Holiday Meals on a Budget

Seven courses and twenty-three pounds of turkey tend to not only break your refrigerator shelves but do a pretty mean number on your wallet as well. With every food-oriented holiday jam-packed into a mere five weeks, budgeting for the next one can be as daunting as following your mother-in-law’s oyster stuffing recipe. But fear not! Five favorite recipes will have your pockets overflowing with as much spare change as you’ll have leftovers and even better: they’re all holiday classics. Read on (and try not to drool!).

Green Bean Casserole

As an avid bean hater (especially canned beans), I never bothered to experience the glories of green bean casserole until early college. And while I still actively avoid beans, I will champion the gooey comfort-food qualities of its casserole until I stop breathing. Apparently, you can dump cream of mushroom soup on anything and it’s instantly delicious.

Ingredients: About four cups of canned or frozen green beans, milk, a can of cream of mushroom soup, crispy onions.

Approximate cash spent: $10

Feeds: About 12

Penny pinching tip: Avoid the name-brands and go for generic. It’s all so ooey-gooey no one’s going to notice whether or not that’s Campbell’s you’re serving.

Apple Crisp

Apple something for dessert is pretty much a necessity, but this year skip the pie with its finicky crust and ingredient intensive filling in favor of a delicious crisp. It’s basically just like a pie, only with a yummier, cobbler-crunch topping! And oats are so cheap!

Ingredients: four apples, brown sugar, flour, oats, butter, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Approximate cash spent: It all depends on if you already have the spices. If yes, you’re looking at no more $10 – and if you also have the bulk ingredients stocked up on your shelves, more like $6

Feeds: About 6

Penny pinching tip: If you don’t already have cinnamon or nutmeg, don’t buy it! Pop over to your neighbors and ask to pinch a little. It’s only ¾ of a teaspoon each, and who is stingy with their spices at this time of year?


It bamboozles me that people buy gravy at the grocery store. It’s the worst money you’ll spend during the entire holiday season, especially because homemade gravy is so delicious and deliciously easy to create. You just boil, pop in some flour and water and stir a lot. Seriously, you can make award-winning gravy with your eyes closed.

Ingredients: the drippings from the turkey or roast beef or chicken you just cooked, water, flour, salt and pepper

Approximate cash spent: $0 – I already had everything I needed.

Serves: 6 with plenty of leftovers

Penny pinching tip: Hold on to that carcass! After the festivities are done, the bones and juicy bits left behind can be boiled into stock for a holiday meal that keeps on giving.


Hands down stuffing is my very favorite part of a holiday meal so I’m willing to shell out a couple extra dollars for it. My one tip: make it from scratch. None of that Pepperidge Farm mix which, while temptingly easy, is costly and just can’t compare.

Ingredients: a loaf of white bread, salt and pepper, butter, two onions, some celery, two eggs, chicken stock and sage (fresh if you can manage it, but dried is okay as long as you add extra)

Approximate cash spent: $13

Serves: 4 to 10 depending on how greedy you are. When I’m at the table, only four. When normal people are getting together for the holidays, more like eight.

Penny pinching tip: Skip the store-bought stock. You can make your own lickety split simply by boiling the giblets and goodies that come inside your turkey cavity along with celery, onions, a carrot and some salt and pepper: a great option if you have all the ingredients already lying around!

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