Cheap Dinner Ideas for a Crowd During the Holidays

Cheap Dinner Ideas for a Crowd During the Holidays

There are many cost-cutting tips for cheap dinner ideas for the holidays. There’s nothing more heartwarming than spending the holidays with family and friends. It’s a time of year where you find yourself gathering with those you love, baking and serving food. If your grocery bill is anything like mine this time of year, it’s probably a small fortune. However, there are some easy ways to serve a crowd without breaking the bank. Now is the time to make your purchases and prepare some dishes in advance to save time and reduce your stress level.

This guide will take you through various money-saving tips to help you enjoy the company of family and friends without spending a fortune on your holiday dinner. 

cheap dinner ideas to feed a crowd during the holidays.
Cheap dinner ideas might not include a traditional holiday ham or turkey and stuffing.

Cheap Dinner Ideas

Inexpensive dinner ideas aren’t always what you’d think of as a traditional holiday dinner. Try these ideas on for size. Remember that hosting Christmas gatherings is more about building memories than spending a lot of money.

  1. Throw a pitch-in. You provide the meat, such as a turkey (see our tips below about saving money and preparing an amazing turkey and side of mashes potatoes) and have the guests bring the sides.
  2. Host a soup and sandwich gathering. Have each person bring their favorite soup. You provide bread and lunch meat.
  3. Throw an International Christmas dinner. Each person gets a country and brings a holiday dish from that region. For example, the person who draws Cuba might bring a Cuban turkey.
  4. Host an appetizers only gathering. If you plan your gathering outside of regular meal hours (so say 1 to 4 p.m. or 9 to 11 p.m., then you can get by with only serving appetizers.
  5. Serve breakfast. Invite everyone to wear their pajamas, serve breakfast foods and watch a Christmas movie. Breakfast foods, such as pancakes are very inexpensive.
  6. Go Italian. Pasta is always a less expensive choice when feeding a crowd. 
  7. Rice bowls. Serve rice bowls and let people choose their toppings, such as chicken, veggies, etc.
  8. Potato bar. Wrap baked potatoes in aluminum foil and cook in the oven (keep warm in a crock pot or two). Let people choose their own toppings.
  9. Walking tacos. Serve bags of Fritos and let people choose their taco toppings, such as cheese, lettuce, salsa, etc.
  10. Pizza. Throw a pizza party. You can find frozen pizzas on sale or make them from scratch for a fraction of the cost of takeout. 
  11. Chili Cookoff. Ask everyone to bring their chili, host a contest, provide cornbread and crackers. Super cheap, filling, fun and a new tradition to start. 
  12. BBQ and chips. Cook a pork loin, shred it, return to crock pot and add BBQ sauce. Serve with chips on the side. Inexpensive and feeds a ton of people. 
  13. Dessert bar. Serve a variety of desserts. Have guests each bring a dessert as well. Yummy and fun. 

Cheap Dinner Ideas for a Traditional Holiday Meal

If you prefer to serve a more traditional dinner, such as turkey or ham, there are some ways to save money. First, turkey is almost always cheaper per pound than ham and goes a long way, so when it comes to cheap dinner ideas, we recommend turkey over ham.

Try these frugal recipes for a cheap dinner idea or two:

Now, let’s talk traditional foods, such as turkey for inexpensive dinner ideas that will save you money on Christmas dinner. 

Frozen Turkeys Cheaper than Fresh

You can find frozen turkeys on sale, especially around Thanksgiving. If you have freezer space, you can purchase a couple of these for the holidays and beyond. Frozen turkeys are cheaper than fresh ones. You can place the frozen turkey in your refrigerator for a slow thaw. Depending on the size and weight, it generally takes two to three days to thaw a turkey in your refrigerator.

Tip for Best Tasting Turkey Ever!

