Getting Ahead of Holiday Meal Costs

— Written By Tracy Davis
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Holiday meal of whole cooked chicken garnished with orange slices and apples surrounded by side dishes and pumpkin pie.

The holiday season is quickly approaching and it’s never too early to start planning. Whether you are having a large gathering or small get-together, a sit-down dinner or pick-up buffet, or meeting in-person or virtually,  planning ahead is the key to managing your time, stress, and money.

Melissa Roseboro, More In My Basket Program Coordinator with NC State Extension, offers an excellent series of articles on how to save money as you prepare for family holiday meals. I am sharing some of her tips here as well as additional resources from the More In My Basket team and other Extension professionals.

Finding your recipes and preparing your kitchen is step one. You will want to refer to your recipes often over the next few weeks. Begin by pulling out your favorite holiday recipes and organize them by breakfast, entrees, sides, appetizers, and desserts. Next, take an inventory of your kitchen staples. Which herbs and spices are running low? Do you have enough non-stick spray and cooking oil? Are dry goods still fresh? Some of the most common shelf stable dry ingredients used during the holiday season include baking powder, baking soda, cornmeal, cornstarch, flour, sugar, breadcrumbs, rice, nuts, and dried or candied fruit. Compiling a list of staple ingredients will remind you to use items on hand first, use them before they expire, and avoid purchasing the same item twice.

Canned foods offer convenience over fresh or frozen since they can be stored in the pantry for longer periods of time and, for some recipes, the canned variety of certain food items may be preferred. Canned fruits and vegetables are typically inexpensive and can be great alternatives to more expensive out-of-season produce. Look for sales on canned foods and stock up in advance.

Bulk purchasing can be especially smart for items that have a long shelf life, are easy to store, and are cheaper in large portions. Nuts, for example are a great baking ingredient, but can be very expensive. Sharing and splitting the cost with friends or family is also an option. Just make sure the larger package is indeed the better buy. Using the unit pricing information on grocery shelves is a great tool for comparing prices.

Where you purchase certain items can make a difference in how far your food dollars stretch. Consider which stores offer the best value for the items in your recipes. The best buy on spices and for canned goods might be two different stores. Check grocery store advertisements, sale flyers, and promotions for the best combination of price and product.

Now is also a good time to check out your cooking utensils and cookware. Replace any warped cookie sheets or muffin tins. Don’t forget about baking supplies such as parchment paper, foil, and other food wraps and containers. For low-cost items, consider discount stores or borrowing from a friend or family member.

Planning your menu and shopping strategies in advance allows you the opportunity to include all your family’s favorite dishes without breaking the family budget in the process. Sticking to your menu and shopping list and buying in advance over the course of several weeks will spread out the expense and lower the impact on your monthly food budget.

More In My Basket (MIMB) is a program developed at NC State Extension to help connect North Carolina residents to food assistance resources. The MIMB program is a collaboration between Melissa Roseboro, Cierra Cook, and Dr. Carolyn Bird, Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences at NC State University. The series “Getting Ahead of the Holiday Meal Cost” continues throughout October. You can enjoy Melissa’s articles on the More Food website or follow on Instagram @moreinmybasket.

Additional food and cooking resources can be found on the Rutherford County website under the Health & Nutrition or Home & Family tabs, on our Facebook page, or Instagram @cookinginrutherfordcounty. Educational materials can also be accessed in-person at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Rutherford County Center, 193 Callahan Koon Road, Spindale or by calling 828-287-6010.