So you’ve agreed to host Christmas lunch.
It seemed like a great idea at the time, but now as you’ve started to plan the big day, panic has set in and you’re contemplating fleeing the country just to get out of it.
Well, Christmas hostess with the “mostess” (or host with the most!), you can relax, because we’re here to assure you that it’s absolutely possible to host a fabulous Christmas lunch without a financial blowout.
Here’s our step-by-step guide to get you through the day:
For nibbles, go with the crowd favourites
If Christmas lunch were a gift, the nibbles would be the wrapping. In other words, you’ve got to have them but they’re not the main show.
There are plenty of amazing, festive options you could spend your time and money on, like cob loaf spinach dip or mini pizzas shaped like Christmas trees, but let’s be real – most people are just as happy with a healthy spread of chips and dips.
This also makes nibbles the perfect thing to allocate to your guests, as all they have to do is swing past a supermarket in the days leading up to Christmas.
NOTE: Asking guests to share the love (and the cost!) of your Christmas lunch is recommended later in this guide so if you’re worried about using up your ‘Christmas helper credits’, handle the nibbles yourself. Remember: keep it simple, keep it cheap. Chips and dips all the way!
The main star of Christmas lunch: The Main Course
This is the make-or-break element of your Christmas lunch…
If you nail this, everything else will fall into place. That’s why we’ve spent a long time making this section of our Christmas lunch guide as foolproof as possible.
The first few sections cover the meatier options and then later we have dished up some advice on meat-free alternatives (perfect not just for vegetarians but anyone looking for an extra area of Christmas lunch to bring costs down).
Let’s get started.
Choosing your meat
Meat will always be the most expensive part of Christmas lunch, so getting this decision right is super important!
Nowhere in the Australian constitution does it say that all Christmas-lunch hosts must serve prawns, lobster and a whole leg of ham. It’s much cheaper to stick to the basic meats and do them well.
Below is a handy price range for various meats to help you decide which one is right for you:
NOTE: These prices are taken from those listed on the major supermarket websites. But don’t take our word for it…shop around at the places listed below and grab yourself a bargain!
- Whole chicken – $4.50 – $8.20 per kg
- Whole turkey (frozen) – $9 per kg
- Whole turkey (fresh) -$10 per kg
- Roast pork (shoulder) – $10 per kg
- Roast lamb (shoulder) – $10 per kg
- Leg ham – $13 – $22 per kg
- Prawns – $27 – $30 per kg
Start looking for your meat earlier in the year for huge storage savings
Finding marked down meat is like a jackpot for a budget shopper, but you’re unlikely to strike gold in the lead up to Christmas. The type of meats you’ll be looking for will be in too high demand to stay on the shelves.
The solution…for next year? Simple. Don’t wait until December to buy your Christmas meat.
Meat can stay safe and delicious for ages when it is frozen. Be on the lookout for the type of meat you want before the holiday season and you will be able to massively bring down your Christmas lunch costs.
On top of that, buying your meat earlier in the year means you won’t be taking the full budget hit in December.
Listed below are the ‘safe’ zones for how long to leave different meats in your freezer. Meat will actually stay safe to eat for much longer but the quality won’t be as good when it comes time to eat.
Christmas meat freezing times:
- Ham – 2 months – Start looking late October
- Pork or lamb chops – 3 months – Start looking late September
- Fish and other types of seafood – 3 months – Start looking late September
- Pork or lamb roast – 4 months – Start looking late August
- Whole chicken, turkey or any other poultry – 12 months – buy and freeze any time of year for Christmas
- Game meats (rabbit or venison) – 8 months – start looking late April
Look in the right places for the right price
If you’re too late to buy your Christmas meat and freeze it, don’t worry. There are other ways to get your meat cheap, you just need to know where to look.
Exactly where to go will be different depending on where in Australia you are based, but use the below as a rough guide to finding the places with the cheapest prices.
