How to Host a Holiday Dinner for $200 or Less

‘Tis the season, which means it’s time to take advantage of all the holiday parties, delicious treats and days off of work coming your way. The only downside? This holiday business can get expensive, and quickly. First, there’s the fact that any air travel you do between Thanksgiving and New Year’s will be considerably pricier than it would be any other time of year. Then there’s the matter of gift-giving — sure, you’ll get some great gifts, but that doesn’t take away from the expense of your own gift list.

One thing that doesn’t need to cost a fortune, though, is your holiday dinner. I’m not saying you should skip the feast or even make any drastic cuts to your traditional spread. In fact, I think some things are totally worth shelling out for (namely cheese and booze). Even still, it’s absolutely possible to put together a holiday dinner for 10 to 12 guests that will clock in under $200. Bonus: It’s all relatively simple, so it’s perfect for beginner hosts. Here’s exactly how to plan an elegant dinner that won’t break the bank.

Note: Prices will vary slightly depending on your location. 

1. Make a glazed ham as your main dish ($21)

Glazed ham

At Thanksgiving, a turkey is nonnegotiable. At a holiday dinner, though, the rules are less clear. Some people do a second turkey. Others opt for prime rib. The best option, especially if you’re sticking to a budget, is a glazed ham. You can get a 7-pound bone-in ham (enough for at least 14 people) for around $21 at your local Walmart or Target. Then, all you need to round out this sugar-glazed ham recipe is brown sugar, mustard and vinegar, which you likely already have around.

2. Roast a few sheet pans of herb-covered potatoes ($9)

Roasted Potatoes

Keep things simple with a 5-pound bag of red bliss potatoes ($7), which are creamier than russet potatoes and much better for plain roasting, and a package of fresh rosemary ($2). Double this recipe for rosemary roasted potatoes, and you’ll have enough to go around.

3. Carrots are a great choice too ($4)

Carrots are naturally sweet and earthy, so you don’t need to add much. Start by peeling a 5-pound bag of carrots ($3), then just toss them with the olive oil and honey (or brown sugar from the ham!) you have in your pantry. A handful of chopped parsley at the end ($1) isn’t necessary, but it’ll make everything taste fresh and more elegant. Here’s an easy honey-roasted carrot recipe to follow.

4. Cut corners with frozen dinner rolls you can serve fresh out of the oven ($3)

Frozen dinner rolls

Freshly baked bread is the best. And making it from scratch isn’t expensive, but it takes a whole lot of time. Keep things cheap and simple with frozen dinner rolls that you’ll bake right before dinner. Bonus: The house will smell amazing.

5. Instead of a salad, go with creamed spinach ($8)

Creamed Spinach

Nothing against salads, but creamed spinach feels more like a special-occasion food. For this recipe, you’ll need a 10-ounce container of spinach ($5), a block of cream cheese ($2), half an onion ($0.50) and some garlic ($0.50). You’ll also need a little bit of milk and butter, which you probably have in the fridge.

6. Splurge a little on a gorgeous cheese plate ($34)

Cheese Plate

An impressive cheese plate might be the most expensive thing on your menu, but it’s totally worth it. How much you spend depends on which cheeses you choose, but a good rule of thumb is to spend $25 on three different cheeses. Go with one soft cheese (like herbed goat cheese), one mold-ripened cheese (like Brie or Camembert) and one high-quality hard cheese (like pecorino, sharp cheddar or Gouda). Add a box of multigrain crackers ($3), a pound of purple grapes ($1) and a bag of dried apricots ($5). If you need a little more guidance, here’s exactly how to build the perfect cheese plate.

7. For dessert, make a simple but elegant cake ($7)

Cranberry-Almond Cake

When it comes to holiday desserts, the options are endless. Thing is, most people will have had their fill of cookies and holiday chocolates before the big holiday feast rolls around. Switch things up with this gorgeous cranberry-almond cake ($4), which is also light enough that it won’t feel like overkill after a big meal. Throw in a pint of vanilla ice cream ($3) for good measure.

8. Ask guests to bring either dessert or an appetizer, plus some beer or wine

Most guests are eager to contribute to the big holiday meal. When someone offers to bring something, ask them to make their favorite dessert or appetizer. This will add variety to both the pre- and post-dinner spreads without throwing a curveball into your game plan for the main meal.

And they say a good dinner party needs about one bottle of wine per imbibing guest. Ease that strain by asking guests to bring a bottle of their favorite wine or a six-pack of their favorite beer.

9. Start off the bar with 4 bottles of wine & a 6-pack ($30)

A bottles of red, a bottle of white ($10 each) and a six-pack of something simple — think Stella ($10), not Budweiser — is all you need to get the party started.

10. Finish with pink port ($40)

Croft Pink Port

Never heard of pink port? Your guests likely haven’t either, which means this doubles as an after-dinner drink and a conversation starter. Two $20 bottles is plenty for 10 people since port is much richer than regular wine. The color feels special and festive, and the taste is a little bit lighter than classic red port, which will be welcome after a rich meal.

11. Don’t overdecorate, but cute napkins are a nice touch ($4)

If you celebrate the holidays, chances are your house is at least a little bit decked-out already. Don’t go overboard with the decorations — that can feel tacky, not classy. Simple touches, like these silver and gold napkins ($4) will add some fun without feeling over the top.

12. Poinsettias, always ($32)

Poinsettias

Poinsettias are holiday-perfect and very inexpensive. Buy four potted plants ($8 each) and scatter them around your dining room.

Total: $192

So there you go! An elegant holiday dinner that won’t stress you out for under $200.

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