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Healthy holidays

family enjoying turkey dinner

Cook up a delicious holiday on a budget

Jodi Nordlund, SNAP-Ed Educator

November 2016; reviewed by Mary Caskey, Associate Program Director — SNAP-Ed; Margaret Haggenmiller, Associate Program Director — SNAP-Ed; Teri Burgess-Champoux, Director — Health and Nutrition Special Projects; and Mary Schroeder, Extension Educator — Health and Nutrition

English | español

Take a moment to reflect on the meaning of the holiday. Chances are that spending time with family and friends is more important than how fancy or expensive a holiday meal is.

Cooking for family and friends during the holidays doesn't have to be stressful or expensive. Here are some suggestions to cook up your best holiday meals yet.

Plan Your Meals to Minimize Stress

Plan your meals with the time required to prep and cook in mind. If you hope to spend time with your loved ones on the day of the event, you won’t want to be stuck in the kitchen all day.

For more tips on minimizing stress during the holiday season, see Minimize stress this holiday season.

Plan Your Meals to Stay Within Your Budget

Follow these tips to help keep any meals or dishes you prepare within your budget.

  1. Look in your cupboards, pantry, refrigerator, and freezer for food that you already have. A holiday meal might be a nice opportunity to use up that frozen appetizer you’ve been saving for “a special occasion” or the bag of dried cranberries you haven’t known what to do with. Still have a surplus of apples or squash from the farmers market? Your holiday meal can feature these items.
  2. Take a look at the advertised sales at your grocery store. If you discover there’s a good deal on a particular product that week, you might want to incorporate it into one of your meals.
  3. Write down your proposed menu for the holiday meals, keeping in mind what you already have on hand and what is on sale. If you’re planning to prepare one more costly dish, round out the meal with less costly dishes.
  4. Write down a list of everything else you need to purchase for the meal.
  5. Search the internet for coupons or clip coupons for items on your list.
  6. Go to the grocery store when you are not hungry to keep your spontaneous purchase to a minimum. Stay away from pre-made and pre-processed foods as they are typically much more expensive.

For more tips, see Shop and save. (Also in español.)

Stay Mindful of Food-Related Illnesses

Nothing can put a damper on your holiday like a bout of food poisoning or a food-related allergic reaction. Keep your family safe and healthy during the holiday season by following these food safety tips.

Use Low-Cost, Easy-to-Prepare Recipes

Tasty dishes don’t need to cost a fortune to make! Look for quick, simple recipes using easy-to-find ingredients that work in even the tightest budgets on The recipe box.

Maximize Those Leftovers!

If you end up preparing a big meal for your loved ones, chances are that you’ll have leftover food. Don’t underestimate the power of leftovers to help save you stress and money this holiday season! Most people agree that turkey dinner leftovers is just as good the second or third day. Most guests will be appreciative that you are feeding them, and will not criticize you for serving them leftovers — especially if they were present for the original meal.

To use your leftovers “as is,” follow these tips.

Do you have a lot of extra leftovers? Get creative and turn them into a new low-cost meal!

Soup: Add 2 cups of chopped meat, 4 cups of chopped vegetables, and 2 cups cooked rice or wild rice to 3 cans low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth. Simmer until veggies are done to your liking and flavors have blended. Add parsley, bay leaves, or garlic for extra flavor.

Salads: Add leftover meat or roasted vegetables to any green salad. Try almonds and dried cranberries for a great taste. Add cooked meat to a pasta or wild rice salad with chopped broccoli, peppers, onions, carrots, and celery.

Sandwiches: Allow guests to create their own sandwich creations, layering leftover meat and veggies in a sandwich, with additional sandwich toppings like lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, shredded carrots, cranberry sauce, and/or apple slices. Instead of bread, try a whole wheat pita or tortilla.

Casseroles: Layer leftovers (for example, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, and gravy) in a casserole dish. Do you just have leftover meat and vegetables? Combine 2 cups chopped leftover meat with 2 cups cooked rice, 1 can low-sodium broth or chopped tomatoes, and a selection of chopped vegetables in a 2-quart casserole. Cover and bake the casseroles at 325 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

Skillet meals: Add 1 or 2 cups of chopped leftover meat to sautéed onion, mushrooms, and broccoli. Add cooked rice or pasta. Sprinkle with shredded parmesan cheese before serving.

Breakfast dishes: Add leftover meat and/or vegetables to scrambled eggs, quiche, or omelets. For a fun twist on a classic, serve this for dinner and ask guests to come in their pajamas for “breakfast for dinner”!

Tex-Mex dishes: Add shredded or chopped leftover meat to burritos, enchiladas, and tacos.

Related resources

Turkey Basics — Get tips for safe thawing, preparation, and cooking of turkeys.

Holiday spending — Develop a game plan ahead of time to avoid holiday debt.

Shop and save — Stretch your food dollars with our tips and resources. English | español

Healthy, Thrifty Holiday MenusUSDA SNAP-Ed Connection — Make a tasty, affordable holiday menu with SNAP-Ed Connection recipes! Each menu has vegetarian options.

Is Your Homemade Food Gift Safe to Eat? — How to create preserved homemade gifts and test them for safety.

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