How to Make Your Holiday Dinner Special — Without Breaking the Bank

Add some holiday magic to your meal AND stick to your budget.

December 09, 2020
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Food Network Kitchen's Winter Hat Cake holiday recipe

Photo by: Lucy Schaeffer

Lucy Schaeffer

Whenever we start thinking about saving money during the holidays, it’s easy to feel like a bit of a Scrooge. Our family and friends deserve the best so it’s going to take a small fortune to give them a proper celebration, right? Well, not necessarily. Now more than ever, we could all use some practical solutions for hosting a holiday that is full of special moments, while keeping costs low.

I’m really good about planning how much I can afford to spend on gifts (and sticking to it!), but our holiday meal always ends up being a huge budget-buster for me. A special cheese here, a bottle of wine there and, before you know it, I’ve spent way more money than I intended to.

That being said, I’ve been paying more attention to my menu this year. Between making smaller-batch recipes and cutting back on pricey ingredients, I’ve managed to put together a Christmas dinner that doesn’t cost too much. But, that doesn’t mean it won’t be memorable. In fact, with a few, small touches, it’s sure to be one of the most-special meals we share all year. Here’s what I’m planning.

Photo by: Matt Armendariz

Matt Armendariz

A Decorated Table

One of the key differences between a regular, old weeknight dinner and a celebratory family meal is how the table is set. That’s why I’m planning to add a fun, festive touch to everyone’s place setting: a homemade salt dough ornament. These ornaments are made with pantry staples, so no need to buy any additional ingredients. And, since they’re homemade, they can easily be customized to represent something special. I’m planning to make a sleigh for my husband (to let him know how grateful I am for all the times that he serves as the family chauffeur) and a star for my daughter (who is wonderfully sparkly and bright). Want to decorate your entire table instead? Keep it simple and dress it up using things you already have around the house.

Food Network Kitchen’s Pizza Candy Cane Crescent.

Photo by: Matt Armendariz

Matt Armendariz

An Easy Appetizer

One of the best parts of any holiday is snacking your way through the afternoon while you wait for dinner. That’s why I’m going to make a quick, festive, family-friendly appetizer that we can all share before the main meal. This Pizza Candy Cane Crescent only uses a handful of ingredients, most of which are pantry and refrigerator staples in our house. All I need to do is pick up a tube of refrigerated crescent dough and spend a few minutes in the kitchen — and we’ve got a party-worthy appetizer that will be perfect for the three of us on Christmas afternoon. Other snacks and small bites that don’t require many ingredients? Try our Mozzrella and Pesto Twists, Kielbasa and Honey Mustard Pinwheels or Cranberry-Brie Knots.

Food Network Kitchen’s Holiday Roast Pork Loin.

Photo by: Matt Armendariz

Matt Armendariz

A Budget-Friendly Roast

The roast is the centerpiece of any holiday table — and a tradition we don’t want to skip out on. So I’m choosing something more affordable this year and dressing it up with herbs and seasonings. A simple mustard-and-thyme rub gives this Roast Pork Loin plenty of flavor. Plus, it serves at least six, so we’ll be able to eat as much as we like on Christmas Day and still have leftovers for the weekend. If you prefer poultry over pork, Ina’s Perfect Roast Chicken is a great choice, too.

Food Network Kitchen's Winter Hat Cake holiday recipe

Photo by: Lucy Schaeffer

Lucy Schaeffer

A Magical Dessert

Nothing sparks a bit of childlike wonder and excitement like a surprise-inside dessert — and this really doable Winter Hat Cake is no exception. It comes together without a lot of pricey ingredients (no butter, nuts or fancy chocolate here!), using boxed cake mix, canned frosting and a bag of candy-coated chocolate pieces instead. I’m planning to make the hat and the pom pom the night before and keep them in the refrigerator until the following day. That way, no one will see that there’s a surprise inside — and all I have to do on Christmas afternoon is decorate it.

Food Network Kitchen’s Slow-Cooker Hot Chocolate.

Photo by: Matt Armendariz

Matt Armendariz

An After-Dinner Activity

We have a tradition of going to the movie theater on Christmas Day. We won’t be able to do that this year so we’re planning an after-dinner, at-home movie night, instead. I’m going to make a batch of this Slow-Cooker Hot Chocolate (and set out some fun, cocoa add-ins) so that everyone can help themselves to their perfect cup while we watch. This cocoa would be great for a family game night or to warm up after driving around the neighborhood to look at holiday lights, too.

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