Fresh produce markets
- The beauty of shopping in the meat section at produce markets is that even during the busiest times of the years the stalls are all competing with each other. This keeps prices low. The bigger the market the better.
- Avoid produce markets in affluent areas as they tend to be smaller and more boutique.
- If you’re willing to roll the dice, waiting until the end of the day can lead to great deals on meat before it is thrown out (just be prepared for the fact you might miss out entirely)
- HOT TIP: If possible, find a market in your city’s ‘Chinatown’ or equivalent area. The families that run these stores in these type of markets often come from cultures that don’t traditionally celebrate Christmas, so you are more likely to avoid the ‘festive tax’.
- Meat wholesalers can be hit and miss in terms of lower prices, and the Christmas demand might mean you might not get exactly what you want, but if you’re willing to do the research, you can still grab prices that are well below the mainstream prices.
- Aldi and Costco are gaining momentum in Australia. If there is one near you it is worth checking out. Their prices are usually cheaper than the big two chains.
- NOTE: Costco is a members-only supermarket so you will need to sign up or find a friend with a membership to shop there.
Buying seafood straight from the source
- Fish and seafood is easy to buy right from the people that catch it.
- Any fishing town will have their produce for sale down on the pier at wholesale prices.
- Often in the days before Christmas these markets will stay open longer and offer great specials.
Options for vegetarian mains
Gone are the days where vegetarians should have to just fill up on sides at Christmas lunch.
There are plenty of ‘main-course’ style dishes that can be made for Christmas day, which are vego friendly but are also a pretty great way to downgrade the cost of your Christmas lunch.
This is a classic vegetarian Christmas alternative that has been around since the 1980s and it is exactly what it sounds like: tofu shaped like a turkey.
They aren’t cheap to buy premade but it is straightforward enough to create one yourself instead. Ensure you buy your tofu from a specialist Asian grocery store as the prices will be much cheaper than at a supermarket. At these stores a kilogram of tofu will cost you between $5.50 and $8 per kilogram.
That may not sound significantly cheaper than real turkey meat, but remember when you’re buying tofu, 100% of it is edible. You’re not paying for bones, gristle or any other bits and pieces.
Check out this recipe for a comprehensive guide on how to make your own homemade tofurkey.
Nut Roast/Vegetable Wellingtons
The difference between a main course meal and a side dish, is that a main course is something that you can sit on the table and everyone will look at it and say, “What’s that?!”
That’s what you get with a nut roast.
The variety of delicious ingredients that can go into this dish makes it an awesome option for a meat-free main and is likely to sway more than a few committed meat-eaters too.
If you’re low on talent in the kitchen, it might be better to just keep your meat-free main simple. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still make it delicious. Check out selected recipes below for easy to make options:
- Sage, leek and mushroom pie
- Caramelised garlic tart
- Quiche Lorraine (substitute bacon with mushrooms)
To stay with our wrapped-gift metaphor, the vegetables and side dishes can be thought of as stocking stuffers: cheap and simple but often where you can find some of Christmas’ best surprises.
The right side dish is an opportunity to impress your guests with your creativity while using mostly low-cost ingredients. There are so many recipes online to choose from and you can put a range of flavours on the table.
Make some dishes cheesy, hearty and starchy and others fresh light and delicious. The general rule of thumb is one carbohydrate-rich / starchy dish to every two leafy salads. Click here for some sidespiration (warning: this link will elicit involuntary salivation).
If you’re not exactly riding the gravy train right now, why not save a few bucks by making it from scratch instead?
Once you’ve got the dripping from your roast, making gravy is cheap, easy and a thousand times better than store bought. All you need to add is butter and flour and then whatever other flavourings take your fancy. Maybe some salt, a little red wine and don’t forget a dollop of tomato sauce for sweetness and that extra tang.
If you want to go a little more fancy here is a pretty serious recipe with only a handful more ingredients. But our advice is, as always, keep it simple!
