Fall is in the air! Okay, well, only in the mornings where I am in North Carolina but it’s a start! With the weather cooling off thoughts turn to Halloween, trick-or-treating, costumes, and then holiday dinners. For some the coming months are not a source of joy but of worry. Worry over how to afford a costume for their little ones so they can go out with their friends on Halloween. Worry over how to purchase the items needed for a holiday dinner two months in a row. Worry over being able to purchase Christmas presents on sometimes an extremely limited budget. The struggle for parents during this time of year is very real.
Holiday meals are a tradition in most households across the nation regardless of what religion you are or what holidays you celebrate. Bringing family together or just having your little family, there are expectations of what to eat on that special day. Some careful planning and maybe even seeking some help if needed can make a holiday dinner successful.
The most important step would be to plan ahead and have a budget! I know it is only October, but if you have an extra couple of dollars after grocery shopping, either put it in an envelope for safe keeping to purchase holiday meal items or go ahead and begin purchasing what you might need. Make a list of what your family likes to have at these dinners. Here’s what we normally have; turkey, creamed corn, mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes, lima or butter beans, cranberry sauce, deviled eggs, and at least one pie. Now this is a very, very pared down list. Some of these items you can purchase ahead of time.
Plan out how many weeks there are until Thanksgiving and again until Christmas, trust me on this one! There are 7 Fridays until Thanksgiving. Now, how often do you get paid? Can you spare $5 towards Thanksgiving dinner? How about $1? Save consistently every paycheck! I buy frozen corn for our creamed corn. A 16-ounce bag of frozen corn is $1 here! I use butter, sugar and whole milk to make my creamed corn. Do you normally buy milk and sugar anyway, great! On to the cranberry sauce, you can buy a can, or you can wait until cranberries go on sale, buy fresh, and then freeze them. I use water and 1 cup of sugar to make my homemade cranberry sauce. Two side dishes down. $1 for corn and about $1.50 to $2 for cranberry sauce, and some items you probably already have anyway like sugar and milk. If you can swing it you should buy an extra bag of sugar and brown sugar, each only around $1 to $1.50 if you can get them on sale.
What about pie? We like pumpkin or sweet potato. Sweet potatoes will go on sale for less than a quarter per pound closer to the holiday. Grab 2 or 3, cook them ahead of time, mash and freeze. Now you have sweet potatoes for pie! You could also do this for the sweet potato side dish if that’s what you like to have. What about pumpkin pie? Canned pumpkin, not pie filling, is a great way to make pie. One can makes a decent sized pie. I normally make a pumpkin custard with no crust so I don’t even need to plan for a crust. If you just can’t have pie without the crust you have options, 1 is to make your own. I am not good at that, option 2 is to buy one. Pie crusts come already made in the freezer section of most grocery stores. You can buy 2 pie crusts for less than $3. This is another item to add to your list to purchase ahead of time and freeze until the big day. Research what other pies you could make at home like apple or cherry. Most of the time a can of pie filling would suffice but you could also buy a few fresh apples and look up a recipe to turn them into apple pie!
Now the most expensive item on the list is turkey. If you absolutely must have a turkey wait until they are on sale at rock bottom prices. Keep watch on the sales then buy one that fits within your budget. Some stores have promotions going on if you spend a certain amount each week at the end of say 4 weeks you will have so much money towards a holiday turkey! After posting this I found a link to a grocery store doing just this! https://www.foodlion.com/ShopTrackReceive Look for other deals in your area as well. I know Winn Dixie used to do a promotion like this too.
Another option is to buy a large chicken and serve that instead. Whole chickens can often be found on sale or marked down for quick sale. I have found some for $2 and $3 before! No it’s not the same as a big turkey but it can still be turned into something special. There are recipes galore for different ways to cook a chicken using spices and oil rubs. One of my favorite ways to cook a whole chicken is to stick an onion chopped into quarters inside the chicken, rub it with olive or canola oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast according to the package direction. Make a gravy with the drippings with some cornstarch or flour and you’ve got a wonderful main dish for your holiday dinner!
If you find that you are on such a tight budget that even planning ahead and buying a thing or each payday until the holiday isn’t possible start looking for churches in the area or free pantries. There is no shame in this! Churches and schools will make holiday baskets and give them to families in need. Sign up for these programs ahead of time. Start now if you think you need to. One more option is to invite friends, family, and neighbors for a potluck holiday dinner. Everyone just brings one dish. This takes some coordination but it can be a nice way to have a holiday dinner with friends and family as well as take some of the financial burden off all those involved.
Remember, the focus of these holidays is to be with your family; those you love. Any meal can be special. What ever choice you make, make it fun, include the children, cook together, fill the house with love. If all you have is a few side dishes and no main dish that’s okay too! You do what you can and fill the rest of the day with love, cuddles, playing games, watching old dvd’s; whatever you can to make the day memorable. Your children will not remember what was served at dinner, they will remember the process, they will remember the fun they had, and the time they shared with family.