December 09, 2022

How to throw the perfect holiday feast on a budget

By Véronique Harvey

Preparing an unforgettable holiday meal for family and friends can be costly. But you can still serve up a feast without breaking your budget.

The holidays are a time to connect with family and friends. Making festive memories over baking cookies, opening gifts and sharing meals is priceless.

But recent economic uncertainty has cast a long shadow. And it could put a damper on holiday festivities. Canadians’ financial well-being has taken a hit this year. A study by the National Payroll Institute explains why. The culprits include: 

More Canadians are living from pay to pay, with numbers rising by 26% since 2021. But does that mean you should cancel your holiday gatherings?  After all, setting out a festive spread can cost several hundred dollars. Especially when you include all the usual trimmings, plus wine and spirits. But take heart: it’s still possible to 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.

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1. Stick to one focal point for the meal

A multi-course meal with all the trimmings may sound good in theory. But in practice it’s costly and, in many cases, not necessary. “The holiday meal is about connecting with loved ones. So choose the dish that everyone loves and cut out the rest,” says Kristen Yarker, a nutritionist based in Victoria.

If your family loves cheese, splurging on a beautiful cheese plate makes sense. But if your family really prefers the turkey, fancy cheese isn’t a wise use of your funds. When you build a meal around the foods that are most important to your guests, you won’t waste your money on side dishes. And your guests will eat their fill!

2- Bring on the seasonal winter vegetables

Serving plenty of vegetables is a must when you’re trying to keep your holiday meal healthy. What’s more, in-season veggies are easier on your wallet than out-of-season imports.

Serve inexpensive vegetables like:

  • carrots
  • beets
  • turnips
  • Brussels sprouts
  • parsnips

For that special-occasion feel, use a variety of seasonings. For example, you could serve:

  • ginger-glazed carrots
  • parsnips with a balsamic glaze
  • Brussels sprouts with bacon crumbles

3. Serve festive drinks - that are alcohol-free

Alcohol is often the priciest part of a holiday feast. And 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 delicious festive punch. Start with fruit juice and add orange slices, cranberries and a sprig of rosemary. Your guests can add their own splash of gin or vodka. Or offer your guests festive sparkling water infused with herbs or citrus. It’s a low-calorie option and just as satisfying!

Everyone loves holiday cookies! But sometimes just a bite or two is enough. So instead of baking a triple batch, cut your recipe in half or serve miniature cookies. That way you won’t be left with:

  • tempting treats that you’ll be eating for weeks
  • a hefty grocery bill

“And take advantage of delicious seasonal fruit for a dessert that’s both healthy and inexpensive,” recommends Kristen Yarker. “Mandarin oranges, pomegranate, or a mixed citrus fruit salad with a ginger dressing looks luxurious and special. And you won’t be up until 2 a.m. baking!”

5. 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. Use the leftover turkey bones to make a rich stock. Then add leftover meat, brown rice and inexpensive veggies to make a cozy soup.

You can also throw those leftover veggies into a skillet to make breakfast hash to go with a fried or poached egg, Yarker suggests.  Another tasty trick is to combine your leftover mashed potatoes with some fish, an egg and your favourite seasonings. Voilà, delicious fish cakes. So easy!

Pssst! Just keep an eye on food safety as you use your leftovers. You don’t want any unpleasant surprises. Cooked foods should go back in the fridge within 2 hours. 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.

This article is meant to provide general information only. Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada does not provide legal, accounting, taxation, or other professional advice. Please seek advice from a qualified professional, including a thorough examination of your specific legal, accounting and tax situation.

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