Last Minute Tips for A Festive and Frugal Christmas Dinner

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Christmas dinner is always pricey but this year, inflation and supply chain issues mean that it will be a whopping 17% higher than pre-pandemic costs.  Escalating inflation and supply chain issues are causing the prices of holiday classics to skyrocket. Is a festive and frugal Christmas dinner even possible?

We know that the holidays are wonderful, but they sure can be expensive. We don’t want to spend a month’s grocery budget on just one meal. Other families are having a tough time financially, because of a job loss, a foreclosure, or exorbitant looming bills they can’t pay. When that’s the case, the holidays can be a time for stress instead of enjoyment.

Check out these tips for a frugal Christmas dinner.

Contrary to what you may think, you don’t have to sell a kidney on the black market to put together a memorable, delicious, and thrifty Christmas dinner. You can make a lot of it right from your pantry, and other items from reasonably priced groceries at the store.

If you’ve been building a stockpile, then the food in your pantry contains all sorts of basics for scratch cooking, purchased at the lowest prices available. Because of this, you can focus on purchasing only a few special items, like a turkey or a must-have goodie that is a tradition in your family, while you enjoy delicious yet thrifty treats for the rest of your Christmas dinner.

Break out the vintage cookbooks when looking for creative ways to use your pantry stockpile. My favorite cookbook is my old Fanny Farmer cookbook, which was written in 1896 and updated in the early 1900s.

With these types of recipes, you won’t be scurrying around looking for some of those crazy Martha Stewart-esque gourmet ingredients like the breath of a yellow garden snail, captured during the 2nd full moon of the month.

Make the presentation lovely, with fancy toothpicks in the appetizers, colorful napkins, and your nicest china. If served with the proper flair – think candles, cloth napkins, and a beautiful presentation – any dinner seems just a little more festive

Following are some ideas for a festive meal 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 you’ll have on hand, like eggs and cheese.

Festive and frugal Christmas appetizers and party snacks

  • Crackers (Usually on sale during the holidays)
  • Warm up a fruity jam and add some hot pepper flakes. Serve this over cream cheese for a deceptively elegant appetizer
  • Homemade yogurt mixed with herbs to make a dip for veggies
  • Breadsticks with marinara sauce
  • Chex mix made with melted white chocolate
  • Deviled eggs
  • Garlic roasted pumpkin seeds
  • Make hummus from canned chickpeas
  • Soup
  • Slice a baguette and toast the slices. Serve with dishes of high-quality olive oil for dipping.

Festive platters

Platters of cheeses and meats are pretty expensive choices. Simply removing things from jars and arranging them on a platter will make them look far more elegant than their humble origins.

  • Place a variety of pickles on a dish for a relish tray.
  • Olives and marinated vegetables create a lovely yet inexpensive antipasto
  • Don’t buy the ready-made veggie tray from the grocery store. Instead, peel and slice your carrots and cut up other veggies that you can find at a reasonable price.
  • Instead of a fruit tray with out-of-season luxuries, go with fruits that are well-priced at this time of year, like mandarin oranges, pears, apples, and grapes.

Frugal Christmas dinner ideas

Don’t feel obligated to invest in out-of-season delicacies like fresh berries and asparagus in December. Splurge on a turkey and let the side dishes take a backseat.

And if you can’t afford the fanciest of dinners this year, don’t despair. Roast a chicken instead of a turkey or a ham, or make some homemade stuffing baked with drumsticks. Things like stuffing (or dressing, depending on what part of the country you hail from) were originally created as a way to use up something that would ordinarily be thrown out – stale bread.

Channel your Depression-era ancestors and make your goodies the frugal, old-fashioned way.

  • Homemade rolls or biscuits
  • Pasta or potato salad
  • Whip butter with a touch of honey- it makes the butter go further but looks fancy
  • Canned or frozen veggies will seem more festive when topped with breadcrumbs, bacon, and/or cheese
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Scalloped potatoes
  • Dumplings (maybe this is a Southern thing, but we always had dumplings with turkey dinner when I was a kid)
  • Stuffing – save up your bread scraps or make a batch of homemade cornbread for the base. Skip the fancy add-ins like water chestnuts and oysters and go back to the basics
  • Mashed sweet potatoes or winter squash with a sprinkle of brown sugar
  • Homemade cranberry sauce (far tastier and about the same price as canned)

Desserts

Don’t go all out on a bakery-made dessert. Make it from scratch from basic ingredients. Consider these humble ideas.

