It's been a while since I've posted on my blog but I've been thinking a lot about the upcoming holidays and how they put many people over the edge financially. We all want to go all out for our families and friends! But you don’t have to throw your budget out the window to throw a great holiday dinner party. You just need to get a little creative—so it only looks like you went all out! Here are some of my favorite holiday meal money-savers, plus a few ideas from my friend Chadwick Boyd, lifestyle guru and host of Reel Food.
1. Plan holiday meals around weekly ads. See what’s on sale in circulars and check for digital coupons on apps like Flipp and Shopular as well as grocery-store websites and apps. I find tons of great coupons on the app of my local supermarket Stop & Shop. (Retailers have been cutting back on print coupons while adding digital ones, so if you haven’t gone digital yet now is a good time to start!) Plug those marked-down ingredients into recipe sites like AllRecipes.com and FoodNetwork.com to discover new dishes. Type in green beans at TheKitchn.com, for example, and you’ll find an easy, cheap recipe for fried green beans—a yummy holiday treat!
2. Get your free turkey. Find out what you’ll need to spend at different grocery stores and then plan your shopping so you don’t miss out! At my local ShopRite, spending $400 by the end of November nets you a free turkey or ham.
3. DIY instead of buy. Some things are cheaper and better when you make them yourself, especially salad dressing. A simple vinaigrette is super easy to make and free of preservatives, artificial flavors and colors, and other additives. Mix two parts balsamic vinegar and one part olive oil; season with some salt, pepper, and sugar. If you want to get fancy, add in a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and a chopped clove of garlic. You can serve homemade dressing in an old wine bottle—remember to save the cork!
4. Shop and cook with a friend. By shopping as a team with someone who is also preparing a family meal, you can split bulk-size holiday supplies to cut costs and waste—and save time in the kitchen. Going halfsies is great for trips to warehouse stores. You probably don’t need a one-gallon tub of Cayenne Pepper sauce for this year’s tray of hot wings, for example, but maybe half a gallon would work fine. Last time I looked, Sam’s Club was selling a gallon jug for $11.28, or 8 cents per ounce, which is less than half the price of a 23-ounce container at Walmart, which was priced at $4.48 or 20 cents per ounce. You can also split large containers of holiday foods like breadcrumbs, cranberry sauce, pasta sauce, and frozen appetizers.
5. Make them drool. Baking biscuits from scratch is an inexpensive way to get people in the holiday spirit. “It’s like putting a chocolate chip cookie in the oven when you’re selling a house,” says Boyd. “When you have biscuits baking in the oven as guests are arriving it’s an extra way to show that you care around the holidays.” Here’s Chadwick’s favorite recipe for biscuits.
6. Dress up basics. Boyd buys baked cornbread at the grocery store and crumbles it up in a skillet with some butter to toast it just a bit. Sprinkle in a little thyme or rosemary and use the crumble to top off mac and cheese. Give biscuits a special holiday twist by slathering on homemade molasses butter or rosemary-infused honey before baking. “It’s a wonderful way to add a special touch without spending a lot of money,” says Boyd.
7. Push the veggies. “They are super inexpensive, and they go a long way,” says Boyd, author of “Entertaining with Vegetables.” The trick is how you prepare them. So, for example, instead of steaming a bunch of plain broccoli, Boyd makes a shaved broccoli salad with French feta lemon zest and almonds (pictured above), which uses the stalks as well as the heads, saving you money and reducing food waste. Here's the recipe:
Shaved Broccoli Stalk Salad with Golden Raisins and Lemon
Whole vegetable cooking is an outgrowth of the sustainable food movement. Cooks are now embracing using all parts of vegetables - roots, stalks, leaves and all. This recipe is inspired by Tara Duggan's recipe in her excellent book, Root to Stalk Cooking. It's also inspired by my grandfather Frank who used to sit at the kitchen table and peel broccoli stems as a pre-dinner snack.
2 bunches broccoli with leaves, washed
2 Tablespoons golden olive oil
Zest from 1 fresh lemon + juice from half
1 cup golden raisins
½ cup French feta (or regular crumbled feta)
Crunchy salt (Kosher)
Trim all the leaves off the stems of the broccoli. Cut off the florets. Reserve both in a bowl. Cut the stalks in half. Remove the tough outer skin using a sharp vegetable peeler. Discard. Run the peeler along the cut side of the stalks and thinly shave. Gently pat with a paper towel to remove any excess moisture.
Place the shavings, florets and leaves in a large mixing bowl. Add the olive oil, lemon zest, juice, raisins and feta. Toss gently. Season with the crunchy salt and pepper. Transfer to a platter or large serving bowl.
Serve immediately or chill in refrigerator (you can make this a few hours ahead.