How to Make Delicious Holiday Meals on A Budget

thanksgiving dinner foods

Ding Dong! You hear the doorbell ring and you dread every step as you go to open the front door. As soon as you reach the handle the door flings open, almost crashing into your nose. This is it! The day the flood gates open and every family member from each and every state is now in your home. The thought of how much you spent on food makes you cringe. It doesn’t have to be this way! I will encourage you to read through my tips on how to make holiday meals on a budget so that you won’t break the bank this holiday season.

Here comes the BIG question. “What the heck do I make”?  You can use these ideas for any big or small event. Get ready for some holiday meals on a budget ideas with cost breakdowns to help you.

Pass The Sides

Our first-holiday side is PASTA. The easiest and cheapest option when it comes to feeding a large crowd. For the holidays, I like to have a variety of pasta recipes in my repertoire. If you are gluten intolerant or if you have a guest that is, they have great options in stores. For example, brown rice pasta and even veggie pasta are great! You can add to your lineup as a small side dish that still won’t break the bank on a holiday budget.

So… what do I make and how much? As a general rule of thumb, small pasta usually feeds a larger crowd better. For a box of penne or elbows, you are looking at about 6-7 servings per box. I usually grab two boxes of pasta to make a large tray for the holidays. Here are some examples for you.

Baked Ziti

This staple has been on my holiday menu for many of my events. I like to shop at Walmart for the holidays, the store brand is $0.82 for most pasta’s. Super cheap and easy on your budget!  You can do this with or without meat. 2 boxes of pasta will generally serve 12-15 people easily. You can also use these ingredients to make lasagna. If you are doing lasagna, pre-cut the squares for your guest so that Uncle Ned doesn’t take a HUGE piece for himself and leave only half a tray.  For example, here are the costs for your reference.

  • 2 boxes of pasta =$1.64
  • 1 32 oz container of ricotta cheese =$3.44
  • 2 traditional pasta sauces= $1.28
  • 8oz mozzarella cheese shredded bag = $1.98
  • With meat $4.98 for 1lb of meat.
    A grand total of $11.02 without meat and $16 with meat (tax not included).

Baked Macaroni & Cheese

Loved by kids and adults, this delicious comfort food is great for the holidays and also does well for lunch the next day with leftovers. To get a little fancy, you can add bacon or have it crumbled on the side to add in (YUM)!  I enjoy this dish during the holidays because it is rich and soul-warming.

  • 2 boxes of macaroni pasta $1.64
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter $2.98 (I suggest buying the 4 count and saving the rest for
    another dish).
  • Cheese 16 oz cheddar shredded $3.58
  • Bread crumbs – optional
  • Milk ( you may have already have this in the house)
  • Flour- (I am sure you have flour around the house hopefully)
  • Bacon (optional) $3.12 store brand
    A grand total of $8.20 without bacon and $11.32 with. This will serve 12-15 people.

Vegetable Ideas

Let’s face it, how many times have we made veggies and only a few people eat it? Want to know a great and easy way to add veggies into your menu and feed a large crowd? The answer is SOUP & CASSEROLES!

You can always make a small dish of sautéed green beans or broccoli which will only cost you a few bucks. I always buy the frozen steamed veggies I can pop in the microwave which are usually about $2 per bag.

Mixed Vegetable Soup

  • 2 bags (Walmart sells them for 0.80 per bag).
  • You will also need 1onion, 2 potatoes, a couple of cloves of garlic and spices you have at home.
  • Tomato paste or tomato sauce in the soup for extra robust flavoring (if you have some leftover from the baked ziti, even better!)
  • Chicken or vegetable broth and they are $1.22 each at Walmart.  You will need about 4 broths and water.

Grand total for the soup = About $7 without the onion, potato and garlic clove that you may already have at home.

