*Note: This was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Do you have a personal finance story that you'd like to share? Sign up with the Yahoo! Contributor Network to start publishing your own finance articles.
My childhood was filled with holiday dinners that gathered the entire extended family together. I've not had that in many years and last year at Christmas, I was determined to make it happen. My daughter would be home from Kansas City and my son was getting ready to move to Florida. I was unemployed and didn't have much money, but with items in my pantry and freezer, I managed to make Christmas dinner for 16 - with plenty of leftovers - for less than $60!
While I didn't go to the store and spend $60, the value of my pantry items and the few things I needed to buy only added up to that amount. With careful planning and shopping, it is possible to create a holiday meal for a large crowd on a budget.
Plan your meal around your pantry
As I planned the menu for my entire family, I first looked to my freezer. I had a whole ham that weighed about 11 pounds. We paid 99 cents per pound for it and it was the perfect size for 16 people and would be easy to cook in the slow cooker. Once the meat was taken care of, I could concentrate on the side dishes.
Each fall, we buy a 50-pound bag of potatoes for $10. Rather than mashed potatoes and gravy, I decided to make a cheesy potato casserole. The total cost for this dish, including the cheese and other ingredients was $6. I had corn in the freezer from the summer harvest that we got for free. I added a fresh broccoli-cauliflower salad and fresh vegetables with dip for $22.
Every party needs appetizers and bread
My main appetizer was the fresh relish tray I created by cutting fresh vegetables and making a simple dip. We had been experimenting with an old recipe of my boyfriend's that was simply whole dates stuffed with blue cheese and wrapped in bacon. I thought this would add a little fancy to our dinner and it cost $6.
We owned a licensed home bakery and bought our baking supplies in bulk. The value of the ingredients in my pantry enabled me to make two dozen slider-size rolls for ham sandwiches was only $2.
Don't forget the sweets
Even with a belly full of great food, everyone finds room for just a taste of something sweet for dessert. I made a huge platter of cookies in five varieties for only $12.
While my menu offered a complete balanced meal, there's no shame in allowing guests to bring a contribution to your holiday dinner. My mother made two family-favorite desserts, one sister-in-law brought her amazing punch and the other brought a delicious salad. We had enough food for a small army and in addition to sending leftovers home with others we had enough leftovers to last us for three days.