How to prepare a Christmas feast on the cheap

A Victorian engraving of Father Christmas, with lots of tantalising goods, the highlight of which is an enormous plum duff
It's amazing what you can get down Aldi's these days
"Some things, like Christmas cake and pudding, are better to buy ready-made, both in terms of how many ingredients you have to buy and how much time you'll save"
  • | by Dave Jenkins

Having friends and family around for festive food is one of the most enjoyable things to do over Christmas, although feeding all those hungry mouths can soon add up.

But you can quite easily knock up a scrumptious festive banquet which is high on taste but low on cost...here's how to do it.

Strength in numbers

Invite as many family and friends as possible. All keen cooks can bring a dish or course of their own, adding to the variety and excitement of the day. If none of your guests are that keen on cooking then ask them to supply drinks or nibbles. Ensure you all know what each other are bringing.

Plan your meal ahead

Work out what you need, where you’ll buy it and how much time you have to make any of it yourself. Consider this wisely. Some things, like Christmas cake and pudding, are better to buy ready-made, both in terms of how many ingredients you have to buy and how much time you'll save!

Homemade mince pies, however, will save you money: 12 mince pies costs approximately £2.50 £3.50 will buy all the ingredients for at least 30-40.

Don’t like mince pies? Then similar baking ingredients will make you countless sweet or savoury biscuits. Here’s some treats that are exceedingly easy to make. They taste better than anything shop bought, and will cut down on crisps and snacks. Obligatory multipacks and ‘grab bags’ will increase your bill by £10 at the very least. Make much nicer snacks for less… And receive major kudos for your creations.

Fresh ideas

Buying fresh is a HUGE way to save. Pre-packaged frozen roasties may save you 15 minutes cooking time… But per kilogram they can cost twice as much.

The same goes for frozen vegetables. The only exception being peas. Although much tastier, ready shelled peas cost five times as much as frozen. This is a saving you can’t afford to lose… And peas are hardly the headliner in the star-studded festive feast line up now, are they?

Don’t just consult your grocer. Butchers usually source as locally as possible, and can provide exact weights and cuts and can suggest different types of meat. For example, belly pork might be more appropriate for your family feast… It’s cheaper and can be more succulent than turkey.

Pigs in blankets are another great DIY option. Money-wise you’ll be spending about the same on chipolatas and streaky bacon, but the quality, size and wow factor of your own is priceless, and a lot more filling. Bearded telly chef Anthony Worrall Thompson has a great recipe.

Shop wisely

Let’s hit the shops. If you haven’t written a list yet, do it now. Recent research by Onepoll suggests households throw away approximately 20 per cent of their Christmas food shopping. On a national level that’s been estimated to over £600m! Don’t be a statistic and think before you shop:

Before you go…

• Work out amounts based on the amount of guests. Why overbuy? The Queen isn’t popping over this year. We’ve checked.

• Don’t guess. Here’s a good guideline for how much people will eat: 300g meat, 150g potatoes, 120g vegetables (that’s in total – not per vegetable).

• Do round-up, though – especially on the items you know your family love. Let’s not be total Scrooges about this.

• Once you have your list, visit mysupermarket.co.uk to compare prices.

• Be careful: if the cheapest shop is further away, you’ll end up spending your saving on more petrol.

• Think about when you need to go. Christmas Eve is a fantastic time for last minute deals. Whether they’ll have everything you need or not is another thing altogether.

While you’re at the shops…

• Shop alone! The larger the shopping party, the more unexpected items will be found in your bagging area.

• Don’t get sucked into any two-for-three deals unless you genuinely really need them.

• Be very careful of any ‘bigger pack, better value’ deals. As revealed in a recent Panorama documentary, you should study the unit price (per 100g, 1kg etc) and compare to smaller multipacks… You’ll be surprised which one offers the actual best value.

• NOW is the time to cash in all your generic shopper points. Especially if you’ve been saving them all year.

• Be wary of anything with Christmas packaging; biscuit selections and dried fruit and nuts are notoriously marked up this time of year. Check the price per unit on every item. If you’re shopping alone, you’ll have time to check without anyone hassling you.

Leftover… and out!

By now your Boxing Day surplus shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. Here are a just a few ways of making sure no morsel goes unaccounted for…

• Remove the meat from your turkey carcass, then place the remains of the bird in a large pan with bay leaves, one diced onion, carrot and two sticks of celery. Boil for two hours. This will give you some fine stock which you can freeze.

• Make a leftover vegetable soup; fry the vegetables with a diced onion in a knob of butter. Add some stock until just covered and boil for 10 minutes. Blitz with a food processor to the consistency of your liking and add more stock if it’s too stodgy.

• Bubble and squeak it: A quintessential British dish, this will guarantee minimum waste. 

• Spice up your Boxing Day with a leftover turkey curry. This is my Christmas present to you! (see below)

And finally….

There you have it; a cheaper Christmas feast without denying yourself any of the pleasures. Here are a few final factors to consider…

• Don’t be a sucker for the champers; sparkling wine is just as exciting and a lot cheaper. • If any of your recipes require cheeses such as mascarpone, basic soft cheese will have exactly the same effect and cost a lot less.

• If you haven’t decided how you’ll be spending Christmas Day, postponing the big feast until the 27th or 28th will ensure a cheaper shop.

• And if that’s not cricket… Many restaurants are open on Christmas Day. They’ll even do the washing up afterwards!