How To Host a Holiday Dinner on a Budget

Holiday Dinner

Photo Courtesy of Stephen Viscusi

If you’re family is anything like mine then you have a hard time keeping track of just how many relatives you have. My grandparents thought it was cool to have a lot of kids and so did their kids. The result is 40+ first cousins, a ton of aunts and uncles and a grandmother and grandfather that runs the show. With so many people to account for, cooking and hosting a holiday dinner is more than just a few hours of slicing and dicing, it’s a week long extravaganza!

While my situation is not the norm, hosting a holiday dinner can still be a stressful event, even if it’s only for a handful of your closest friends and family. The amount of money that can be spent making it happen can be even more stressful and the bigger the guest list, the bigger the grocery store receipt.  With Passover in full swing and Easter right around the corner, here are a few tips on how to minimize your holiday dinner costs, while maximizing your guest’s experience.

Tip #1 – Plan Ahead

If you’ve been chosen by the family to host a holiday dinner, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve known about it for months.  Waiting until the last second to do your shopping and cooking is never a good idea and if you plan in advance, you’ll be able to buy a lot of the things you need over the course of a few weeks rather than all at once.  This should allow for more things to be on sale and for your wallet to take a few small hits instead of one big one.

For appetizers, having chips and vegetable plates with dip is a can’t miss.  If your local grocer is having a sale on something like shrimp, you’ve got a great way to appear “high-priced” without having to spend for it.  When planning on what to serve for the entree, stick with the classics that you know everyone will love.  If you have a family tradition of always serving something, now is not the time to try something new.  Turkey and Ham are inexpensive proteins that are easy to prepare and usually liked by everyone.  Sides like mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn, green beans, cranberry sauce, roasted carrots,  follow the suit of cheap and easy and with a dinner roll you’ll have completed a great main course.  If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m pretty much describing what my family makes every year and every time a new kid is born, we just add one more serving of it.

Tip #2 – Don’t Worry About the Wine and Dessert

One of the beauties of hosting a holiday meal is that you’re allowed to mooch off of invited guests.  Any decent invitee will offer to bring something and this is your chance to have the drinks and dessert taken care of.   Planning ahead of course, ask your guests to bring desserts and drinks (soda and fruit juices for the kids) and make sure that you have a wide variety.

Not having to worry about desserts should cut the amount of hours you spend pulling this shindig off in half.  Any great chef can tell you just how hard it is to prepare edible desserts so rather then spend a few days before the holiday stressing out about your chocolate creme pie, use that time by getting on the phone and campaigning to your family about the desserts they need to bring.

Tip #3 – Keep the Decor Low Key

Whenever I am hosting anything, I get the urge to go all-out.  Nothing is too good for my friends and family and I want to show them just how much I enjoy having them over.  The end result is usually a less than impressed reaction and a lot of money down the drain.

The same can be said about all of the holiday decorations you are thinking about buying.  Sure you might get a few wows but once the holiday is over, you either have to tuck the decorations away or simply throw them out.  With the amount of time it takes to buy, hang, then remove them, decorations are better left for another day.

Remember, no matter how much you plan on stressing out before the holidays, the people you are inviting aren’t there for the food(unless your family is Italian like mine) but there for the family.  The last thing you want to do is over-extend yourself and your finances, causing problems with the family budget.  You’re primary job is not to cook a cuisine that can be found at a five-star restaurant but to make sure that everyone enjoys their holiday and leaves happy and looking forward to doing this again next year (Hopefully somewhere else :)).  Stick with what you know and after everyone has left you with a mountain of dishes, pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

Published or Updated: March 31, 2010

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