Keen to keep costs down, and get Christmas dinner for under £20?
I was asked to talk about cutting the cost of Christmas dinner, as part of the ‘Christmas on a budget’ series of podcasts for Manchester Evening News.
The good news is that despite rising prices on supermarket shelves, I reckon it’s possible to have a slap up festive meal for four with change from a couple of tenners. The all-year-round advice on cutting food costs still applies – switch to a cheaper supermarket (less Waitrose, more Aldi), ditch big brands and give value ranges a try.
Here are my top tips for Christmas dinner on a shoestring:
Table of Contents
For an easy life
Supermarkets often promote frozen Christmas dinner deals, such as the Co-op’s £10 festive meal deal in previous years.
This year, Iceland is promoting a bundle of products that adds up to just £18.60 for four, so £4.65 a head:
- Iceland Luxury Extra Tasty Stuffed Turkey Joint with Bacon (£10.00, 1kg)
- Iceland Roast Potatoes (£1.00, 907g)
- Iceland Pigs in Blankets (£2.40, 12pk)
- Iceland Yorkshire Puddings (£1.00, 20pk)
- Iceland Garden Peas (£1.00, 800g)
- Iceland Button Sprouts (£1.00, 900g)
- Iceland Carrot Battons (£1.00, 800g)
- Iceland Mince Pies (£1.20, 6pk)
It definitely scores highly for convenience, with ready made roasties, Yorkshire puddings and a ready-stuff turkey. Frozen veg has a big advantage of cutting food waste, allowing you to just use what you need without the rest going off.
However, I’ve not convinced it’s the best deal. I reckon I can pick up fresh veg for less, and those peas are no substitute for gravy and parsnips.
Go frozen, not fresh
Iceland does have the right idea about. some things though. My top tip for turkey is to go frozen, not fresh, for major savings.
Even on a £20 budget you could still squeeze in a small turkey or turkey crown, with prices hovering around £14:
- Aldi: small British whole turkey £13.49 and small British turkey crown £13.99
- ASDA: small British turkey crown and basted small British turkey both £13.50. ASDA even does an extra small British turkey crown for £11.50
- Tesco: small frozen whole bird or small turkey crown: £14
- Morrisons: mini turkey crown £13.99
Try a turkey joint
You could shave a bit off the main event by opting for a turkey joint, rather than a crown or whole bird. Some also come stuffed, saving effort too.
The smaller sizes, around 600g to 800g, are cheapest, with several under £6 at Aldi, Tesco and Morrisons. However, you might struggle to stretch them to 4, even if the rest of the plate is crowded with veg and extras.
Otherwise joint weighing 1k or more might even provide some leftovers:
- Iceland: 1kg Luxury Extra Tasty Stuffed Turkey Joint with Bacon £10
- Morrisons: 1.3kg Stuffed Turkey Breast Joint Topped With Bacon £10.99
- Aldi: 1kg Ashfields British stuff turkey joint for £11.00
- Tesco: 1.1kg basted turkey joint with black pepper for £12
- ASDA: 1.5kg bacon topped turkey joint for £12.50 (probably the most actual turkey for your money)
Ditch the turkey
Bring the costs right down by ditching the traditional turkey and switching to chicken instead.
You can find extra large chickens (2kg plus) for around £5 to £6 which would still look great as a festive centrepiece. Plus, you’re likely to end up with more actual meat than a turkey joint, so more potential for extra meals from any leftovers.
- Aldi: Extra large chicken £4.79
- Sainsbury’s: Extra large chicken £4.99
- Tesco: Extra large chicken £5.50
- Morrisons: Extra large chicken £5.99
- ASDA: Extra large chicken £6.52
Snap up cheap veg
One of the big factors in bringing a budget Christmas dinner below £20 is the special offers on festive veg. In recent years, the supermarkets have slashed the prices of veg like carrots, potatoes, parsnips and Brussels sprouts, trying to tempt people in for the rest of their Christmas shop.
Previous post: Where to buy the cheapest Christmas veg
Aldi, for example, confirmed this week that their Super Six between December 18th and 24th will be just 19p a bag:
- Carrots 1kg
- White potatoes 2kg
- Parsnips 500g
- Brussels sprouts 500g
- Swede, each
- Red and white cabbages, each
So picking up a bag each of carrots, white potatoes, parsnips and Brussels sprouts will only cost 76p! Suddenly the £4 for Iceland’s carrots, peas, sprouts and roast potatoes doesn’t sound quite such a saving.
Check out the value ranges
Switching to value brands can definitely save cash, especially for ready made stuff such as gravy granules and stuffing mix. As the person most often slaving over a hot stove, they do make life easier, and can be picked up for pennies.
