Spend Smart and Eat Smart for the Holidays

young girl drinking mugI’ve just returned from vacation in North Carolina. One of the things I am grateful for is food prices here in Iowa. We don’t appreciate how good we have it until we shop on either coast for groceries. Since my cupboard was bare, I needed to make a trip to the grocery store. Big surprise, my store finished a renovation while I was gone which includes a much larger produce section, which is great. However, they have also devoted half of an aisle to holiday candy. Halloween candy is hardly gone when the Christmas candy moves in. Add in all the holiday baking and no wonder budgets and weights get out of control at this time of year

We can take different approaches to spending smart and eating smart this time of year. Some sticklers would say “I’m going to diet and make a strict list of how much to spend on every gift” while others pledge to “enjoy the season and eat and spend what I want”. I have used both approaches over the years with insignificant success.

Here’s my list of strategies to enjoy the holidays while keeping my budget and health in check.

1. Keep it simple. We eat and spend more when we have multiple entrees, side dishes and desserts. Let the flavor of the food shine instead of adding lots of ingredients, calories and cost.  Serve fresh green beans instead of green bean casserole, roasted sweet potatoes instead of mashed with marshmallows and butter, and fresh vegetable platters instead of rich appetizers.
2. Eat the dishes you want, but take half a portion. You get to enjoy festive holiday flavors with half the calories.
3. Limit eating out. Entertain with a theme such as game/card night; movie night, skating or sledding. Serve soup, crusty bread, and holiday cookies or another simple menu.
4. Make it from scratch. You can make lots of cookies, rolls or quick breads for the same price as a pound of purchased chocolates. Plus you can make your goodies healthier.

      • You can alter most recipes by cutting the fat, sugar and salt a little and no one will notice a difference in taste. You can reduce a cup of fat or sugar to 2/3 cup and you can cut the salt by half.

5. Give gifts of food.  It’s not too late to make cocoa, tea, or soup mix. I like to give prepared meals that I put in freezer containers.

    • I put a whole meal (entrée and sides) in the container for friends and relatives who live alone.
    • corn chip chiliFor young families I make family size entrees and put them in larger containers.
    • You can buy inexpensive containers and add a kitchen towel or mixing spoon to complete the gift.  I remember years ago I kept this gift going for several months by taking the container home and refilling it for my grandpa.
    • Check our post Food Gifts: Give of your time and talent, save dollars for more ideas.

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