How to Make a Frugal Christmas Dinner from the Pantry

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Author of The Flat Brook Cookbook and Creator of Build a Better Pantry on a Budget online course

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 US dollars. Crazy! $202 is a couple of weeks’ worth of food for my family. On top of purchasing gifts and decorating for the holidays, can you really afford to blow your grocery 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 in my course, 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.

About Daisy

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, adventure-seeking, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty; 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived; and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. Her work is widely republished across alternative media and she has appeared in many interviews.

Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books, 11 self-published books, and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses at You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

Leave a Reply

  • Daisy,

    Years ago my husband and I decided to open a business. It was a dismal failure and we jokingly told everyone we were “self unemployed”.
    Add to that, we were raising three boys. We had some other income from some property, but for the most part, we were really not doing well financially.
    On Christmas, we asked each family member what their favorite food was and that’s what we had. I don’t remember everything, but I do know we had butter beans (my husband) and fried chicken (one son) and chocolate cake (me). I threw in a can of cranberry sauce and we had packaged hot chocolate while we opened some gifts. Most memorable Christmas dinner ever!

    • LOLing at “self-unemployed”. Been there with a couple of my own businesses and could have used that clever term. 🙂 Good way to do things, incorporating everyone’s favorite foods!

  • I’ve planned Holiday meals based on cultural heritage, children’s birth places and places we have lived (but not at the same time). We make the dishes together and discuss the significance of each dish. Using on hand pantry items we have made dishes such as German Kaese Spaetzle and Icelandic Ponnukokur (cheese noodles and crepes). It’s nice to tie our history and traditions into today’s celebrations, and we always have black eyed peas for New Years.

  • Chicken, mashed potatoes, canned or jar gravy, box stuffing, baked carrots, croissants from a can, soda, beer, wine, apple pie. Mmmmm. Inexpensive too.

  • I had no idea that in many households, people have an elaborate Christmas breakfast in addition to an elaborate Christmas dinner. I grew up around Catholics who would fast until after morning Mass, which precluded any breakfast. I don’t know if modern Catholics fast before Mass; probably not.
    I also didn’t realize other women serve appetizers before their Christmas dinner. Why would a woman want people to fill up on appetizers so as to spoil their appetites for dinner? I think we have been too influenced by the menus promoted on TV and the internet.
    I really like the Honey Roasted Vegetables recipe and will use it!

  • In my doctors office i had about 5 employees. I used to bring my coffee in a thermos instead of doing like everyone else and going down the hall to buy a $2.00 coffee each day.. the girls laughed at me bringing my old Thermos while they had the latest sugar laden “coffee” from the coffee shop I pointed out to them they were spend ing 2 dollars a day five days a week. times about 250 working daysl It comes out to $2,500 dollars each per year. It didn;t change their habits but i showed them an option so many young people don;t realize. Some of these girls could not buy their lunch the day we got payed checks until the checks were actually distributed and they left to deposit them.

  • Luckily, the vegetables that go best roasted with a turkey are also plentiful and cheap in the early winter. I make a large pan of oven roasted mostly root vegetables – largest concentration is potatoes and carrots, which are both ridiculously cheap, then add a couple of beets, also pretty cheap, and a moderate amount of the more expensive parsnips and brussels sprouts. Wash and cut into bite size pieces, toss all together with a generous amount of olive oil, sea salt, pepper, and crushed rosemary, roast in oven alongside turkey until tender. In the last 10 minutes or so, I drizzle on some balsamic. Nearly all your vegetable sides done together on one sheet pan – easy peasy! Then I just need to heat up some home canned beans and corn, maybe some oven baked sweet potatoes in the skins or baked squash.
    Instead of fancy appetizers with expensive ingredients like shrimp and salmon, I pick up several small whole cheeses from Aldi – they have fun wax coated cheeses in holiday shapes (stars, snowmen, and santas) for something like $4 each. One of each shape on a wooden cutting board, add a good variety of crackers (also from Aldi – they are the best deal going), maybe a bit of smoked deli meat (Trader Joes for the meat), add a bunch of tiny decorative Japanese dishes filled with a wide variety of my homemade preserves (jellies, jams, chutneys, pickles, salsas), fill in any spaces with dried fruit, nuts, and olives. An abundant, overflowing appetizer platter for a crowd for under $20! At various points throughout the year, grocery chains will have bags of frozen berries on sale for $3. I always put some in the freezer during these sales. A special Christmas breakfast is crepes (simple to make, eggs, milk, and flour to make a runny pancake mix that will spread thinly on a frypan to make paper thin crepes. Sprinkle a bit of lemon juice and sugar on each one as it comes out of the pan (while the next cake is cooking) and roll up with some thawed and heated berries in the middle. Pour the rest of the heated berry mix over top when plates are finished, add a sprinkle of icing sugar, and you have a special festive breakfast that did not break the bank.

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