10 ways to have a frugal (but fab!) festive season

Food Writer of the Year KATE RYAN offers advice to WOW! readers on how to push the boat out this Christmas, while not splashing out too much of your hard-earned cash
10 ways to have a frugal (but fab!) festive season

The festive season can be costly, but you can tighten the purse strings with a few easy steps

I’VE seen my fair share of frugal Christmases over the years, but I have never equated frugal with lacking in joy.

The festive feast is such a focus of Christmas Day, evolving into a huge undertaking with months of planning, costing hundreds of euros and precious hours of time.

No wonder this year people are feeling the pressure even more.

But we don’t have to feel despondent - the best creativity blossoms within limitations. Reclaim the hours dedicated to what is essentially a pimped-up roast dinner into time with your nearest and dearest who make life special and memorable.

That’s what ultimately is important, and by making a few tweaks, there are plenty of ways to enjoy Christmas dinner without the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

These ten tips will help and free up time to spend playing games, having the chat with friends and family, or snuggling up under a blanket in front of the TV.

1. Strictly Come… for the Christmas dinner, only

When it comes to Christmas dinner, success is all in the planning, and that’s going to be even more important this year to keep a rein on costs. Less is more, and when it comes to Christmas dinner, it really is!

If it’s your turn to host Christmas, keep the biggest part of the whole show focused on dinner. If money is tight, this is the year to consider sacrificing a Christmas Eve get-together with bubbles and party bites or a St Stephen’s Day dinner for your entire party of guests.

Keeping it strictly a Christmas Day extravaganza will save you a small fortune or even gift some wiggle room to upgrade the meal.

2. One Less Thing

Now you have just one big dinner to focus on, you can easily plan your menu. Start off with everything you might normally serve up and then get out your big red pen, because it’s time to edit!

Think strategically: What can be cooked together? What always has loads left over? Do I really need two types of stuffing, or two meats? Is there only one person who eats Brussels Sprouts? Is the cheeseboard necessary? Is one dessert enough - especially if you’ve got a stock of festive treats?

PLAN AHEAD: What can be cooked together? What always has loads left over?
PLAN AHEAD: What can be cooked together? What always has loads left over?

It might seem a bit ruthless, but for every item you decide to leave off the menu, that’s money saved in buying, refrigerating, cooking, and the cost of disposal.

3. Buy Only What You Need

When it comes to grocery shopping, the list is king! When you break it down, there are relatively few elements to a Christmas dinner and, because you’ve put time into planning your menu and being strict about what to leave in or leave out, your list is perfectly focused.

Christmas Dinner should be joyful so, if you can, set aside a small contingency for a spontaneous purchase. Maybe it’s a box of chocolates, a bottle of wine on special offer, or a festive scented candle to set the mood.

Bring vouchers and coupons, collect points, but avoid multi-buys - unless they’re on your list. The more trust you place in your list, the further your money will go.

4. Portion Sizes and Loving Your Leftovers

I am not suggesting counting the number of peas for each guest! Instead, think of how much food is enough - it’s less than you might realise. Half a carrot per person is adequate, two or three potatoes each (less for kids), one regular sized bag of frozen peas between everyone. It all feeds into your list helping to control what you’re spending.

But there will always be some leftovers no matter how carefully you plan, and that’s where knowing what to do with leftovers boxes clever. My absolute go-to is a turkey and ham pie because it’s the perfect vehicle for using up leftover meat, carrots, parsnips and peas.

There are lots of Lovely Leftovers inspiration to tap into on EchoLive.ie. Using up what you have and turning them into something new and crazy delicious means saving money twice: first, by getting the maximum value from your ingredients, second, by reducing food waste which is money in the bin.

5. Potluck It Big or small, hosting a gathering is a lot of work, and it’s not all about the cooking. There’s the table to dress and glasses to polish, wine to buy and the house to beautify. While everyone is there, lights are on and the heating is on keeping everyone in warmth and hot water.

There are many hidden costs involved in hosting, so why not ask for a little help in return?

A pot-luck dinner is where each guest brings a contribution to the meal. As host, cooking the meat should probably remain under your control - it’s just easier for timing and resting. But someone else can prep veg or pigs in blankets. Maybe your cousin has the best stuffing recipe, someone else makes incredible gravy, or red cabbage.

Is someone a wine buff that knows how to get great wines on a budget? My mother-in-law makes incredible Christmas cake, so that’s one job I never have to worry about.

