Cooking for Fewer During the Holidays

I love to cook, especially around the holidays! There is something nostalgic about bringing out the box of old recipe cards that are covered in stains and mark-ups from family members altering recipes throughout the years. Cooking holiday meals is a way that I show those around me that I love them, and this has been something that I have had to get more creative with during the past year.

Holidays looked a lot different for many of us in 2020 and this year is off to a similar start. Smaller, more intimate gatherings are still recommended, leading to a slightly different mindset when planning those traditional holiday meals. Check out my list of holiday cooking alterations below to cook for a smaller crowd this holiday season.

  1. Halve your recipes– Over the years I have found that the family favorite recipes that my grandma, mom and aunts used for holiday cooking were meant to feed a village! By cutting those recipes in half, I can spend more money on other ingredients for additional recipes and am not stuck with mountains of leftovers.
  2. Pick recipes that can be used for future meals– Cooking for smaller numbers of family this past year required me to get creative. I love the idea of having versatile ingredients and leftovers that can be used for other meals. Easy Roasted Veggies are a fan favorite at my house any time of the year and the leftover veggies can be used in other recipes like Vegetable Frittata and Vegetable Quesadillas. Ham is a traditional Easter food in my family which leads to a lot of leftovers. I love using leftover ham in soups and quiches. A few of our favorite recipes to use ham are Turkey Vegetable Quiche and Split Pea Soup.
  3. Share the cooking with others– A lot of our neighbors used to travel for the holidays but with the pandemic we have found that everyone is cooking for fewer people or cooking for the first time in several years! I love having meal swaps with my neighbors and the same can be said during the holidays. You may find a new family favorite this way!
  4. Find fun ways to eat your meal with those you love– Not only is cooking for a holiday different during a pandemic, but you are also limited to who you can have in your home to celebrate. Hop on Facetime or a Zoom call with loved ones and coordinate your mealtimes to eat with each other. It is a fun way to talk about the foods you have prepared, and you can still celebrate the holidays with those you love!

Find creative ways to celebrate with those around you to keep the holiday season fun and memorable. Cheers to good health in 2021!

Katy Moscoso

Katy Moscoso

Katy Moscoso is a Program Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. As a new mom she is always on the lookout for easy, healthy recipes to prepare for her family.

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Slow-Cooker Meal for a Crowd

Last night I had my siblings, their spouses, and my parents for supper (11 in all). It was one of those times that I invited everyone and then started thinking about what I could make. The menu was a little trickier since my oven stopped working last week and I don’t have a replacement. I didn’t want to spend all day preparing the meal or spend lots of money—plus I wasn’t sure what time we would actually sit down to eat.

Here’s the menu I planned:

Stew in my slow cooker
Mashed butternut squash
Apple slices
Italian bread
Assorted desserts (My sister provided these from her freezer.)

The only foods I purchased were the meat, carrots, apples, and Italian bread. Using those costs, plus estimating what I used on hand, the meal total was around $16 (not including the squash harvested from the garden). 

Pork steak was $1.59/pound while beef stew meat was $3.29/pound. I bought 3 pounds of the bone-in pork steak. It took 20 minutes to cut it into bite size chunks. It took another 20 minutes to peel and cut up the potatoes, carrots, and onions. (I used about 2.5 pounds potatoes, 1 pound onion, and 1.5 pounds carrots.) The recipe I found on allrecipes.com used bay leaf, Worcestershire sauce, beef broth, salt, pepper, and wine. I choose this recipe since it did not use a seasoning mix. I also added a can of diced tomatoes.

I had two large butternut squash left from the garden which needed to be used, so I cooked them in the microwave and mashed them with a little brown sugar and margarine.

The apples I sliced right before we were ready to eat, so they wouldn’t brown.

For an appetizer, I had a package of a knock-off chex mix. Since this didn’t look like enough for everyone, I made several batches of popcorn. Interestingly enough, the chex mix was left and the popcorn was eaten. Next time I’ll just do popcorn, which is super cheap when you pop it on top of the stove.

Here are the savings tips from this meal:

  • Plan menus around what you have on hand.
  • Cut the meat yourself—you frequently pay a premium for the butcher to cut it for you.
  • Soups and stews stretch your meat dollar because you can add more vegetables and use less meat.
  • You can skip the cost of seasoning packets when you use a recipe with the spices included.
  • Simple foods like apples, popcorn, squash are inexpensive and healthy.

-pointers from Peggy

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