Planning for our holiday food might be one of my favorite times to menu plan. If you've been around for anytime at all you know I love menu planning. I post our menu every week so you can see how we keep our family of seven fed but also that you don't need to make elaborate, crazy meal plans! We like to keep it simple during the year with a main dish and something simple on the side. Usually it's carrot sticks or steamed veggies. And I'm not ashamed to admit that!
For holidays, though? Bring on the food! I love making a huge spread of all sorts of foods. But I also know we have a food budget to work with and if we go too crazy we could be paying for it (literally!) for months to come. We give ourselves a slightly larger food budget during December but it's still within our income - nothing gets put on credit cards. I also do my best to stock up on lots of staples in October and November so we can eat what we have on hand instead of needing to buy ingredients every week for meals. By eating out of our pantry and freezer I can use the grocery budget in December to buy the food needed for those fun meals and all the Christmas baking I love to do. I also use the weekly budget in December for keeping stocked on perishable items like milk, eggs, cheese, and fresh produce.
With all that being said, what's on the menu this year? Our Christmas Eve tradition is to have appetizers and watch a Christmas movie. Some years we set up everything in our living room so we can snack as we please but with two little two-year-old, um... "helpers," I don't think that's a good idea. We will keep all the food set up in the kitchen and everyone can help themselves from there.
Christmas Eve Appetizer Buffet
There will be five adults and five kids eating so we wanted to have a big assortment of items as well as things we knew would go over well with the different age groups and tastes. I don't think we will go hungry!
Spinach Artichoke Dip - I use a recipe from a Better Homes & Garden cookbook I own. It's always a hit and I love that it includes make ahead directions. It's also really nice that this uses basic ingredients that I always have on hand (other than the artichoke hearts) so it's nothing I really need to make budget adjustments for. We will have crackers and tortilla chips for serving.
BBQ Lil' Smokies - These are such a party staple! My parents are actually picking up the smokies but there are always great deals on them this time of year.
Mozzarella Sticks - I'm using The Pioneer Woman's recipe from her cookbook, Food From My Frontier. I've had this cookbook for about five years and everything we've made from it is a hit. But that can be said about nearly everything Ree Drummond makes! I made these last week so they are prepped and ready in the freezer. All we need to do is fry them up and enjoy!
Deviled Eggs - It's nice to have food that isn't fried as a change of pace. Deviled eggs are so simple and yet wonderful. Although I've found they tend to be a love it or hate it food. What about you? Do you enjoy deviled eggs?
Breaded Shrimp - My mom knows how much our kids adore popcorn shrimp so my parents are bringing a box of these.
Stuffed Mushrooms - We added these to our appetizer menu a few years ago and they have been a staple ever since! No crazy ingredients, just cream cheese, seasoned salt, and crumbled sausage, but they are packed with flavor. And since the ingredients are items we almost always have on hand anyway this is another appetizer that helps us stay in our budget.
Cheese Fries - Cheese fries are always Parker's request on a an appetizer night. I like buying the big bag of seasoned fries from Walmart because it's less than $4 for four pounds. Yes, I can buy potatoes for cheaper than that but this way all the work is done for me and I can enjoy the holiday rather than peel potatoes.
Fried Pickles - Jamison chose fried pickles again this year and we are going to try something new. I saw a video a month or two ago of a fried pickle stand that uses whole pickles sliced and skewered, then dipped in batter before being fried. We are going to attempt it this way to see if it is less tedious than individual slices. Pickles are also incredibly budget friendly - we found a large jar of whole kosher dill pickles for less than $2!
Sushi Platter - This is where the meal becomes not as budget friendly but this is a total splurge item. Everyone in our family, including the people in my family that are coming, are huge sushi fans so I know this will go fast!
Veggie Tray - And to balance out all that fried and rich food is fresh veggies. Carrots, celery, broccoli, and whatever else. We can't totally ignore our health just because it's Christmas! Veggie trays, especially ones that you put together yourself from whole veggies, are incredibly frugal! Whole carrots, celery stalks, and bell peppers are some of the cheapest produce you can buy and often there are great deals at your grocery store.