Know who is bringing what so you don’t end up with four trays of brussels sprouts and four trifles but no spuds! Timing is important, be sure guests arrive with enough time for any reheating, plating and presentation.

6. Maximise Your Oven or Stove The oven is one of the most expensive appliances to run in your house, so think about how to maximise its use for better energy efficiency.

Roasting happens over 180 degrees Celsius: the higher the heat, the quicker the roast, but the higher the cost of running the oven. I might cook my festive bird at 180C, but I like to roast the spuds at 200C after the bird is cooked and away resting somewhere.

The bird, pigs in blankets and stuffing can all cook together. It takes a brave person to not serve up roast potatoes on Christmas Day, but a potato gratin would cook in the oven at the same temperature as the bird for 30-45 minutes.

If roasties are a non-negotiable, par-boil them, rough up the edges, place in hot fat in the oven for 20-25 minutes to crisp up. Make the most of your cranked up oven temperature to roast everything else: carrots, parsnips and Brussels. Blanched veggies will radically reduce roasting time.

If you do blanch veg for roasting, don’t throw the water away - save it to cook your peas. Cover the pan of hot water with a lid and it will be back to boiling point in a fraction of the time of cold water.

Slow cookers and air fryers (above) could be viable low-energy alternatives for cooking
Slow cookers and air fryers (above) could be viable low-energy alternatives for cooking

Slow cookers and air fryers could be viable low-energy alternatives. You won’t get the same roasted flavours as you would from the oven, but it may suit depending on your menu.

7. Main Event Alternatives A turkey is a great option if you have many mouths to feed. They’re huge and, if you eat everything, represent pretty good bang for your buck.

The last time I cooked turkey for Christmas, I got my butcher to take off the legs and prepare the crown. There’s enough meat on the crown for dinner and sambos Christmas evening, a pie with whatever is left the day after. Meanwhile, the legs sit in the freezer waiting to be transformed into a curry at some later time.

The legs take longer to cook, and this is what usually results in over-cooking and drying out the breast meat - less cooking time will save you money.

A well-raised, plump, chicken will easily serve six people, cooks quicker and, I think, is far tastier.

Porchetta is pork belly that is stuffed with butter, herbs, nuts and fruits, rolled, tied and slowly roasted until the crackling is at the shattering point of perfection. It’s a cheaper cut of meat, slow cooking is more energy efficient, tastes incredible and looks magnificent.

Wild game is in peak season this time of year too. Think pheasant or venison - they are wild, delicious and, because they’re in season, represent good value for money. Game isn’t for everyone, so if your guests’ tastes are vanilla give this a miss!

8. Special Diets It’s becoming more common to entertain a guest with a dietary requirement. Your ideal guest will be a ravenous omnivore - someone who will eat anything and be delighted about it too, or flexitarians who are happy to fall in with whatever the host is cooking.

But some dietary requirements are more challenging; throw allergies in the mix and things can get serious.

For coeliacs and those with seafood or nut allergies, the best course of action is to be welcoming but ask them to bring their own food. Home kitchens cannot guarantee no cross contamination of allergens. Anyone with a severe allergy will respect that and understand the extra financial burden preparing a separate meal puts on the host.

For everyone’s sake, have the conversation and be open to a solution that is best for host and guest.

9. Buy It In This really isn’t as crazy a notion as it sounds!

Cork-based Orla McAndrew Catering is offering a full-works pre-prepared Christmas dinner that is perfectly portioned for €270 for a party of six - just €45 per person.

Orla’s package includes free range turkey, free range glazed ham, herb stuffing, turkey gravy, potato dauphinois, honey roast root vegetables, brussels sprouts with almonds and pancetta, cranberry sauce, braised red cabbage and homemade mince pies.

Granted, it doesn’t include a starter or pudding, but these elements are often the least expensive of them all.

Everything is pre-cooked, simply pop in the oven for 15 minutes and it’s ready for the table, saving you money and time.

Online orders are open until December 15 with collections in Donoughmore and Cork city on Christmas Eve.

www.omcatering.ie 10. Budget Bubbles I’m a fan of popping bubbles on Christmas Day, but never big named brands with their equally big price tags.

On the run up to Christmas, befriend a brilliant sommelier on Instagram: people like @wineshedwestcork @brianswines or @brideys_wine_chats. Their knowledge of small, quality vineyards producing brilliant bottles of bubbles will save you enormously compared to a Bollinger and with better flavour, too.

These are the experts who will wow you with a beautiful Cava (made the same way as Champagne) and other quality sparkling wines that won’t break the budget.

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