The frugavore's guide to Christmas

20:17, Dec 09 2013
THE WHOLE BIRD: Much of the flavour and nutrition is in the feet, necks and any additional giblets of the turkey - so make sure to ask for the whole thing.

Christmas is the costliest time of year for most families, from the ham to the turkey and the Christmas tree with all its trimmings.

But this year, avoid all the usual frenzied spending by opting for the handmade, the preloved and the homegrown. Shop cleverly, plan your meals and use every little morsel of what you've got so that it stretches further and lasts longer. Think outside the usual Christmas food paradigm and you might be pleasantly surprised. Try some pork shoulder rolled into sausages, or turkey carcass made into soup.

About one-third of food prepared at Christmas each year goes to waste. This is not only costly, but it's a tragic loss of delicious next-day leftover dishes.

Here are our tips for cutting down the yuletide costs...

1. Ditch tradition

Elizabeth David once commented, ''If I had my way, my Christmas Day eating and drinking would consist of an omelette and cold ham and a nice bottle of wine''.


Of course, while turkeys and hams are spectacular Christmas centrepieces, they are pricey (organic, free-range varieties can cost $100 to $200 apiece), and plenty of fun can be had with the lesser-loved, more unusual cuts of meat. Try a whole roast chook, or a pork-belly or shoulder roast.

2. Meet your grower

There is so much hoo-ha about getting the best produce for your Christmas lunch. At the end of the day, the best food tastes of where it has been grown and how it has been raised and harvested. By shopping through a transparent buying system - knowing your grower or farmer, or meeting the person who sells your beef - you will have the best food, as it will taste of where it's come from and the system by which it has been raised. It's often cheaper as well.

3. Ask for all the bird

If you are pre-ordering your turkey from a butcher or farmer, most will be able to supply you with the feet, necks and any additional giblets. The same goes for chicken, turkey goose or duck. Make sure you request these in advance.

They usually won't cost you anything more, and much of the flavour and nutrition is in these extra bits.

The neck, feet and carcass can be thrown together in a pot with water, herbs and a little vinegar. A few hours of gentle stovetop simmering will produce a delicious stock. Use the stock to make a leftover roast turkey risotto, soup or a base for a deliciously silken gravy for the days that follow.

4. Even better the next day

While enormous effort goes into making the main meal on Christmas Day, much of the enjoyment can actually be in the days that follow. There's nothing nicer than mini ham frittatas or wild-bird-based soup made from the bones and offcuts of the roast the day before. Plan your meals so that all the leftovers can be reused for later dishes. This will reduce your food budget and mean less food is wasted.

- Recipe: Wild bird-based soup

Save every turkey bone from your roast dinner (yes, everything, and it doesn't have to be turkey - the same goes for chook, duck or goose). Place it in a large pot and add the neck, feet and wingettes, if you have them.

Cover with cold water and add a few fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme or sage) plus one tablespoon of apple-cider vinegar and a fresh onion. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer for a minimum of two hours. Drain and reserve all the liquid.

Use the stock as a base for a fresh minestrone soup using titbits of garden vegetables, or save the fuss and whip together a creamy pumpkin soup with a fat orange Japla, cream and herbs.

- Recipe: Mini leftover frittatas

Place thin slices of ham in muffin cups, add cold roast pumpkin, a whisked egg, finely chopped spinach and grated cheese. Bake in a preheated oven at 180C for 10 to 15 minutes or until brown and crisp.

5. Swap, shuffle and share your crockery or table requirements

Alarm bells usually go off in early December for anyone hosting a Christmas lunch. Will your two-bedroom house cater for the 30 people who plan to come around on Christmas Day?

You may find that you need an additional 10 chairs, 30 knives and forks and a handful of wine glasses, teacups and napkins.

Rather than spending a lot of cash on a new table, chairs and crockery, opt for the preloved and pre-owned - second-hand tables and chairs sourced from eBay or op-shops, reuse old jam jars as drinking glasses and see if you can borrow some items from the neighbours.

Many community groups are springing up on social-media sites that encourage barter and trade within neighbourhoods. Try searching for ''swap group'' in your suburb on Facebook or Google.

6. Cheap but loveable gifts that grow

Every year, my seven-year-old niece collects broad-bean pods, pumpkin seeds and watermelon pips, bags them up and labels them for growing during the coming year. They make great gifts, and are likely to inspire even the most intrepid gardener.

There is still time to make pumpkin soup and save the seeds, or grab a watermelon or a bag of broad beans from the market. Make sure you choose non-hybrid varieties and include some clear instructions for first-time gardeners.

Other gifts that are inexpensive to assemble but wonderfully valuable for home gardeners include worm juice, home-sprouted seedlings, compost or coffee grounds, which act as a fertiliser.

What will you be doing this Christmas to keep the costs under control? Share your tips in the comments below.