I've never made the same thing for Christmas dinner twice since we've been married. Granted a few of those years I didn't cook because we went to someone else's house, but I digress. Now that we've decided to stay home every year I get to have fun creating a menu that changes each year! Maybe at some point we will find a meal that we want to eat each year but right now we enjoy switching it up. In past years we've done Drip Beef Sandwiches, Homemade Chinese buffet, and lamb chops (when there was only one kid to feed!).
This year we are bringing the steakhouse to us! I'm really excited about this menu and I'm (not so) secretly hoping for lots of leftovers to enjoy later in the week.
Steak with Texas Roadhouse Steak Rub - We love Texas Roadhouse so this is the first step to bringing the steakhouse to our home. We took advantage of a sale at Target a few weeks ago for $5 off a $20 meat or seafood purchase to help with the purchase of steak. They aren't prime cuts by any means but steak for us is a special treat no matter what.
Shrimp - With the coupon at Target I mentioned above we also snagged some shrimp. We won't be doing anything fancy to these, just cooking them up to be enjoyed on their own or with cocktail sauce. Sometimes simple is perfect.
Party Potatoes - I've also heard these called funeral potatoes but that's no good for Christmas Day! These are ooey, gooey, and extra cheesy with a delicious corn flake topping. If you've never tried these you are seriously missing out!
Salad - Got to have salad when you go to a steak house! Simple side salads with hard cooked eggs, carrots, croutons, and cucumber. Easy peasy.
Strawberry Pretzel Jello Salad - I first tried this dish many years ago at my in-laws and I've been hooked ever since. I'm a sucker for salty/sweet combos (like the reindeer chow we made over the weekend) so this is right up my alley. Plus I've got everything on hand already other than the frozen strawberries which we will pick up this week.
Dinner Rolls - I'm making Texas Roadhouse rolls and cinnamon honey butter to complete our steakhouse experience. The one and only time I made these rolls was probably five years ago and I left out the egg - whoops! Hopefully I can read the recipe more accurately this year.
Red Velvet Cake Roll - I've had this dessert pinned to my dessert board for YEARS and I'm finally getting around to making it. I hope it looks as gorgeous as it does in the blogger's post because I could eat the picture!
There ya have it, Christmas Eve appetizers and Christmas Day dinner menus with a wide assortment of food but nothing that's going to break the bank if you plan ahead. I've found the key to plan several items that use the same ingredients or ingredients that you always have on hand so you aren't spending money on items that won't be used again. Lots of my dishes use cream cheese so I can buy the large 3 pound brick at Sam's club for a fraction of the price of individual bricks at the grocery store and it will all get used!
My family is also helping out with the food for Christmas Eve which helps our budget. Even if you are hosting the celebrations in your home you can still ask (well ahead of time) that the party be potluck style. This way everyone can pitch in and the whole food budget doesn't fall in your lap. Please don't ask them the day of, or even day before! Be courteous and let everyone know well in advance (like when you send invites) that the party is a pot luck if that's what you decide.
And if food isn't your thing, don't stress yourself out with planning an elaborate meal that you won't enjoy making or eating! My favorite memories from holidays aren't from the food, it's spending time with the people I love. Yes, sometimes food is involved with that but so are games, laughter, movies, and stories. If you aren't going to eat a 20lb turkey please don't make one! If your dream Christmas means you don't cook so you just have cold sandwiches and chips then go for it. Jesus didn't come to Earth so we could stuff our faces in celebration of his birth. He came to set us free from bondage and so we could have life to the full. If living fully means ordering takeout for Christmas or cooking a lasagna, do what you do.
What's on your holiday menus? Do you do an elaborate spread? Keep things simple? What about guests? Do you go somewhere or do you host? How do you keep your budget in check during the holidays? I'd love to hear your tips!
If you need a place to plan a stress free holiday season you can grab my printable holiday planner for free. You can also get free printable Countdown to Christmas activity cards if you go here.