How to Cook a Holiday Meal for $5 Per Person

Budget a little lean this year? Here's how you can cook a holiday meal on the cheap.

Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza, Ramadan, Saturnalia or another of the multitude of winter holidays that roll around this time of year, it’s likely your celebration is steeped in family tradition.

From the games you play to the songs you sing and even the foods you eat, tradition is often at the heart of the festivities. Of course, upholding those traditions, particularly when it comes to the food, can be an expensive endeavor, especially if your feast is “big meat” focused. That prime rib, turkey or ham can be a belt and budget buster, especially if you’ve had a lean year or are trying to save money.

Sure, you could put all of your holiday expenses on your credit card and pay it off over time, but unless you have a credit card with 0% interest, that option is going to cost you even more. Go into too much debt and it could end up hurting your credit scores (you can see your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, at Credit.com).

With that in mind, we’ve put together some tasty ideas that can help you get through this holiday season without breaking your budget and possibly even begin a new tradition that will keep your tummy and wallet happy for years to come. (And, yes, we’re talking beyond this delicious 16-cent oatmeal recipe.)

Here are some menu ideas that will let you feed your holiday guests for less than $5 each.

Feast of the Seven Fishes

Typically reserved for Christmas Eve, this traditional Italian-American meal (also called The Vigil) features seven separate dishes with seafood in every one. Bon Appetit has a wonderful representative menu with recipes.

Of course, you’re not going to feed everyone all seven of these dishes for $5 each, but you could pick and choose two or three and easily do so. Even better: Assign a course to some or all of your guests. You won’t spend as much money or as much time in the kitchen.

Suggestion: A giant pot of BA’s Best Linguine and Clams (included in the menu above) will cost you about $14 (triple the recipe) and feed as many as 12 people — more if you have more than just the one course. That’s about $1.16 each and leaves you with plenty of budget left to add courses and wine as you wish.

Lasagna

Sticking with the Italian theme, we’re going to suggest the granddaddy of all pastas. Lasagna is a crowd pleaser, is easy to make and can feed large numbers of people for not a lot of money.

Another nice thing about lasagna is how flexible it is. Ricotta or béchamel, vegetables, beef sausage – there are literally hundreds of recipes that let you make it with virtually anything you prefer. One of my personal favorites is this Lasagna Verdi al Forno, featured many years ago in Saveur Magazine. It’s made with a béchamel and a meat sauce, including prosciutto de parma. The ingredients will cost you about $30 and feed up to 12 people. Pair it with some garlic bread and a salad, and you’re still well under $5 each.

Very Veggie

You know when a big roast turkey with all the trimmings doesn’t sound good? When you’re a vegetarian. That’s doubly true when you’re a vegetarian in Australia, where the “winter” holidays fall smack in the middle of summer. You won’t find any chestnuts roasting on an open fire Down Under. What you will find, however, are light meals that are perfect after a day at the beach.

This vegetarian menu from Taste.com.au is exactly that — still festive and perfect for celebratory gatherings. And, based on our costing, cheap as chips. The ingredients for this entire four-course meal will run you around $28 and feed six. That’s just $4.66 each.

Pretend It’s Summer

If you really were in Australia, chances are you’d be eating something that came off a grill. While it’s not a tradition in the United States, the Christmas Day barbecue (and any other day, for that matter) is king, and there are plenty of states in warm enough climates that, if you lived in one, you could easily start your own holiday barbecuing tradition.

Throw a couple of chickens on the grill, or some sausages. There are so many inexpensive options available that you’ll be able to satisfy all of your guests without much fuss, even the vegetarians or vegans. Put together a few simple salads or grilled vegetables, and you have a delicious meal that will feed a large group of people for little money (and effort).

Image: SolStock

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11 Ways My Family Saves at Restaurants

save-at-restaurants

I’m a busy mom of seven children, who has also been married for 20 years. We have experienced times in our family when money was scarce and times when money was more abundant. Normally, I prefer to cook at home using crockpot freezer meals, but sometimes it’s nice to take everyone out for a little change of pace.

