleven different Christmas puddings at various price points. The cheapest one at £3.99 ($5.23) was found to be the clear winner, beating puddings that were more than double its price.
So if you’re tossing up between imported pasta sauce and one made closer to home at half the price, go for the cheaper option. Your guests will absolutely not even know.
Need some help on saving money over the Christmas period in relation to gifts, decorations, food and drink, or travelling? Or want to learn how to make money this Christmas? If so, click here for more of our “We Wish You a Frugal Christmas” series.
By the way…it’s no secret that Christmas can be a difficult time financially. Why not make things easier for yourself by grabbing our completely free, interactive Christmas Budget?
Let us know in the comments your cheap and cheerful recipes that are your go-tos when time (and budget!) are tight!