Making festive memories over baking cookies, opening gifts and breaking bread with your loved ones may be priceless, but if your holiday joy comes along with some decidedly less-festive financial stress, you’re hardly alone. Nearly 6 in 10 Canadians reported worrying about money during the holidays last year, according to a survey conducted by CPA Canada, and 37% spent more than $800 on holiday gifts alone.

All of those worries can put a damper on your holiday feast. A festive gathering with all the trimmings (and plenty of wine) could cost several hundred dollars, but that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate on a budget. Here’s how to throw an unforgettable feast without breaking the bank — and how to make your meal a little healthier at the same time.

Pick a focal point for the meal

While a multicourse meal with all the trimmings may sound good in theory, in practice it’s costly and, in many cases, not necessary. “The holiday meal is about connecting with loved ones and pleasure, so choose the dishes that give you the most pleasure,” says Kristen Yarker, a registered dietitian based in Victoria, B.C. “The things that nobody cares about, those are the things to cut.” If your family loves cheese, splurging on a cheese plate makes sense — but if your family is really more interested in the turkey, fancy cheese isn’t a wise use of your funds. When you build a meal around 1 or 2 foods that are most important to your guests, you can round out the rest of the meal on a budget without anyone feeling deprived.

Bring on the seasonal winter vegetables

Serving plenty of vegetables is a must when you’re trying to keep a meal healthy, and choosing in-season veggies is easier on your wallet than out-of-season imports. Yarker recommends serving inexpensive vegetables like carrots, beets, turnips, Brussels sprouts and parsnips for hearty sides at a low cost. Using a variety of seasonings and accompaniments can help give your side-dishes that special-occasion feel. Ginger-glazed carrots, parsnips with a balsamic glaze or Brussels sprouts with homemade bacon crumbles make a plate of veggies feel like a feast.

Serve festive drinks with little (or no) alcohol

Alcohol is often the priciest part of a holiday feast, but it’s also not the healthiest. “Our bodies don’t recognize when we drink our calories,” says Yarker. “If you ate a starter, you’d eat a little bit less at the main meal. But when you drink your calories, you’ll still eat just as much.” Avoid over-imbibing by making a gorgeous festive punch from sparkling water, a splash of juice, orange slices and cranberries and a splash of gin, she advises. And offer your guests festive sparkling water —infused with orange slices and rosemary, or cranberries and ginger — for those who prefer an alcohol-free option.

Think beyond the traditional cookie tray

Everyone loves holiday cookies — but baking 5 or 6 batches of cookies leaves you with lots of unhealthy leftovers, not to mention a massive grocery bill for all that chocolate and nuts. Stretch your holiday baking by hosting a cookie exchange with your friends, or baking half-batches and serving miniature cookies instead of the full-sized version. (Be sure to adjust your baking times if your cookies are smaller than the recipe calls for.) And take advantage of delicious seasonal fruit for a dessert that’s both healthy and inexpensive, recommends Yarker. “Mandarin oranges, pomegranate, or a mixed citrus fruit salad with a ginger dressing looks luxurious and special,” she says. “And you won’t be up until 2 a.m. baking!”

Make the most of your leftovers

One of the easiest ways to make a holiday feast easier on the wallet is to turn the leftovers into meals you can enjoy after the party’s over. Use the leftover turkey bones to make a rich stock, then add leftover meat, brown rice or barley and inexpensive veggies, like carrots and celery, to make a cozy soup. Yarker also recommends throwing those leftover veggies into a skillet to make breakfast hash. Simply add a fried or poached egg and you’re good to go. And if you need a break from traditional holiday flavours, combine your leftover mashed potatoes with canned salmon, an egg and your favorite seasonings to make salmon cakes.

Just keep an eye on food safety as you use your leftovers, so you end up remembering the feast fondly. Cooked foods should go back in the fridge within 2 hours, and any food in the fridge should be eaten within 3 to 4 days. If you plan to eat it later than that, freeze it right away to enjoy festive leftovers into the New Year.

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