• You don't have to spend big to make a big, festive impact. (Tara Fisher)Source: Tara Fisher
We've turned to some of the thriftiest (and nicest) people we know to learn how to keep costs down for this year's festivities. If food charities can't teach us how to host for less, who can?
Bron Maxabella

4 Dec 2018 - 10:16 AM  UPDATED 3 Dec 2018 - 4:45 PM

You've reluctantly agreed it's your turn to host the festivities this year, but the guest list has blown right out (even your old Oba Akari is coming, and she hasn't actually left her house since 1996). Sure, it's lovely that everyone can make it (for the first time in a decade, and, naturally, during your hosting year, but hey, yeah, it's lovely), but how on earth are you going to feed everyone?

Simple things are better than fancy things

It might help to know that FareShare cooks 10,000 free, nutritious meals every day for Australians doing it tough. They have recently opened a new kitchen in Brisbane that will eventually produce more than 5 million meals every year. A late lunch for 16 is sounding more and more manageable, don't you think?

FareShare kitchen hand Tania Kerovic has managed on a very tight family budget for years. She believes it’s possible to create a special family Christmas for at total of $20, fullstop.

She serves her three sons sausages cooked on the BBQ, with thinly sliced potatoes and salad. Dessert is ice cream with a rainbow jelly tower, created with different coloured jellies.

“If money was no object, I would do the same," says Tania. "Simple things are better than fancy things.”

Plan ahead

"Meal planning and list writing is essential for fighting food waste at Christmas," Travis Harvey, Executive Chef, at OzHarvest, tells SBS Food. "Make sure you look in your pantry and fridge before writing your shopping list."

Don't make it harder on yourself, and more expensive, by fighting what you currently have.

Your dining space and furniture may well dictate whether your party is formal or informal. Don't make it harder on yourself, and more expensive, by fighting what you currently have.

Plan your recipes and make a shopping list to ensure you buy enough, without not too many leftovers. That said, Harvey has a brilliant tip for leftover Christmas pudding: "Roll into bite-size balls, dip in melted chocolate and desiccated coconut – yum!"

You don't have to spend big to make a big, festive impact.

Rudolph recipe here.

Buy things on sale

Keep an eye on specials at your butcher, supermarket, and produce store. Buy meat late in the day, then freeze it ready for your event. Buy other items over the next few weeks, so you're not being hit with a big bill at once.

Know that you can't do it alone. 

Only buy what you need, though. "Ignore those tempting ‘50% off’ or ‘two for one’ deals," advises Foodbank Australia CEO, Brianna Casey. "It helps avoid impulse purchases which ultimately may end up in the bin."

Never cook alone

Any food charity will tell you that the number one rule for producing tasty, nutritious meals economically is to know that you can't do it alone. Rally your guests to contribute a dish to the meal. This way you can bring on the Champagne feast using your beer budget.

If you make this:

Maple syrup glazed ham recipe here.

You can ask your guests to each make one of these:

Fried cauliflower with tarator (arnabeet mekleh)

Cauliflower is so hot right now. This recipe has you dipping and drizzling it with tarator - it's like the Lebanese version of mayo.

Roast beetroot salad

The tangy homemade vinegar completes this vibrant salad - proving salad can really steal the show. 

Green beans with feta dressing

Simple to prepare yet packed with flavour, these green beans are the perfect accompaniment to lamb, chicken or beef.

Heston Blumenthal's roast potatoes

The key is to cut the potatoes so they have lots of sharp edges then to cook them until they are almost falling apart. 

Or, perhaps you'll make this:

Deep fried snapper with green mango salad recipe here.

And ask your guests to contribute:

Rice noodles with Chinese broccoli (pat sii uu)

A wholesome and hearty noodle bowl of egg, tofu, broccoli and garlic, welcome to the healthy side of Thai cooking.

Thai prawns with coconut milk and seaweed

Simple to make and packed with health-boosting antioxidants.