Whether you cook your turkey stuffed or not, you can infuse great taste with this simple, but very powerful tip:

Story of Two Turkeys

One Christmas, friends spent the week with us in our new home in the mountains. I had bought a turkey earlier that week and they arrived with a fresh turkey. So, we decided to cook both birds since we had a large crowd coming to share the holiday with us. Our friend, David shared this secret turkey tip with me and I’ve used it every year since for a truly remarkable turkey. The taste is always superior to all.

Secret Ingredients

There are only two secret ingredients to making this turkey recipe. You’ll be amazed how these two things make such a vast difference in how the turkey tastes.

Butter and Poultry Seasoning

  • You will need a stick of butter. My favorite butter is Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter. It is sold in an  8 oz block. I use only half of the block. I slice the butter into several pats.
  • The next secret ingredient is poultry seasoning. Some people may already use poultry seasoning, but often they simply sprinkle it over the turkey. This only seasons the skin and never reaches the turkey meat. I prefer McCormick poultry seasoning.

Under the Skin

My friend explained the best way to get the seasoning into the turkey meat is to separate the skin from the bird and then rub the poultry seasoning onto the meat, leaving the skin so it cooks normally.

  1. This method requires making a slit with a knife along the breast plate near the cavity.
  2. You may be able to simply slip your fingers between the turkey’s skin and breast.
  3. Either way, as you slip our hands underneath the turkey skin, it will continue to separate from the meat.
  4. You need to load the palms of your hands with the seasoning and then rub it into the turkey breast underneath the skin.
  5. Once you’ve created a thorough rub, you can add the pats of butter underneath the skin on top of the rub.

This is the secret to a truly delicious tasting turkey that goes beyond the normal moistness and flavor. Cook as you normally would, and your holiday guests will be raving about the greatest tasting turkey.

Ingredients for Cheap Dinner Idea – Turkey

There are only three main ingredients for this recipe. They include:

  • 1 thawed turkey
  • 1 container of poultry seasoning (McCormick or your favorite brand)
  • 4 oz (1 stick butter, cut into small pats)

How to Use Turkey Giblets

Most turkeys come with the giblets in a paper packet found in the body cavity or neck cavity of the bird. Some people toss these delicious nuggets in the trash, mostly because they don’t know how to prepare these morsels. The most common use is giblet gravy that will add great flavor to your sliced turkey and even the dressing.

What Are Giblets?

The giblets are basically turkey organs and the neck. These aren’t throwaways and if you’ve never tried using this part of the turkey, you should try it at least once to see if you like the taste. The giblets are the heart, gizzard and liver. Most people cook the liver separately by flouring it and then frying it. That because the liver has a natural bitter taste and isn’t always a good taste for the gravy flavoring. The fried liver can be served as a small side dish for that family member who likes poultry livers or saved for a different meal.

How to Cook Giblets and Neck

The first thing you want to do is fill a saucepan with water and place the neck and giblets in the water. Be sure you have enough water to allow 2-3 inch of water covering the giblets and neck. You want to bring this to a boil, then turn the heat to a high simmer.  You’ll cook the neck and giblets for a minimum of 45 minutes. You may need to extend that time to 1 hour, depending on the size of the turkey neck and giblets.

Cut into Cubes

Once cooked, remove the neck and giblets. Reserve the saucepan of water to make a stock. Once the neck and giblets are cool enough, you can use a couple of forks to shred the meat from the neck. You can then chop or cut the giblets into small pieces and cut the neck meat into smaller pieces. The goal is to have tiny bits in the gravy.

How to Make Giblet Gravy

You can make giblet gravy by creating a stock from the turkey drippings captured in the roasting pan. Pour the drippings into a bowl and scoop a couple of tablespoons of the fat from the bowl and place in a saucepan.

  1. Heat the fat drippings over medium heat.
  2. In a coffee cup, place two tablespoons of flour or corn starch.
  3. Add water until about one inch from rim.
  4. Using a dessert fork or small whisk and mix until fully blended. 
  5. Return to the melted fat in the saucepan and stir in the mixture of flour and water. 
  6. Stir to thoroughly mix and add the water from the saucepan you used to boil the neck and giblets.
  7. Use the whisk to blend the mixture. As it thickens, you can add a little more water from the saucepan until you reach the volume of gravy desired.
  8. Slowly add the chopped-up giblets and neck to the gravy, salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Once thoroughly heated and mixed, serve gravy in a gravy bowl or boat.