  • Decorate a cake (or cupcakes) with fall-colored sprinkles
  • Pies can be more expensive if you make the crust with pounds and pounds of butter. Try a single crust pie or make it with shortening.
  • Banana bread or pumpkin bread
  • Homemade cookies (check out our cookie recipes straight from the pantry)
  • A fruit crisp
  • Pudding with whipped cream
  • Brownies
  • Ice cream (put it in cones or add some toppings to jazz things up)

The most important ingredient

Remember, Christmas isn’t about food – it’s about much more than that. Any meal is a feast when you’re spending time with the people you love.

What are your frugal Christmas dinner tips? Share them in the comments!

Last Minute Tips for A Festive and Frugal Christmas Dinner
Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is an author and blogger. She's the single mom of two daughters and credits extreme frugality and a good sense of humor for her debt-free lifestyle. She is the author of numerous books, the editor of TheOrganicPrepper.com, and is the founder of a small digital publishing company in the emergency preparedness niche.

6 thoughts on “Last Minute Tips for A Festive and Frugal Christmas Dinner”

  1. Remember the include gratitude! As I recall, Mary & Joseph had their baby in a stable and were just happy to be warm. Chances are, there are people in your own town worse off than you. Be grateful for the meal you have and it’ll be all the tastier.

  2. The close grocery store – usually NOT the least expensive store – put both potatoes and cheese on sale this week. The potatoes are $1.99 for 10 pounds! I know what the main starch on the table is going to be, for sure. And they had fresh asparagus for the same price as fresh broccoli.
    Whole fryers are on sale, so I’m going to roast one of them for the main course. I’ll probably roast diced potatoes under that as it cooks, and use them with a meal later that week.
    Roasted beets from my garden, the last of them, will be a very colorful side dish, too.
    Our splurge was a tira misu for dessert. Store bought at that.

  3. Our family tradition for Christmas Day dinner turns out to be a relatively frugal one as well. We go for simple, with very little time in the kitchen so we can all enjoy the day. We barbecue hamburgers and hotdogs. Add chips and a salad. A dessert of some kind (ice cream, a pie, cookies). We have plenty and enjoy every bite. Clean up is minimal. On Thanksgiving we go for the traditional foods, but on Christmas we partake of Christmas hamburgers and enjoy the simplicity of our family tradition.

  4. Happy holidays!
    Just a few thoughts/ideas for saving on holiday dinners.
    Buy more than 1 turkey when on sale (I paid 29 cents/pound) before Thanksgiving (if you can afford & have room in freezer) and any other vegetables that are a little more money for Christmas then back to higher price afterwards. Potatoes & fresh cranberries easily will be good from Thanksgiving until Christmas.
    I find that December sales are more about baking ingredients & winter drinks. candy has gotten more expensive while flour & sugar are cheap. try thinking kid friendly foods (cookies, meatballs, cheese & crackers, maybe summer sausage) instead of higher priced/fancier foods. We always did semi potluck style dinners. Guests brought something to share (their choice) hopefully letting host know.
    I have found that hot chocolate station with various flavored hot chocolates, syrups, marshmallows/whipped cream, sprinkles is cheaper alternative to alcohol.

  5. I am shopping in my two deep freezers for the Christmas meal just like I did for Thanksgiving lunch. My menu planning includes a whole roaster chicken ($2.00 quick sale), orange zest (two quick sale oranges for .39 cents) cranberry sauce (.99 cent bag of whole cranberries bargain from last Christmas sale), English pea salad (canned peas from the pantry and my own pasture raised chicken eggs), chicken liver pate (a one pound container of livers from my deep freeze), three pounds of homegrown sweet potatoes ( my harvest was six and a half pounds from one pot. I used half for Thanksgiving.) and a persimmon pecan pie (foraged native persimmons from my property and quick sale pecans from last Christmas sales).
    Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!

  6. Our big Christmas meal is Christmas Eve. It is no meat and mostly seafood. This year I couldn’t do all my usual because the prices went so high. Had a 1/2 pkg of shrimp, bot a piece of salmon at Aldi, crabmeat $24.00 a can. At Aldi picked up a pkg if already made crab cakes. Not real exp but very good. Made cole slaw, spinach, and fried some potato slices from left over baked. I will have leftovers today, the day after a Christmas. Made salmon and sweet pickle salad from leftover salmon. On Christmas day had Kielbasi, sourkraut and deviled eggs.
    Left over kielbasi will be fried with eggs. There is only two of us, so Christmas dinner etc did not cost that much. Made my own cheesecake and cho chip cookies for dessert.

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