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12 budget Christmas meal ideas

Written By NL
March 29, 2021

If you’re on a budget this Christmas, these 12 budget-friendly Christmas meal and entertaining ideas will put a smile on everyone’s dial without burning a hole in your pocket. Because remember: The true spirit of Christmas is about friends and family getting together and celebrating, not about how much you spend. 

1. Think budget first

Flip the script… The usual approach is to choose your Christmas menu and then work out how you can afford it. Start instead with an affordable budget, and then find dishes to fit your spending limit. These days, many recipe websites make this easy by providing a shopping list and cost-per-serve information.


2. Decorate with food

Save on decorating costs by looking for recipes that make your Christmas table look spectacular. We love this cheap and easy lamington Christmas wreath dessert and this pizza bread pull-apart Christmas tree starter.

And don’t forget a DIY gingerbread house! At Christmas time, gingerbread house kits can be found everywhere. Served with ice cream, cream and a chocolate or caramel sauce, a gingerbread house can perform double-duty as a Christmas dessert. As an added bonus, you can get the kids involved in its creation, which means school holiday activity + table decoration + dessert! 


3. Throw a snag on the barbie

Could anything be more Aussie than a sausage in bread? If you’re after an easy, casual and inexpensive Christmas meal, look no further than your barbecue. Why not make it festive themed with these Christmas kebabs. This is also a great way to stretch a nice cut of steak further into budget friendly portions. Find your nearest public barbecue on your local council website or by using the Meat In A Park website. The best part of all, there’s no washing up!


4. Share the load

Many hands make light work, right? If you’re hosting a gathering this Christmas, why not ask everyone to bring a dish? Sharing means that the workload and costs are spread among all your guests. From starters, to salads, sides and desserts, when everyone pitches in, one big food bill for one person becomes smaller, more affordable bills for many.


5. Get thrifty with drinks

Celebrating with a drink at Christmas is something many people enjoy, but alcohol can put a big dent in your entertaining budget. To combat the cost, be on the lookout for specials at the bottle shop and take advantage of 12 bottle discounts. Alternatively, serve up a festive punch, where a little alcohol goes a long way. Punch is fruity and festive and, if you opt for a flexible recipe, you might be able to use up any half bottles you already have in the cupboard!


6. Shop your pantry

Lurking at the back of the pantry, we all have tins, sauce sachets and other bits and pieces that aren’t exactly everyday food. Christmas is the perfect time to use them up! Before you hit the supermarket, shop your pantry first. Do an audit of what you already have, then search Google for Christmas recipes that use that ingredient. You may need to get a little creative, but that’s when the magic happens!


7. Splurge to save

It might sound counterintuitive, but by splurging on one centrepiece dish, you may be able to bring the wow factor to your Christmas table (without inflicting the wow factor on your wallet!) For instance, you might decide to spend up on a showstopping leg of ham, but save on the accompaniments. Think simple salads and roast veggies, and keep your starter and dessert courses simple too.


8. Crafty cuts

Do you like to impress your guests with special ingredients, but save money at the same time? Then this hot tip is for you! Substitute a plate of smoked salmon with a smoked salmon dip. Or sub out a whole roast turkey for turkey breast. Or ditch expensive cuts of meat altogether for something equally as delish but more budget friendly, such as roast chicken or a slow-cooked, melt-in-your-mouth lamb or pork shoulder. 


9. Limit portion sizes

This Christmas meal plan feeds a family of four for just $50. According to the menu’s maker, the key is not going overboard with your portion sizes. To achieve this, have a good think about how many people you have coming and how much food you’ll really need. If you’re serving multiple courses, remember the serving size for each course can be smaller than for your regular one-course family dinner. Limiting portion sizes helps maximise your cash and minimise the cost.


Image: Stay at Home Mum

10. Shepherd’s pie

Shepherd’s Pie might not seem very Christmassy, but stay with me on this. With mince, gravy and whatever leftover veggies are lurking in the crisper, serving Shepherd’s Pie will leave you with little to buy, and a little extra in your pocket. And if anyone questions your choice, you can remind them of its biblical links: In Christian religions, the angels called to the shepherds, heralding the birth of Jesus, which makes this a dish perfect for Christmas, after all!

11. Ditch the buffet

Serving a buffet-style Christmas meal, where everyone can help themselves, might seem like an easy alternative, but it can be costly. It’s hard to estimate how much people will eat, so the tendency is to make too much. Stay in control of your budget by sticking to a menu where you control the portion sizes. 

12. Can’t beat a pav 

“I don’t like pavlova” said NOBODY EVER. Beloved by everyone from Grandma to the littlest of kids, pavlova is an Aussie favourite and perfect for Australia’s summertime climate. If you’re willing to have a go, try this simple recipe from Best Recipes. It has 81 five-star reviews. But if you’re not a confident baker, ready-made pavlovas are easy to find these days and are super cheap too! All you need to do is decorate. Why not put a festive spin on your pav with kiwi fruit and strawberries.

Need help balancing your Christmas budget?

This year has been a tough one for many reasons. But luckily, here in Australia, getting together for a meal this Christmas isn’t off the menu. The most important tip of all is to plan an affordable, inclusive Christmas, where the focus is on being together.

If you need help balancing your budget this Christmas—or planning for the year ahead—please call MyBudget for a quick chat. It’s free and could be the best Christmas present you ever give yourself! We’re here to help.

About the writer

Michelle Bowes is an experienced business journalist and personal finance writer based in Sydney. As a mum of three growing and very busy kids (and one growing and not so busy cat), she knows all about the daily juggle and understands the challenges Australian families face in managing their household budgets in the face of the ever-rising cost of living.

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