When you’re hosting friends and family for the holidays, your grocery bill can easily double or even triple. But a few adjustments can help you get an impressive feast on the table without straining your budget. According to Esmee Williams, vice president of brand marketing for allrecipes.com, these eight creative strategies (and home chef secrets) will keep your guests, and your bank account, happy.
Switch to less expensive ingredients. Instead of serving prime rib, Williams suggests that hosts consider switching to cheaper cuts of meat such as a rib roast, chuck roast or rump roast. "The secret is to serve the less expensive cuts of meat with a lot of condiments or garnishes. That's how you can really make it special," she says. By the time people add a gravy or horseradish sauce, they won't miss the expensive meat, she adds.
Ham, which tends to be less expensive than prime rib or seafood, is another option, she says, and it carries the added bonus of keeping well, so it can be used again for another meal later in the week. While buying a honey-baked ham carries a high price tag, allrecipes.com features do-it-yourself honey-glazed versions that cooks can make at home – for half the price.
Serve the pricey ingredients as sides or as part of bigger dishes. If you're still hoping to feature salmon or lobster, consider making a pasta, soup or dip out of it instead of featuring it on its own platter. Another option: Set the delicacy out as an appetizer. That way, you'll use just a fraction of the amount but still get all the flavor and elegance, Williams says.
Host a big brunch instead of a big dinner. The cost of hosting a dinner can easily double or triple because of the alcohol involved. By focusing on brunch instead, you can not only bypass the wine, but you can also serve egg-based dishes, such as a strata or omelets, which are much cheaper that meat-centered courses.
Keep it casual. To take some of the focus off the food, Williams recommends making a huge slow-cooker pot of chili. Since everyone's sensitive to frugality these days, guests aren't going to mind, she says.
Make extra sides. "When there are more sides to choose from, people take less of the main item," Williams says. But even with sides, there's no need to go overboard – making too many dishes can lead to waste.
Make a list and stick to it. During the holidays, retailers sprinkle all sorts of alluring items around the aisles, but if you can avoid temptation and stick to your list, then you'll have a much better chance of sticking to your budget. Williams says one common mistake people make is buying too many baking items, from sugar and flour to parchment paper, because they tend to go on sale this time of year.
Turn dinner into breakfast. One of Williams' favorite strategies is turning one night's dinner, whether it's roast chicken, turkey or roast beef, into a pot pie. That way, you can use any leftover meat, vegetables and gravy. All you need is a store-bought crust. "The flavors are already developed, and you can use every last bit of what you have," she says. Homemade soup can also serve as a great next-day meal, as long as you have some stock handy.
[Read: The Perfect, $5 Family Dinner.]
Spruce up drinks. Instead of Champagne, serve the much more affordable Spanish sparkling wine Cava. If your friends and family prefer red wine, consider buying a cheaper bottle, but then simmering with raisins, almonds and spices to turn it into a delicious warming drink, Williams suggests.
Added bonus: It will make your home smell so inviting that your guests might not want to leave.