Most people will BYO drinks to a Christmas lunch. However, it’s not unusual to feel like you want to provide some champagne or something else special to get everyone in the right spirit.
Whilst this is a nice thought, if you’re struggling to stay within budget – it’s an unnecessary expense.
But, if you just can’t bear the thought of not providing some sort of refreshments, don’t leave it to the last minute. Shop the specials and do your research so you get the best quality for what you spend.
Or even better, start your own tradition and make your own special ‘Christmas Cheer’ from scratch.
Try this recipe out for size*:
- 1 bottle of whisky (750ml)
- 900ml of thickened cream
- 3 cans of condensed milk
- 3 tbsps of chocolate topping
- Coconut essence – a few drops to taste
- Whisk all together..bottle and refrigerate.
It may not sound budget friendly at first but this recipe makes three bottles. Having a ‘special’ Christmas drink is a nice touch for the day (and it will give you something to look forward to as a nightcap).
Everyone always leaves room for dessert, right?
Well, Christmas lunch may be the one meal of the year where that isn’t quite so true but everyone will still find a way to fit it in.
Desserts can take just as much time to make as anything in the main meal but they have a couple of key advantages which make them the ideal part of your Christmas lunch to cash in your ‘helper’ credits.
- Desserts can be made beforehand
- Desserts can be easily transported from one place to another.
If your guests bring one dessert option per carload, that will be more than enough to finish off the amazing spread you’ve just put on.
So remember, when you first ‘decide’ Christmas lunch will be at your place, and the inevitable question “is there anything I can bring?” gets asked, don’t brush it off. Embrace it.
After all, you’re doing everything else.
General Tips for Christmas Lunch
Here are some more great tips, to not just save on the cost of your Christmas lunch, but also make sure it goes as smoothly as possible.
Don’t make more than necessary
Food wastage is one of the biggest expenses when it comes to hosting large meals. Sure, you want to impress your guests (and yes Christmas leftovers are the best) but if you’re really stretching every last dollar it is better to be realistic about how much food is necessary.
It’s worth doing some research by consulting a portion planner.
Remember: every Christmas lunch host worries about not cooking enough food and they’re rarely right.
Just because it’s Christmas, doesn’t mean you should stop budgeting.
Set yourself a limit and stick to it. We get creative when we have to stay within limitations. But without restrictions, things can get out of hand especially when buying food for a much larger group of people than we are used to.
Be prepared before the day
Do as much preparation beforehand as you can. For example, plenty of sides can be made several nights before and stored in the fridge.
There are also heaps of products you can purchase weeks in advance such as table crackers, canned goods, dried fruit etc. You can order most of these things online, where it’s easy to compare prices and seek out a bargain.
Know your limits
Don’t try an extravagant meal for the very first time on Christmas day. No matter how many fingers and toes you cross, if things go wrong, you’ll end up serving baked beans to the table (unless you’re trying to avoid hosting Christmas ever again).
Have something for everyone
Don’t forget to ask your guests for their dietary requirements well in advance. There’s nothing worse than forgetting about that one guest who just happens to be allergic to every food you’ve prepared or find you have nothing for your niece who has recently converted to a strict raw vegan diet.
Be warned: there will undoubtedly be at least one uncle who’ll tell you he’s on a “seafood diet (I see food and I eat it)”.
Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun. Sometimes it’s the things that don’t go as planned that make for the best stories. It’s Christmas. Have a laugh. Enjoy yourself.
You should read this bit: Sometimes we use links in our blogs that belong to a variety of websites and not Nimble, so clicking on, and using them, will take you away from Nimble’s website, meaning we’ve got no control or responsibility over the content. Nimble does not endorse and is not affiliated or associated in any way whatsoever to the businesses named in our blog posts. The information in our blog posts is general information only and does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. The information contained in this blog is correct at the date of publication.
*Nimble supports the responsible service of alcohol. Drink responsibly.