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Happy Holiday Meals on a Budget

by Lindsey Sexton - November 28, 2022

plate of holiday foods trukey, cranberry sauce, roll, aspargus

The holidays can be a time of fun family traditions both old and new. Check out these tips for planning and hosting holiday meals.


How do I save money on food during the holidays?

Revive the Potluck – Offer guests the chance to bring a dish or help cover costs. Not everyone is a confident cook and that’s okay, so it’s always a good idea to have a small list of non-foods items if anyone asks what they can bring to help with the meal. If you’re not quite to the point of being able to ask guests to share in the expense, make a plan and follow through.

Plan Ahead – When cooking for a crowd it can be difficult to estimate how much of each item you’ll need to prepare. The guide below can help you figure out how much to plan on preparing per person.

  • 1 serving of dressing is about the size of a bar of soap
  • 1 serving of fresh salad greens is 1 cup about the size of a baseball
  • 1 serving fresh fruit and vegetables is ½ cup
  • 1 serving of cooked vegetables is ½ cup
  • 1 serving of sugared, sauced, or casseroled fruits or vegetables is ¼ cup or the size of a large egg
  • 1 serving of meat, fish, and poultry is 3 ounces, about the size of a deck of cards

Eat Before you Shop – Ready to head to the store? Grab a snack on your way out the door. This will help curb impulse purchases at the grocery store and save money. Shopping on an empty stomach can cause you to stray from your list and overspend your budget.

Be on the Lookout for Great Deals – Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day lots of grocery stores run deeply discounted sales. Now is the time to stock up on canned goods and freezer friendly foods if you can.


How do I keep food safe when feeding a crowd?

Save Time with Food Safety in Mind – Long ago, we were taught to rinse meat and poultry before preparing, but these days with improved processing and packaging, there’s no need to risk splashing surface bacteria to your sink and surrounding areas. So skip washing all meat and poultry and take it straight from the package to the pan.

Separate, Clean, Cook – Keep fresh produce separate from raw meat and poultry in the grocery cart, in the fridge and on the counter. Drips and spills can transfer bacteria between foods. Use different cutting boards and knives when preparing fresh produce and raw proteins or sanitize each between the different foods.

No matter the occasion, it’s important to make sure foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature. So grab your food thermometer and look for these target temps as your preparing your holiday meal:



Beef, Roast 145 with 3 minute rest
Beef, Ground 160
Casseroles 165
Chicken/ Turkey 165
Ham, pre-cooked 165
Ham, raw 145 with 3 minute rest
Leftovers 165
Pork, roast 145 with 3 minute rest
Pork, ground 160

For additional foods and temps visit: Cook to a Safe Minimum Internal Temperature -  Food Safety 

Fridge Eats First – Whether we like to admit it or not, holiday foods typically stay in the danger zone (between 40 and 140°F) for longer than 4 hours during a gathering. Knowing this, let’s be proactive. If you’d like to save any food beyond the holiday, go ahead and package it up as it becomes ready to serve. Put it in the freezer or fridge and serve the rest to your guests. After the event, you’ll have less waste, and food ready for future use. Any properly stored holiday leftovers should be consumed or thrown away in 3-5 days. It is not recommended to store or eat foods left between 40 and 140°F for longer than 4 hours.


How do I get back on track if I eat too much?

Keep Expectations in Check and Take a Walk – Occasional overeating is not the end of the world and doesn’t warrant shame or embarrassment. The holidays are a joyous time. What better way to celebrate than with your favorite people eating your favorite foods? If you end up feeling uncomfortable at the dinner table, skip the nap. A cup of water and a short walk will do wonders.

Better yet, be proactive and avoid the stuffed feeling all together. Survey the foods being offered before you start filling your plate. This will give you the chance to see which items are available. Then take a spoonful of your favorites and skip the rest. This way you won't regret leaving your eating pants at home.

Get Moving – Consider starting a new family tradition. (Feats of strength, anyone?) This year, be sure to keep your sneakers handy. Inviting your family to join you in a short walk or maybe even a friendly foot race could be a fun change-up to your holiday routine.

Happy Holidays Everyone!