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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