Eggplant and pumpkin green curry

An abundance of herbs makes this vegetable green curry really sing.

Pad kee mao (stir-fried rice noodles with beef, holy basil and chilli)

Sticky sweet oyster sauce, bright holy basil, a hit of chilli - just try and make a mediocre version of this Bangkok-in-a-bowl street food classic. Pickled bean sprouts take these noodles to the next level. 

Don't be shy about asking your family and friends to bring something to the festivities. Most people welcome the opportunity to help out, and others simply love the opportunity to show off their cooking skills. You're winning, either way.

Most people welcome the opportunity to help out, and others simply love the opportunity to show off their cooking skills. 

Bulk up meals

It's an old trick, but a good one: plenty of vegetables and filling carbs like noodles, pasta and bread keep everyone's bellies satisfied for much less. Offer plenty of low-cost starters before the main meal even begins, then add loads of tempting vegetarian sides to your seafood or meat main.

"Use 250 grams per person as a guide for serving meat," advises OzHarvest's Harvey. "Recipes that serve six people should feed twice the amount when served buffet style with other dishes."

Scrimping starters:

Semolina pancake (Uttapam)

Traditionally, this popular dish from southern India is made with a rice and lentil batter that can be time-consuming to prepare. This bread uttapam, on the other hand, is easy to make and quick to cook, not to mention it tastes delicious.

Onion, anchovy and black olive tart (Pissaladiere)

Pissaladiere is a caramelised onion, anchovy and olive tart originating from the south of France. The Chefs' Line

Fried bread pizzette

Inspired by a lunch in Italy, these fried breads are golden, delicious and easy. 

Lebanese zucchini fritters (ejjeh koussa)

Zucchini fritters are similar to an omelette and can be fried or baked. In Lebanese cooking, they're enjoyed as part of a mezze banquet or eaten on their own.

Beetroot dip with hummus and tortilla chips

"Recipes that serve six people should feed twice the amount when served buffet style with other dishes."

Eat seasonally

'Tis the season, to eat seasonally.

"Buying locally grown, fresh produce that’s in season will mean it is not only fresher, but also cheaper," says Foodbank Australia's Casey. "Remember to only buy what you need. Better yet, buy the wonky fruit and veg - it’s still delicious and nutritious, even if it doesn’t look quite right!"

Make things from scratch

Not only will you save money by making your own fig paste, mince pies, chilli sauce or even haloumi; it all tastes so much better when you make it yourself. Even the standard "dips 'n' crackers" are so much fancier when you've injected your love into them.

Creamy hummus

You want hummus to be creamy and buttery – adding the iced water is part of the secret. I use a lot of tahini in this recipe, but I want it to be super creamy. 


Central Asia has vast flat plains, including the world’s largest steppe region, ‘the Great Steppe’, as well as mountain regions. This expanse of grassland is renowned for its rich, smooth dairy products made from cow, goat, sheep, horse and even camel milk. Suzma is a tangy yogurt cheese, which is spooned into soups, mixed into salads or eaten with bread and fresh tomatoes as a simple meal. 

Avocado tzatziki

Tzatziki has always been a constant in my world. Sometimes I throw one together to go with a quick weeknight meal. Other times, I take my time to strain the yoghurt for a richer, creamier version of this beloved Greek dip. And other times, I like to change things around, like I have today. Tzatziki is wonderful on its own, but with the addition of avocado it really goes up a notch. Cooling. Creamy. Sensual. This would work well with some pita bread and pork souvlaki.

More great dips recipes here.

Be bold, be brave

If you're still not confident that this year's gathering will be fondly remembered, remember this: everything served by someone you love, is something to love. Be adventurous with your food choices and dazzle with something unexpected. Then prepare your food with pride, and greet your guests the same way. It's a certainty that joy will follow them in the door and everyone will have a very merry time. Yep, even your old Oba Akari.

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