The best prices I spotted for stuffing mix were:
- ASDA Just Essentials Sage & Onion stuffing mix 85g for 25p
- Morrisons Savers Sage & Onion stuffing mix 85g costs 30p
- Sainsburys Sage & Onion stuffing mix 85g for 40p
- ALDI Quixo Sage & Onion stuffing mix 170g for 43p (double the quantity)
- ASDA Just essentials 200g for 32p
- Tesco Stockwell Co 200g for 32p
- Sainsburys Hubbards Food store gravy granules 170g for 54p
- Morrisons Savers gravy granules 200g costs 56p
- Aldi QUIXO 300g (so more) but still pricier at 95p
Pick up pigs in blankets
Normally, I reckon cooking from scratch is a good way to save money, but I failed to find a way to make my own pigs in blankets for less. You might well be able to make ones with higher meat content by buying chipolatas rather than cocktail sausages, twisting them in half, and wrapping with streaky bacon bought separately. But if you’re on a tight budget, head straight for ready made, where you can pick up 12 for around £2, although potentially with a bit of jiggery pokery around loyalty cards and multi buy offers:
- Aldi: 12 at 222g for £1.99. Frozen also 240g for £1.99
- Morrisons: 12 at 210g for £2.25 (also buy 2 for £4 so £2 each)
- ASDA: 12 at 222g for £2.40
- Iceland: 12 at £2.40
- Tesco: 12 at 222g for £2.50. Tesco also sells a frozen version, 12 at 240g for £2.40, with a Clubcard offer of 3 for £6, which works out at £2 a pack when buying a lot
- Sainsburys: 12 at 260g for £3
Controversial: Yorkshire puddings
Personally, I don’t make Yorkshire puddings on Christmas Day, but appreciate that many people have a soft spot for yorkies with every roast meal. Plus, they do a good job of filling people up, much like passing round a bread basket or loading plates with potatoes, rice or pasta.
Just like with the pigs in blankets, I tried pricing up the home made version. Trouble is, with the price of milk and eggs shooting up, my normal recipe came to around 60p for the amounts used. That didn’t actually save money when you can find value range frozen Yorkshire puddings for around 50p. (Packs of 15 for 50p from Tesco Hearty Food Co, ASDA Just Essentials and Aldi Everyday Essentials and actually 48p from Sainsburys Stamford Food Co.)
Here’s another thing that can cost a ton of money to cook from scratch, with all that dried fruit, nuts and booze, but you can pick up 100g ready-made individual puddings for £1 and distinctly bigger 400g versions for just £2. or 89p and £1.89 respectively at Aldi. Quick zap in the microwave, spirits, match, blazing pudding: done.
Test Christmas meal
I had a go at making a Christmas meal for under £20. It’s a pain knowing that some the cheapest offers aren’t available until just before the big day, but some families do eat Christmas dinner earlier in December, especially if they’re heading off in different directions on the day itself.
I just headed to my nearest supermarket, Morrisons, late on a Sunday. I was keen to try one of the joints, as usually I fork out for a whole bird, so at £10.99 that swallowed up more than half the budget. I got a bit over-excited about pigs in blankets and went for 24 for £4 on a multi buy offer, rather than 12 for £2.25, and then picked up a 400g Christmas pudding for £2.
That only left £4.76, but thanks to the value ranges I could get gravy granules for 56p and stuffing mix for 30p. Aldi super six veg at 76p would have left me with money to spare, but no joy so early in December. Instead I went for wonky potatoes (2.5kg for £1.05), wonky carrots (1kg for 39p) and wonky parsnips (500g for 39p). A 99p bag of Brussels sprouts would have blown the budget completely, so I scooped up the last 225g of loose sprouts for 43p instead.
Back at home I raided the store cupboard for salt, pepper, oil and lard (for the roast potatoes). The gravy was a tad gloopy, and the joint crumbled more than slicing, despite following the cooking and resting instructions religiously. But it actually served 6 full plates, rather than just four, and I still have enough leftover potatoes, carrots and parsnips to bung in a slow cooker sausage casserole.
Stretching the budget
Swapping items could have put more on the table, whether stretching to a whole turkey, or having extra cash to splash by opting for chicken.
At Morrisons, with more restraint on the pigs in blankets, I’d have been able to squeeze in a 59p jar of cranberry sauce and £1.25 for 300ml of double cream to go with the pudding, all for £20.20.
At Aldi prices with veg from the festive super six, I could have sprung for a £13.49 whole turkey, kept to 12 pigs in blankets but chucked in Yorkshire puddings, and at £19.97 still had change from £20.
Swapping to a £4.79 extra large chicken would have freed up £8.73 – enough for 55p cranberry sauce, £1.15 double cream, 99p mince pies and £6 over for a bottle of wine!
Now – over to you. Will you be trying to save money on Christmas dinner this year? And what are your views on Yorkshire puddings with turkey? Do share in the comments, I’d love to hear!