5 Ways to Reduce Holiday Food Costs

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Slight adjustments to the way you shop and cook can result in big savings.

In my household, food is the biggest culprit when it comes to overspending during the holiday season. Others may spend more on gifts, but for me it's all about having a well-stocked pantry, hosting elaborate dinners, and serving generous amounts of alcohol. The problem, of course, is that the bill racks up quickly.

That's why I was grateful to see the Kitchn's latest article on how to save money on groceries during the holidays. Andrea Woroch, a self-described financial expert, offered some smart tips on paring down food-related expenses, some of which I'd like to share here, along with others I've learned along the way.

1. Make your own sweets.

Cookies, cakes, and sweetened breads are iconic at this time of year and, as a result, tend to have a higher markup. Make your own from scratch and make large batches that can be stored in the freezer. Consider hosting or attending a cookie exchange, which is a fun way to get a range of cookie types in your pantry with relatively little effort.

2. Shop grocery store sales.

When you see certain ingredients go on sale, particularly baking ingredients, snap them up. Items like butter, nuts, vanilla extract, flour, chocolate, honey/maple syrup, and cream cheese can be expensive, so always take advantage of sales. Most of these items can be stored in the freezer if you buy more than you can use right away.

3. Simplify the menu.

You'll save money and stress just by cooking more simply. Leave out the exotic new recipes or reduce the overall number of dishes on the table by cooking more of the same. If you feel an urge to change it up, add a new appetizer or dessert. The funny thing is that guests won't even notice! They're just happy to have delicious food made for them. Woroch also recommends making a menu plan that uses overlapping ingredients in order to cut down on food waste.

4. Ask guests to pitch in.

A commenter on Woroch's article added this point, saying she asks guests to bring their specialty, something they're known for being good at making. This way, it's fairly easy for them, takes the burden off you, and adds variety to the table. If you're hosting family members for a few days, delegate meal prep by assigning certain meals to each person or family.

5. Buy frozen produce.

If a recipe calls for fruits or vegetables to be incorporated into it (think blueberry pancakes, vegetables in a pot pie or soup, fruit compote or baked goods), opt for cheaper frozen produce, rather than paying a premium for imported, out-of-season fresh produce; Woroch says this can save 20-30 percent. Use frozen veggies in steamed side dishes, too; no one ever turns away a bowl of buttered peas and carrots!

6. Know what costs the most – and buy less of it.

Meat, cheese, and alcohol are the obvious culprits when it comes to an inflated grocery bill because all of these are expensive. Buy less of them to save money. If you eat meat, use it as a garnish or flavoring, rather than a focal point in a meal. Buy cheeses that are on sale, or buy simpler types that you can dress up, i.e. goat cheese rounds marinated with olive oil and garlic, rather than a pricey imported French cheese. I try to stock the house with non-alcoholic beverages, such as spiced apple cider and homemade eggnog, which offer a more frugal alternative to a glass of wine or cocktail.

What money-saving grocery tips do you have? Please share in the comments below.