Keeping Holiday Meal Planning Easy and Budget Friendly

By Lisa Holcomb
If you are hosting a holiday meal this season, you might be starting to feel the stress already. Hosting a large family dinner can be very stressful if you haven’t planned properly. It can also be very expensive. You might find yourself spending as much on one meal as you might your normally spend for a whole week’s worth of meals. However, a little planning can go a long way toward making the dinner preparations stress-free and budget-friendly. And who wants to be stressed out any more than we already are during the holidays? Not me!
So, grab a cup of coffee or hot cocoa and some paper and pen, and let’s get planning.

  • Make a guest list. Know approximately how many family/friends you are expecting to have for the dinner. Keep in mind that you might have some last minute guests so plan accordingly. You don’t want to purchase too much food (although holiday leftovers are always great), but you also don’t want to end up with not enough.
  • Set a budget. This is so important. You certainly don’t want to break the bank providing a holiday meal, so make sure you know what you can and can’t do as far as providing for the meal. If possible, ask each family to bring their favorite dish. With you providing the main dish (turkey, ham, etc.) and family members providing the side dishes, the expense of the meal will be considerably less. Maybe each family can bring their favorite dessert. Have family and friends let you know ahead of time what they will be providing so that you don’t end up with several side dishes of deviled eggs or tons of mashed potatoes.
  • Shop the sales. Many grocery stores have their traditional turkey, ham, pumpkin, etc. on sale during this season. Take advantage of it. If your budget doesn’t allow for several side dishes, then only pick a couple of your family’s favorites to prepare.
  • Plan that menu! Keeping your budget in mind, think of past holiday dinners and what dishes were a hit. Are there traditional ones that just have to be on the table or it’s just not the same? In my house it’s sweet potato casserole. There must be sweet potato casserole at both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Write down any new recipes you’d like to try this year. Build a Menu offers their members a special Thanksgiving and Christmas menu each year that comes with recipes, a shopping list, and lets you know approximately how much you’ll be spending at the store. That’s a great budgeting tool! Remember, you can ask others to bring dishes as well.
  • Make that list! Whatever you do, don’t try to go shopping without your grocery list. This is a sure way to overspend. You’ll also find yourself either purchasing items you didn’t need or not getting the items you really did need. Don’t go without that list! If you have made the menu yourself, then check to make sure you have all the ingredients (including staples like spices) that you’ll need. If you use a menu planning service, make sure you print out the grocery list and check and double check that you have all the ingredients. Taking the extra time to make sure you have what you need will keep you from having to make return trips to the store where you are mostly likely to purchase items that you don’t need.
  • Do your prep work ahead of time. If possible, do all you can a day or two in advance. Chopping, dicing, shredding can all be done 2-3 days before and kept in the fridge until you need it. Don’t wait until the day of the holiday meal to do all your prep work. This is just inviting stress. You can even do a lot of the holiday baking a few days in advance. Just pace yourself so that you are not completely worn out by the time the holiday meal arrives.
  • Make a list of things that need to be done. At least a week in advance, make a list of everything you can think of that needs to be done and when you want it done. It doesn’t have to be just meal planning that is on the list. Do the bathrooms need cleaning the day before? Floors swept, etc.? Enlist family members to pitch in and help. Depending on the ages of your kiddos, they should be able to help with much on the list. This will go a long way to helping mom not feel so stressed.

So, go grab that hot beverage, curl up somewhere, and start making that list. Putting some time in now will save you loads of stress when you want to focus on relaxing with your friends and family. Happy holiday meal planning!

Lisa Holcomb and her husband, Will, have six children (her oldest two children are married and have babies of their own) and live near Austin, Texas, with their four boys. Lisa is co-founder of Build A Menu and is known as the “Queen of Meal Time Makeovers.” She is an author, speaker, and an advocate for adoption, family nutrition, savvy grocery shopping, and family dinners.

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