Helpful Turkey Giblets Tips

A couple of helpful turkey giblets tips can make a big impact to the taste of your giblet gravy. You can make these changes to improve your overall turkey dinner.

  • Some people opt to skip the turkey liver in the giblet gravy since it has a strong and sometimes bitter taste. Instead, many people flour the liver and fry it to serve as a side dish or at a later meal.
  • If you use a stuffing in your turkey, you may want to chop up the uncooked giblets (minus the liver) and add them to the stuffing to infuse more flavor into the stuffing.

Transform Mashed Potatoes with Roasted Garlic

While mashed potatoes are always a great comfort food and side dish for a holiday dinner, you can add a layer of taste with roasted garlic. You can give plain mashed potatoes more depth of flavor with roasted garlic. This is one of the easiest ways to make mundane mashed potatoes into a truly delicious surprise for your dinner guests.

Red Potatoes and Roasted Garlic

To make this easy transition from plain mashed potatoes to amazing flavored potatoes requires one simple ingredient, roasted garlic. This change in a routine dish will give it a special place in your holiday dinner celebration. This recipe allows you to modify it to personal taste. 

Roasted Garlic Recipe
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
45 mins
Total Time
1 hr

This roasted garlic recipe pairs perfectly with mashed potatoes for the best garlic mashed potatoes you've ever tasted. Use this simple method to roast garlic.

Course: Side Dish
Keyword: easy, how to roast garlic, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, roasted garlic recipe
Servings: 8 servings
Author: Sally Painter
  • 2 lbs red potatoes (substitute russet or other preferred potato)
  • 1 medium garlic bulb (head)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 5' tbs butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
Roast Garlic Bulb
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

  2. Wrap the garlic bulb in aluminum foil.
  3. Before closing the aluminum foil around the garlic bulb, drizzle olive oil over the garlic bulb.
  4. Close the aluminum foil by twisting the ends together.

  5. Set in a shallow baking dish and bake for 45 mins or until garlic is golden and tender.
  6. Allow the garlic bulb to cool enough to free the roasted cloves from their casings.
Boil Potatoes with Skins
  1. Cool potatoes enough to handle and remove skins.
  2. Hold a potato between a piece of paper towel and gently squeeze, the potato will pop right out of the skin.
  3. Some people leave the skins on while mashing the potatoes and remove then discard the skins. Other people like to have small slivers of the potato skins mixed in the mashed potatoes. These are all personal choices.
  4. Once the potatoes are free of the skins, place in a medium sized saucepan, add cream and butter.
  5. Using a potato masher, being mashing the potatoes, mixing with the butter and cream.
Remove Roasted Garlic Cloves
  1. You can use 3 to 5 garlic cloves to season the mashed potatoes.
  2. Slip the roasted garlic from the paper casings.
  3. Place in small bowl and mash with a fork.
  4. Add mashed garlic to mashed potatoes, while cooking over low heat.
  5. Continue to mash these together until thoroughly mixed.
  6. Serve with butter, sour cream or gravy.

Save Money on Your Holiday Dinner

It’s amazing how two simple additions to a traditional dish can transform your entire dinner. The addition of poultry seasoning and roasted garlic bumps your holiday meal up a level or two at a very frugal cost of two ingredients. The turkey and potatoes complement each other with deeper and richer tastes that your holiday guests will be raving about until the next time you serve them.



AuthorSally Painter

"Everyone can have a beautiful home decor. It just takes a little creativity," says author and freelance writer Sally Painter. This former commercial and residential designer is also a Feng Shui practitioner and believes that, "Everything you choose to put in your home should resonate with you emotionally. If it doesn't - get rid of it!"