Green Bean Casserole

  • 2 cans of mushroom soup store-bought Walmart brand $1.00
  • 4 cups of cooked green beans canned (4 cans Walmart Brand) $2.00
  • French fried onions $1.84 for 2.8 oz
  • Milk & Pepper (already have at home)
    Grand total= $4.84


And up next, we have the delicious potato. This is a side staple of the holidays and SUPER CHEAP. A 5lb bag of potatoes will cost around $3. Remember that butter we bought earlier for the Macaroni & Cheese? You only need about 1 stick to make mashed potatoes and use the milk you already have at home. If you like creamy whipped potatoes, then you can use heavy whipping cream or half and half at $1.98 at Walmart.

Making roasted potatoes is also an option and you won’t need the butter or cream. Just chop those babies up and add some herbs you have at home like thyme, rosemary, garlic, onions and basil, salt & pepper, some EVOO and throw them in the oven. Simple and easy!

The Star of the Show

The star of the show! It is hard to choose what to make and if you’re on a tight budget you may not have many options. You can’t put on the invites to your party BYOM (bring your own meat) now can you? My advice is to do something that can feed the crowd in a cost-efficient way. Just know, you have options and here are some ideas.


If you have selected Turkey for an option, you will be looking at a cost of 1 ½-2 pounds of turkey per person. This will allow for some leftovers the next day (double cost savings). Publix had some good pricing on Turkeys, as I purchased a 20lb turkey for about $11.00. Always check your stores for specials and compare them on price per pound.


If you are up for being adventurous you can do a chicken dish, liked herbed roasted
chicken. If you are having a large crowd you may have to get a few chickens which can
range from $6.00 each and up and possibly some extra pieces sold separately to
compensate. Chickens aren’t as bountiful with their meat. This can run you close to $18
or more depending on the crowd size.

Ham & Pork

Ham or pork is also a cheap option. A spiral ham can run you at Walmart about $14+.
Picnic pork or pork shoulder can be around the same price. Pork is a big staple in my
husband’s family as they love Pernil! This is a great meal option for holiday meals on a budget.

Dessert Equals the Last Call

Dessert is the culinary sign of “This dinner is almost over, thank goodness”! Some great ideas that everyone will love can range from a homemade vanilla cake with buttercream icing, chocolate cake, brownies.

I always make a homemade cake and it will only cost you about $5-6 if you make everything from scratch. What I like to do for a large crowd during the holidays is make 2 different types of cakes which will feed about 16-18 people. You can also have your guests bring their own pastries and pies to contribute to the menu and lighten the workload. I also have some additional tips for you to remember.

Tips for Holiday Meals on A Budget:

Don’t forget to check your local ads for coupons and other cost savings. You can get through the holidays with more money in your bank account for things that truly matter. Such as a nice manicure or massage after having to play referee at the dinner table. For additional holiday recipes and meal ideas for any budget, my go-to is the food network .

A. Planning your menu, calculate the cost and get your headcount.
B. Make things that aren’t too time-consuming. (Who has the time?)
C. A meal that you can share ingredients with other dishes that you are making.
D. Cost-efficient: I shop at Walmart for most items.
E. Pot Luck Holidays: Have everyone bring one side dish or dessert to help alleviate the cost and stress. I recommend assigning who will bring what and keep track to make sure you don’t have two people making the same thing.

I hope these holiday meals on a budget help you stay on track this season. Happy Holidays to you my friends!


Amanda graduated from East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania with her Bachelors of Science in Business Management. She is an honored member of Sigma Beta Delta. Amanda is a relatively new Floridian who moved here from Pennsylvania in 2017. While she definitely misses the seasons, she is getting acclimated to all the beach time Florida has to offer. Amanda has been with her loving husband Oscar for 16 years and in 2017 they welcomed their first baby boy (now almost 3). He truly is the joy of their lives and was diagnosed with Autism in 2019. In her limited spare time, Amanda enjoys making people laugh, cooking and spending quality time with her family and friends. When she isn’t chasing after her toddler or cleaning 500 dishes, Amanda works for The Walt Disney Company and she helps makes dreams come true by hiring top talent!