Frugal Feasts: Save Money on Holiday Meals

"Frugal" holiday meals? Something of a conundrum, isn't it? The very nature of holiday meals is to express the value of abundance. Finances, on the other hand, have definite limits--and never so much as during the holiday season.

Take heart! It's possible to serve bountiful--yet frugal--holiday meals with a bit of care and forethought. Consider these tips to plan holiday menus without breaking the bank:

Know your portions

There's nothing like a giant, gleaming turkey at the head of that Thanksgiving table to warm holiday hearts. The economic downside to that big bird? Waste! Most of us know the shame of tossing several pounds of dried-out drumsticks and crumbled white meat a week after the feast is over.

This year, limit waste by buying only as much turkey as your family truly needs. Do you serve a whole turkey at just one meal? Think one pound per person. Want a few leftovers for sandwiches? Calculate your needs at one and one-half pounds per person. Generous leftovers (enough for another meal or two plus sandwiches) require a figure of two pounds per person. Pass up that 22 pound bird and save money and energy costs.

Plan your leftovers

If you're like me, the holiday cook-fest brings on a real distaste for cooking for the next several days. It's tempting to think, "Oh, we'll just eat out of the refrigerator!" until the next day, when the stuffing runs out and the gravy goes dry. Result: husband with hamburger sack in hand. There goes the budget!

As you clean up from the holiday meal, package leftovers in meal-sized portions. Decide when you'll serve them, and store accordingly. While you shouldn't re-freeze turkey that's already been frozen, a fresh bird's leftovers can safely be consigned to the freezer.

Ham, while not appropriate for long-term freezer storage, can be frozen for up to two weeks. The family will give you much less guff if holiday leftovers don't make an repeat appearance for a week or ten days.

Stock the pantry

During the next few days, grocery stores will be offering the year's lowest prices on holiday pantry staples--and those discounted cans of cranberry sauce, black olives and pureed pumpkin will be just as welcome at Christmas and New Year's.

To save this month--and next!--shop these sales for all holiday meals to be prepared in your home, right up to the New Year. Be on the lookout for low prices on pantry basics like canned broth, prepared gravy, and side dish ingredients like yams and green beans. In the freezer aisle, double up on frozen pie shells, pies and bread dough. Soda, mixers and sparkling juices at discounted prices make it easy to create festive holiday beverages ... and save!

Grocery shop the day after Thanksgiving

Frugal fanatic that I am, I didn't learn this tip until November, 1996. That year, we returned from a trip to Europe at 2 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning. The cupboards were bare, bare, bare, so a grocery run was required the morning of Thanksgiving Friday.

Tired, jet-lagged and grumpy, my mood changed when I saw what was in store for the Thanksgiving Friday shopper.

What did I find? Bargains on top of bargains! Fresh turkeys that didn't sell before Thanksgiving? Marked down to an incredible 29 cents a pound. I bought three for the freezer: fresh, no added ingredients birds that usually retailed at around 99 cents a pound.

Other Thanksgiving Friday specials included pans of pre-baked rolls, fresh yams, and a variety of beef and chicken markdowns. Anything that has a sell-by date and hasn't sold by Thanksgiving may show up, discounted, the day after the big feast.

Smart shoppers take note! Shop for the Christmas holiday meal the day after Thanksgiving.

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