The holidays are a time when people come together in celebration. One common way to celebrate is through preparing feasts for the whole family, friends, neighbors, and other people in one’s life.
But those meals are getting more and more expensive.
In 2023, the average Thanksgiving dinner alone cost $61.17 for a party of 10. While this might not seem like a lot at first, food-at-home prices have risen by 2.1% since October 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The cost of groceries is also expected to continue to increase thanks to inflation. This affects not just Thanksgiving but also Christmas and other major holidays where food is a major aspect of the celebration.
Aside from rising holiday meal costs, many people simply don’t have the time to prepare an entire meal from scratch. If you’re looking for ways to save money on pre-made holiday meals, here are some strategies and where to shop.
Go With a DIY Exchangeable Meal Kit
One way to save on pre-made holiday meals is to set up a DIY exchangeable meal kit with your friends and family members this holiday season. Tom Vota, marketing director at gotomyerp, described how this works and how it can help you cut costs.
“Each participant makes and packages a piece of a festive dish along with a straightforward recipe card, saving money on pre-made holiday dinners,” said Vota. “At the event, each person trades their meal packs. Splitting the cooking chores not only saves money but also gives the holiday feast a surprise and creative touch.”
Not only that, but everyone at the celebration can enjoy a variety of homemade dishes without having to purchase everything themselves. And even if one or two guests do purchase a pre-made dish — like Costco’s famous rotisserie chicken for $4.99 — everyone can still save some money.
Create a Shopping List and Shop Strategically
There’s nothing inherently wrong with purchasing pre-made holiday dishes, but if you’re trying to reduce costs, you’ll need a comprehensive shopping list.
“It all boils down to planning right from the shopping list, being detailed enough so that you don’t conjure up any impromptu purchases, and going for fresh, cost-effective ingredients instead of expensive, ready-made foods,” said Andy Kolodgie, owner of Property Leads. “Looking at unit prices, using sales and special deals, and proper menu planning are other key strategies for keeping a check on the bill.”
But that doesn’t mean you can’t add a few pre-made items to your list. You’ll just want to make sure you shop where the cost of these dishes is lower than buying separate ingredients.
“Affordable options consist of pre-made meal offerings from popular retailers like Kohl’s, Walmart, and Target,” said Kolodgie. “They make sure that the price doesn’t compromise the quality of the food served.”
Shop Early Bird Specials
Certain grocery stores and supermarkets have early bird specials or discounts on holiday meals and popular ingredients. You could benefit from the most savings by shopping a bit early at some of your favorite stores. Just make sure you choose dishes that can be frozen or that will last in the refrigerator until it’s time to serve them.
“Many grocery stores offer deep discounts on pre-orders placed weeks or even months in advance,” said Peter Ramsay, co-founder & editor in chief at EV inFocus. “Think turkeys at rock-bottom prices, pre-made side dishes galore, and even entire Christmas dinners at a fraction of the cost. Lock in those deals before they fly away.”
Shop at Discount Grocery Stores
Some grocery stores have cheaper offerings than others. Oftentimes, cheaper doesn’t mean lower quality either.
“Stores like Aldi and Lidl are known for their budget-friendly pre-made options,” said Ramsay. “Think spiral hams, mashed potato tubs, and cranberry sauces that won’t make your eyes water (from the price, at least). Plus, their seasonal offerings are surprisingly tasty!”
Buy Pre-Made Frozen Dishes
From pies to stuffing to mashed potatoes, you can find a lot of your favorite holiday dishes in the frozen section. These options often cost much less than if you were to buy the same dish when it’s already hot and fresh. Plus, you don’t have to sacrifice quality or flavor.
“Frozen pre-made meals have gotten a bad rap, but hear me out,” said Ramsay. “Look for heat-and-serve options from brands like Banquet or Marie Callender’s. They’re often surprisingly good and come in portion-controlled sizes, perfect for smaller gatherings.”
With portion-controlled dishes, you’re also less likely to experience food waste. This alone can be an effective cost-saving measure.
If you haven’t been comparing prices on pre-made foods, you could be missing out on some great savings opportunities.
“Another way to save money on pre-made holiday meals is to shop around,” said Billy Parker, director of GiftDelivery.co.uk. “Many stores offer different prices for the same item. By shopping around, you can find the best deal on pre-made holiday meals.”
At Costco, for example, you can often buy pre-made holiday dishes in bulk at competitive prices. If you’re a Whole Foods Prime member, you could benefit from cheaper meals this holiday season. And if you live near a Trader Joe’s, you might be able to find a variety of budget-friendly pre-made dishes.
Buy in Bulk
Buying in bulk can be a highly cost-effective way to get your groceries at any time of the year. But it can also save you money on pre-made holiday meals.
“Many stores offer discounts when you purchase multiple items at once,” said Parker. “For example, if you purchase a pre-made holiday meal from a grocery store, you may be able to get a discount if you purchase more than one.”
Costco is one of the leading places to shop for bulk buys, but places like Walmart and Target may also offer specials — such as buy-one, get-one deals — or discounts on holiday dishes.
“Walmart offers pre-made holiday meals at a discounted price, while Target and Costco offer bulk discounts when you purchase multiple items at once,” said Parker. “Additionally, many online stores such as Amazon offer discounts when you purchase pre-made holiday meals.”
Check Out the Deli Section
The deli counter might not be the first place you check when shopping for pre-made holiday meals, but you’d be surprised at what you can find at an affordable price.
“Most grocery stores have pre-made side dishes like mac and cheese, green bean casserole, and stuffing,” said Ramsay. “They’re not always the healthiest, but they’re a lifesaver when you’re short on time. Plus, you can mix and match to create your own custom feast.”
Check out stores like Whole Foods, Target, Walmart, Wegmans, Safeway, Fred Meyer, and Harris Teeter to see what they’ve got behind the deli counter.
You no longer have to clip coupons to benefit from the discounts they offer. Oftentimes, you can find and apply coupons through your favorite store’s app or website.
“Many stores provide promotional codes or discounts for pre-made holiday meals, especially during festive seasons,” said Eric Sornoso, CEO of MealFan. “Utilize these offers to save on your purchases.”
Use Your Store’s Loyalty Program
Many grocery stores, including Target, Wegmans, Aldi, Fred Meyer, and Publix, have free loyalty programs for their customers. By using these programs when you shop, you can save money at checkout.
“Take advantage of store loyalty programs. Many stores offer discounts, special deals, and even free delivery for members of their loyalty programs,” said Paige Robinson, real estate investor and owner of House Buyers. “Joining a loyalty program can help you make the most of your pre-made meal purchases.”
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