Because we have a large family and it can be quite costly to eat out, I learned how to shave money off of our restaurant bills. We do take the time to splurge every now and then, but when we are on a tight budget, we’ve learned several tips to help us save money when we eat out.

1. Share a Meal

Many restaurants serve large enough portions for two meals. In order to save money, sometimes my husband and I will split a meal that we’re sure we’d both like. Some restaurants do charge a fee if you plan to split your plate, but many do not. Be sure to ask your waiter or waitress if you think this is something you’d like to try to make sure you’re not in for a surprise when you go to pay the bill.

Tip: Choose a meal that is typically larger than most, or one that you’ve seen served before, to be sure you’ll have enough food.

2. Order à la Carte

At my favorite Mexican restaurant, I can order a chile relleno off of the dinner menu, or I can order the chile relleno “à la carte” (with no sides). On this particular meal, I save myself $5 over the meal option, and it’s usually just the amount of food that I need. Mexican restaurants are the perfect place to order à la carte, because you can fill up on chips and salsa if it’s not quite enough. Of course, you can try this at other styles of restaurants, too.

Tip: On days when you have a larger appetite, you may want to try another money-saving technique.

3. Subscribe to Restaurant Email Lists

This is one of my favorite ways to save money on restaurant bills. If I know that I will be traveling to a certain town that has a certain restaurant, I will find their website and sign up for their email list. Many restaurants will give you coupons toward your next visit. They will also send you coupons for your birthday. Some of these coupons you may find worthless, but many of them are “buy one, get one free entree” coupons that you can use to save $10 or more. Be careful, though, the coupons that they email out do expire, so be sure to watch those expiration dates.

4. Order Off the Lunch Menu

Ask if you can order off of the lunch menu. Some restaurants will allow it and some won’t. In my experience, the restaurant I do this at charges an extra dollar if you do, but I feel the extra dollar is still more than worth it in the long run.

5. Only Go Out at Lunch Time

It is a well-known fact that most restaurants will charge less at lunchtime than dinnertime. Typically this is because the portion size is smaller. We have found that if we save our eating-out time for lunch, we spend less.

6. Don’t Order Appetizers

Ordering an appetizer is a great way to kill a restaurant budget. While it can be fun to indulge occasionally, it is best to leave these money-grubbing foods alone if you’re trying to spend less.

7. Drink Water

If we were to buy a soft drink for each person in our family when eating out, we would spend over $18 on drinks alone. Drinking water saves you at least $2 per drink in most restaurants. It would save you even more if you typically order wine or other alcoholic beverages.

8. No Dessert

Desserts add up quickly. Save your dessert purchases for very special occasions with your significant other. Not only will this help your final bill, it could help with weight loss, too.

9. Have Kids Share an Adult Meal

A friend of mine orders one large adult meal for two to three of her kids to eat at a time. It ends up saving them several dollars per order and they typically have more than enough to eat as well.

10. Plan Ahead

If I know I want to eat out but don’t know where I want to go exactly, I will map out my route and look at the restaurant websites in the area to get a bit familiar with the menu. Recently, I was on a trip to San Diego. My husband and I were planning to eat at a nearby restaurant, but when I looked at their online menu, I discovered that the prices were double what I had originally thought. We quickly changed our direction and found a much lower-priced restaurant by using the same tactic.

11. Seek Out ‘Kids Eat Free’ Restaurants

On one of our last vacations, this was a great way to eat cheap while traveling. If you are eating out with kids, this is an awesome way to save some money! Do an internet search for “Kids Eat Free (City and State)” and see what comes up. We found a different restaurant to do this at every day. Some restaurants let you get one kids meal for each adult entree you’re paying for and some even let you get two.

[Editor’s Note; Eating out too often can certainly break your budget if you’re not careful. You can monitor your financial goals, like building a good credit score, each month on Credit.com.]

Image: monkeybusinessimages

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