The holidays used to give me a lot of anxiety. Between the traditional food everyone expects and the sugar influx that starts at Halloween, the holidays were a hot mess made of dollar signs and insulin.
We were in a season where we ate our cupboards down to empty every week. When people asked us to bring a dish to pass, I struggled to find something that seemed holiday-ish and still fit in our budget. Meanwhile, we still wanted to make good food choices. But the influx of baked treats and sales on highly-processed holiday foods made it difficult.
Maybe you’re in a similar boat this year. We don’t ever plan to be broke over the holidays, but sometimes it happens. As much as our culture normalizes it, maybe we don’t want to overindulge this time of year and then hate ourselves by January 1.
Here are 5 ideas to help you save money and eat better during the holidays:
1. Eat Well at Home
Parties, cookie swaps, and family feasts are on the horizon. If you eat fairly healthy throughout the year, try to stick to those same meals at home. Think of it like making deposits into your body’s health bank. That way, when Aunt Cindy brings icebox cookies, you can make a withdrawal by eating 3 of them in 10 seconds – wait, does no one else do that? Just me? – and feel good about how much you’ve already deposited.
2. Bring a Frugal Dish to Pass
When you have to bring something to share, stick to frugal sides – things like green beans or potatoes. Someday you’ll get to bring the turkey. But this year, it’s okay to take care of your family and finances first.
Have you seen this list of 20 Frugal Holiday Dishes? They’re all made with real-food, too!
3. Think about Tomorrow
I really like caramel popcorn. It’s deceptively easy to overeat because each bite is so light and crunchy and sugary and perfect. But if I eat half the bowl, I won’t be proud of myself tomorrow. Enjoy some of your favorite treats. Just think about tomorrow.
4. Budget it in
During this time of year, we know we’ll spend more on food – whether it’s while traveling or sharing meals with friends and family. So plan accordingly and stick to simpler, more frugal meals at home. That way you can set aside some cash for outrageously expensive gas station snacks.
Here are some extra-frugal meal ideas:
- The Cheapest Macaroni & Cheese
- Potato Peel Soup
- Easy Frittata
- Picadillo (Mexican Beef & Potato Stew)
Every year, my Greek in-laws host a huge family feast. They basically serve everything that is the most delicious – spanakopita, moussaka, dolmades, baklava. It’s all homemade, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Baklava is basically a nutty vehicle for butter, sugar, and pastry.
So when we sit down, my goal is to enjoy the feast and some of my favorite dishes. The leftovers will be there tomorrow. At least they’d better be, or so help me.
This season is about family, friends, gratitude, unconditional love, and the messy, glorious life we share together. We should plan ahead. We should try to stick to our budget and health goals. But ultimately, we should enjoy this season, enjoy our family, and forgive whoever ate the last of the baklava.
You might also enjoy the tips and money-saving ideas in Build Your Frugal Kitchen, where we tackle each food group and how you can eat real food on a tight budget.