Top budget tips when making Christmas dinner

There's no need to compromise on quality, flavour or abundance this Christmas if you're on a budget. Check out our top tips for cutting costs.

1. Make your own canapés

Selection of canapés on table
Ready-made canapés may save time, but they'll quickly add a frightening amount to your shopping bill. Making your own can save a considerable sum. Get some inspiration from our very best Christmas canapé recipes. Most are simple to make but can be time-consuming to assemble, so take advantage of helping hands, especially children who will enjoy wrapping sausages in bacon, spreading toppings on crostini, or garnishing individual canapés with herb sprigs. Anything with a pastry or bread base should help keep the cost down. Try these:

Crostini of artichokes & chives
Red pepper, walnut & goat's cheese palmiers
Crunchy Christmas crostini
Bacon, sausage & prune rolls
Pea & feta toasts
Mini jacket potatoes

2. Find cheaper alternatives to old favourites

Smoked mackerel pate with bread on board
Smoked salmon might be a regular on your Christmas table, but it's an expensive treat. Instead of foregoing it altogether, make your own smoked salmon pâté with smoked salmon trimmings. They cost less than half the price of even a basic smoked salmon.

Try our smoked salmon, dill & lemon pâté for a super simple, five-minute starter. Smoked mackerel is even less expensive and also makes an impressive pâté. Whip up our smoked mackerel pâté with French bread & horseradish for a relaxed sharing dish. Or, you could try it flaked into a colourful salad for a Christmas starter with a difference in our smoked mackerel salad with beetroot and horseradish dressing.

3. Choose your bird wisely

Roast turkey on table
This will probably be the most expensive item on the Christmas table. The cost varies hugely from as little as £3 per kilo for some of the cheapest supermarket birds, up to around £20 per kilo for the finest slow-reared, free-range Bronze turkey. Put another way, the cheapest one would cost around £12 for a 4kg turkey, the top end bird closer to £80. Happily there is a middle ground with free-range white turkeys coming somewhere in the middle and various other options depending on your budget. For some serving suggestions for feeding a crowd, check out our ultimate turkey recipe collection

4. Buy a bigger bird

Roast turkey with stuffing on plate
This might seem counterintuitive, but if you're thrifty and disciplined when it comes to using up leftovers then you could make your turkey stretch to several other meals. It's often cheaper per kilo to buy a larger bird, especially when buying from the farm gate or online. Want some ideas for using up leftovers? Try our top 10 leftover turkey recipes, to make everything from hearty family-friendly pies to nourishing noodle soups. 

5. Or buy a smaller bird

Christmas dinner on plate on table
However, if you often end up throwing away leftovers then you'll be better off buying only what you need. You can even opt for a smaller bird that you might think, or try a no-fuss turkey crown. Serve up a classic roast with our best ever turkey crown recipes

Allow a minimum of 500g on-the-bone weight per person (so a 5kg turkey would serve 10 for example) but keep costs down by replacing some of that weight with a sausagemeat stuffing. Even a good free-range sausagemeat or pork mince should only cost around £5-£6 per kilo. Make it even more cost effective by bulking it out and adding texture with breadcrumbs and an egg or two (freeze stale crusts throughout the year to make breadcrumbs).

Make that 5kg bird serve 12 or more by adding about a kilo of stuffing such as:
Sausage, sage & onion stuffing
Or mix 500g sausagemeat with this fruity breadcrumb stuffing:
Apricot & hazelnut stuffing

6. Make your own gravy

Gravy in boat
If you've been tempted to buy fresh turkey gravy in the past, then try saving a few pounds by making your own. The giblets and the roasting juices provide all the flavour you'll need, along with a spoonful of flour, an optional chicken stock cube and a splash of wine if you've got a bottle open. Choose your favourite flavour from our top Christmas gravy recipes and see our guide on how to make the ultimate gravy for even more expert tips

7. Shop around

Roast dinner on table
This might seem obvious, but it's easy to forget with everything else going on. Lots of shops and supermarkets will be offering discounts in the run-up to the festive season and you can check most of them out online. You'll often find one is offering a bargain price for turkey, where another is the place to stock up on vegetables and fruit.

8. Organic boxes can offer good value

It's a bit of a myth that organic always means more expensive. Seasonal produce, such as that from Riverford, comes direct from the farm, cutting out the middle men and minimising air miles and other transportation costs, so it can actually save you money and means your vegetables will have masses of flavour, making for a memorable Christmas dinner. They also offer free delivery. Look at different websites and browse through the boxes until you find one that suits you. 

9. Upgrade cheap mincemeat and make your own mince pies

Mince pie on plate with fork
Buy a cheap jar of mincemeat and spruce it up with some freshly grated orange zest, some chopped almonds and an optional glug of brandy. You can stir in a few extra spices such as ground cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger, or a handful of dried cranberries or prunes, or whatever else you might have lurking in your cupboards. Use to fill your own mince pies, which will be much cheaper and far better than shop-bought. Try our easy, classic mince pies for an unbeatable festive treat. Indulge in our favourite mince pie recipes, from traditional bites to modern twists. 

TIP: Making your own all-butter pastry for this recipe will cost under £2 and will make at least 18 mince pies. Make it go even further by stamping out small stars instead of a full pastry lid. Freeze any leftover pastry for another batch.

10. Decorate your own Christmas cake

Christmas cake with greaseproof paper
Plain Christmas cakes can be bought fairly cheaply, but the lovely decorated versions can be very expensive. A block of marzipan, some ready-to-roll icing and a little bit of jam is all you need to cover your own cake, and then you can be as creative as you like. For a simple step-by-step tutorial, watch our video on how to marzipan a cake. Get creative with the sprinkles and icing with our Christmas cake decoration ideas

The shapes don't have to be perfect but they'll look impressive all in white on top of your cake. Try these simple ideas... 

Decorative stars
Sugar-dusted snowflake cake
Ho, Ho, Ho Merry Christmas cake
Shimmering forest cake

11. Check the cheese

Cheeseboard with grapes and figs
If you like to serve a cheeseboard at Christmas, then keep a beady eye on the price of cheese per kilo. When buying pre-wrapped it's easy to think you're getting a bargain when in fact the price per kilo could be quite high. In some supermarkets it's cheaper to buy from the deli counter, so take a few minutes to compare the costs. As lovely as the whole stiltons in ceramic pots and ready-prepared cheeseboards might look, these can often be far higher per kilo than the same stilton on the deli counter. Make your own cheeseboard feel special with some dried figs or dates, some homemade chutney and some nuts. Check out our guide on what to serve on a cheeseboard for irresistible cheesy pairings. 

And finally... before you buy anything, check your cupboards!

If, like us, you have old jars of mincemeat, half eaten packets of dried fruit and a long-forgotten pot of mixed peel in your cupboards then you're halfway to making mincemeat or even your own Christmas pudding or Christmas cake. There might be chestnuts or nuts for a stuffing, marzipan for decorating your cake or a jar of sun-dried tomatoes for some canapés. Plus you'll give your cupboards a good clear out in the process.
 

Try even more budget recipes....

Budget Christmas dinner menu
Homemade Christmas decoration ideas
How to make Christmas cheaper
Our ultimate budget recipe collection

Do you have a top tip for keeping festive cooking thrifty? Leave a comment below...

Comments, questions and tips

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tobyjug3
29th Nov, 2017
To make mincemeat go further and less sugar per tart, add a fair amount of grated carrot, up to an equal amount. They will still be delicious but better for diabetics and cuts a few calories for the rest. I do this as routine now.
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