Christmas lunch on a tight budget

chicken dinner cheap christmas foodI’ve seen a few well meaning features in the past few weeks about Christmas food on a budget, and they made me feel kind of sad. It was mostly ideas for the main course like turkey curry made from offcuts, or a casserole made with turkey drumsticks, and I think you can do something a fraction better on the same budget – if you shop carefully. In particular, it’s nice to have a centrepiece if you can.

You know the drill: go to the market for the vegetables and any fruit (and haggle a bit maybe), and go to a local cheap butcher, a budget supermarket, or use a main supermarket economy product. And again, buy what you need and don’t panic buy. Maybe have a little allowance for leftovers but don’t overdo it or it’s just waste.

First course

If you’re on a really tight budget, the first course/starter is one that you can do away with. However, there are a few cheap things that are tasty and filling, for example:

  • Spiced parsnip soup + bread
  • Broccoli and blue cheese soup + bread
  • Cauliflower and cheddar soup + bread
  • Cheese straws and drinks
  • Waldorf salad (apple and nut)
  • Salad made with smoked salmon bits + bread/toast
  • Prawn cocktails with economy frozen prawns (small portions in glasses)

The ideas nearer the bottom of the list are more pricey, depends what you have in your fridge or freezer. Don’t buy a jar of Marie Rose or seafood sauce – it’s just plain mayo mixed with ketchup really so make your own.

Main course

If you’re feeding lots of people, a frozen turkey is probably your best bet. Remember they can take up to 3 days to defrost, depending on size. Buy as small as you dare, and cook any stuffing separately, to keep the cooking time and fuel use to the safe minimum. Control the portion sizes yourself when serving up, then let people help themselves to plenty of potatoes and vegetables.Use the pan juices and flour to make gravy.

Don’t feel obliged to do all the trimmings, especially if there are one or two things that mostly get wasted in your house (bread sauce, cranberry sauce, stuffing etc). If Auntie Edna insists on pigs in blankets, and nobody else likes them, politely ask her to bring some along – you can’t cater to every single person’s whims if you hope to keep costs down.

If you’re only feeding four to six people, which is not unusual at all, then do something different. Here are a few ideas that don’t involve curry or casserole:

  • A very small turkey crown (most are priced by weight so dig around for the cheapest)
  • A turkey breast joint (Lidl has these for £5.99, about 1.1kg, no bone)
  • De-boned turkey thighs, stuffed, rolled and roasted (one between two, depends on size)
  • A chicken with a spice rub
  • Turkey burgers made with mince (about 100g uncooked weight per burger, price approx £2.50 for 500g), served in a bun topped with soft cheese and cranberry, with homemade potato wedges and coleslaw
  • Turkey and bacon/ham pie (use budget supermarket puff pastry, less than 60p per pack), gravy, mashed potato and greens
  • Turkey breast fillets (usually £3 to £4 per pack of 4-6), marinated in herbs and pan-fried or roasted, and the usual roast turkey trimmings

This year I’m not having any turkey, and will be making a cheese and mushroom puff pastry plait instead which works out at about £1 per generous serving. That’s going to have mixed roast veggies served with it (potato, carrot, parsnip), and sprouts from the garden.


Most of the time, it’s cheapest to make your own pud. If you’re in a hurry, here are a few ideas:

  • Soften an economy tub of vanilla icecream (from 89p for 2 litres) and mix in a crumbled up single-serve Christmas pud (from 65p) and maybe some grated/ground nutmeg. Refreeze in a clingfilm-lined basin or bowl, then turn out to serve.
  • Make icecream Xmas pud from scratch: soak 200g economy mixed dried fruit (about 50p) overnight in rum, brandy, sherry, stout, orange juice or cold tea, then stir into homemade custard with some mixed spice before freezing
  • Do a ‘giant mince pie’: make a mincemeat tart or traybake, and serve with cream, brandy butter or custard
  • Use seasonal fruit to make a trifle, crumble, tart or cheesecake
  • Spiced chocolate cake, gingerbread loaf, or home made truffles and coffee

Do you have any money-saving Xmas dinner tips of your own?

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  1. I’ve never thought of doing a turkey burger before! My son will probably love that – I might try it as he hates eating turkey but if I do it for him as a burger in a bun it’ll probably fly into his fickle mouth!!!

    We got a turkey crown from Lidl yesterday which was at least £10 cheaper than the whole turkey (most of which we ended up throwing away) that we got last year. It’s a bronze one too so should be tasty enough – I hope!

    I love the sound of the Christmas pudding mixed into ice cream – I’ve got a tub of Green & Black’s vanilla ice cream in the freezer that I got ages ago when it was on offer – I’ll chuck in the cheap little Tesco pudding that my mother in law gave us the other day!

  2. A few tips for next year :

    Stuffing – economy sage and onion stuffing is very cheap and very filling. Jazz it up for a starter or serve before the meat arrives

    Buy a capon if you are in an area w a farm or someone w chickens. It’s what we have and gorgeous. Bigger than chicken with a more developed flavour and you can get a quality bird for a v good price. Our bird was free range rare breed and £15 for 2kg bird. Plenty for 5 people.

    Make meat go further and turn cheap sausages into pork sage and onion stuffing. I use Delia’s recipe

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