Nfld. & Labrador

$20 Lady: Christmas entertaining that's both festive and frugal

Christmas can be a time of good times, but also excess. Consumer columnist Dara Squires offers suggestions on satisfying a crowd without spending a budget.

Christmas: lights, decorations, anticipation, food and family. For plenty of us, the last two components are the most important. Sharing a Christmas meal with your family is the stuff that memories are made from.

My grandmother’s cream puffs, filled with vanilla ice cream and drenched in chocolate sauce are as much a part of Christmas for me as the angel that’s topped my parents’ Christmas tree since I was a baby.

If you're looking for an affordable way to feed a crowd during the Christmas season, a good old quiche can do the trick. (Dara Squires)

But, when you’re on a tight budget, family entertaining can be expensive.

Let’s face it: you’re not going to get away with spending just $20 on a Christmas meal for family. A turkey alone typically costs more than that.

Come to think of it, though, I don’t remember the turkeys of my childhood. (Unless, that is, we’re talking about people who were turkeys — those I recall quite well!) 

What I remember are the baked goods, the special sweet potato casserole my mom made, and pulling out the piano bench to seat three kids because there were more people than chairs.

Having family in doesn’t necessitate serving the traditional but easily forgotten "Christmas Meal.” It can be as simple or as elaborate as you choose.

Visiting family, chowing down

I always enjoyed the post-Christmas meals – that stretch between Christmas and New Year’s when you’d visit family and friends and sample all variety of foods.

The easiest solution to a budget meal for a crowd at Christmas is to do a potluck. As the host, you’re typically going to be expected to serve the main dish – a ham can be purchased for less than $20 – and drinks. My mother makes a rocking punch with apply juice, cranberry juice and 7 Up, all of which can be bought for about $1 a litre.

Some grocery basics, like milk, cheese and eggs, can be transformed quickly into recipes that cn satisfy a crowd. (Dana Squires)

But if you really want to go all out and impress people, Boxing Day brunch is where it’s at. You can make simple but impressive food and still stay in an affordable price range. You can make enough quiche for 12 people with half a carton of eggs, a litre of milk, a block of cheese and your Christmas dinner leftovers.

A simple biscuit crust is easy and requires only two cups of flour, ¼ cup of butter or oil, a tablespoon of baking powder and about ½ cup of milk or water.

Just as easily, those eggs, milk, cheese and leftovers, can be used to make an overnight strata when mixed with some bread. You could also make French toast.

I tested the theory with quiches this week and made a large quiche and twelve mini-quiches with six eggs ($1.74), 2½ cups of milk (approx. $2.40), about two cups of cubed cheese ($3.00), some leftover vegetables and spices (nil), and about $1.50 in flour and butter for the biscuit crust.

That’s $8.64 for enough quiche for 12 people —by rights 16, but who eats just the serving size? 

With the rest of your $20 you can buy fruit and drinks. The great thing about quiche, too, is that you can make it crustless if you have gluten-free family members, vegetarian for vegetarians, and even make it simply with eggs and cheese if you have picky kids.

Entertaining family on a budget? Just think outside the turkey box!


Dara Squires is a single mother of three, working, living, and scraping by in St. John’s.


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