Christmas food shopping on a budget
By Caring Cooks
There is no denying the fact that the global pandemic has created some level of financial strain to a huge amount of families across Jersey this year, and for many there is no end in sight. As a result, the looming big Christmas spend will be a daunting prospect.
The good news is that we have some simple and effective ways to reduce one of the big Christmas overheads, the food shop. As well as the main event, we are tempted into buying extra festive treats to snack on throughout the season, as well as catering for parties and guests. Fortunately, we don’t have to curtail our eating or enjoyment in order to save money, we just need to plan ahead and shop wisely.
The party season
Catering for parties with shop bought canapes can really elevate the cost. A cheaper, and often tastier solution is to make party food yourself, rather than buying it. It is surprisingly easy to throw together some mini crostinis and pastry based nibbles. Alternatively, chips and dips are always a winner. For party drinks, instead of champagne, how about bucks fizz or a fruity punch?
There are those who do, and those who don’t, but if you are a family who enjoys an appetizer before Christmas dinner then there is no need to splash out on your ingredients. Smoked salmon is a popular starter but instead of buying luxury fish, how about turning a pack of smoked salmon trimmings into a delicious pate? Or creating a smoked mackerel pate which is super cheap and packed with flavour? Alternatively, a seasonal soup is a tasty, warming choice to kick off the main event. Broccoli and Stilton or Chestnut, bacon and parsnip soup are great options.
The Main Event
The most costly component of a Christmas dinner is of course the turkey, but depending on how traditional you prefer your meal to be, there are a number of ways of replacing a full size turkey with a thriftier alternative. A turkey crown is great for a smaller family gathering and even a turkey breast can be delicious if cooked in the right way. Wrapping a turkey breast in bacon can be a delicious way to save money whilst still keeping things festive.
Alternatively, if you aren’t wedded to the idea of serving up a turkey, cheaper alternatives such as a pork shoulder joint, beef ribs or a glazed ham can be mouth wateringly delicious and a beautiful addition to your Christmas table. Caring Cooks are passionate about high welfare, sustainably produced meat and so we would recommend buying the best you can afford. In our opinion, a high welfare piece of pork will be more delicious than a cheap, low welfare turkey, as well as being kinder to the animal and the environment.
A little extra labour when it comes to the side dishes can yield some super tasty, cost saving results. Best of all, most accompaniments can be made ahead of time and then chilled or frozen until required. Homemade gravy is one really easy way to keep the costs down, and despite many products making grand claims, the truth is, gravy made from scratch is the most delicious option of all – add red wine or port for a little extra luxury.
Pigs in blankets are an essential accompaniment on a Christmas dinner and an absolutely favourite with the kids. How about cutting the sausages in half for a quick and easy money saving tip? You could even use the remaining sausage meat for your stuffing!
What is a roast dinner without roast potatoes? However, there is no need to spend a fortune on fancy duck or goose fat, if vegetable oil is all you have, use that. Cooked properly, your potatoes will turn out just as crisp and fluffy. Allowing them to steam and dry out after parboiling is the best tip for creating a crisp and memorable roastie.
Depending on which meat you choose, your sauce needs will differ. If you go for a traditional turkey however, a homemade bread sauce is a brilliant choice. Super easy to make, happy to be frozen and really cheap to make. This is one of those additions that will help to make your budget Christmas dinner feel special and luxurious.
Even on a tight budget it is possible to choose those extra special touches that make it feel like Christmas, but you need to get savvy. How about buying a fruit cake and then decorating it yourself with marzipan and ready to roll icing? Pre-decorated cakes are significantly more expensive to buy! Although time consuming it is worthwhile shopping around for luxury items. At this time of the year, shops begin offering promotions on festive goods. If you shop smart, you should be able to pick up your advent calendars, Christmas puds and luxury biscuits at a good discount. Depending on how brave you are, you could pick up some bargain basement goodies if you leave it as late as Christmas Eve, but obviously it is a gamble as to what is left on the shelves! Fresh produce in particular will be heavily discounted at this point in the season. If you are buying cheese and deli meat, it is often worth purchasing direct from the counter so that you only order the amount that you need – you may even find that the same products are cheaper at the deli than they are on the shelf.
On the whole, your Christmas shop will be cheaper if you can commit the time to cooking from scratch, and then make a list and stick to it. This avoids the inevitable temptation and subsequent wastage. Although it may seem labour intensive, it will really be worth it and is something the whole family can get involved with. You will find lots of ways to make Christmas special along the way.
Whatever you decide to do this Christmas, Caring Cooks wish you a very merry and delicious festive season.
About Caring Cooks
We are a local not for profit organisation enabling children and families in Jersey to access nutritious food at home, at school and in the community.
Caring Cooks of Jersey was founded in February 2014 by one Mum’s kind gesture to cook a meal once a week, for a family who were struggling either financially or through illness, to ensure that they could sit down to eat a nutritional home cooked meal and spend quality time together.
Becoming more aware of families struggling to feed their children with home cooked, and healthy food due to long working hours, financial struggles and separation, we developed our Weekly Meal Service, bringing together a network of Islanders who also wanted to help to deliver the service, through referrals from the partners we work with in the Island.
Cooking skills used to be passed down from generation to generation, but this trend has been broken and now there is a genuine skills gap around food preparation and healthy eating. So in 2015, we launched our Community Cooking Programme which has been developed to directly give parents the skills and confidence to encourage them into the kitchen to prepare and cook healthy meals from scratch for their family.
We are now a Jersey charity and registered NPO and we specifically support families with children of school age, as we strongly believe that food and nutrition from the weaning stage right through a child’s life is very important and we want to support parents in making that a part of daily life.
All of our services are free of charge to families and are funded by charitable donations.