Discover the joy of a budget-friendly Christmas feast

It’s time once again for the twinkling lights, carols, mince pies and family celebrations of the festive season. Many families will come together for Christmas lunch – but a lot of us are feeling a bit short on holiday spirit in our wallets. The bird flu crisis could make the cost of a grand Christmas celebration even steeper and dampen your joy.


Understanding the egg and chicken shortage in South Africa

South Africa is experiencing a shortage of chicken and eggs caused by a devastating outbreak of bird flu, which has resulted in more than 7 million birds being culled. This crisis has caused substantial losses for many chicken and egg producers – adding to the threat that load-shedding already poses to all South African businesses. 

The South African Poultry Association (SAPA) has stated that they are actively collaborating with the government and other stakeholders to tackle the issue. Government revealed that around 2.5 million chickens bred for meat and 5 million egg-laying hens had been culled – that's about 20–30% of all the chickens farmed in South Africa. 

To adapt, we have already seen restaurants experimenting with different proteins on their menus, while producers and retailers are resorting to imports to make up for the shortfall. However, the issue is not confined to South Africa. Global bird flu outbreaks – more than 21,000 reported worldwide – add to the complexity.

For consumers, these shortages mean much higher prices for chicken and eggs at the supermarket. Some traditional stars of the Christmas lunch table may be beyond many budgets this year. 

Planning the perfect Christmas feast is an art.

Other menu options

If you’re worried that you won’t be able to put together a proper festive feast because of a tight budget, fear not! We’ve played Santa and collaborated with the popular social media foodie Priyanka Govender, known as @inspiredbyprisfood on Instagram. 

Priyanka says: ‘Planning the perfect Christmas feast is an art. Strike the right balance, savour the joy of a well-rounded meal, embrace the veggies, yet allow the season’s magic to indulge your tastebuds in decadence. After all, Christmas comes around once a year, and it’s okay to go all-out and plan a culinary extravagance – provided it’s within your budget.’

She helped us create a holiday menu that is not only cost-effective, but will also spare you the need to wrestle over the last tray of eggs in the store.



Starters are a great way to keep your friends and family entertained while the main meals are being prepared. Delicious devilled eggs and chicken sosaties are popular options, but they may need to be swapped out this year for one of the following instead:

1. Hot dogs wrapped in puff pastry 

These are easy to make and can be prepared ahead of time and frozen. From frozen, simply pop them into the oven or air fryer when it’s time to serve.


  • Pack of hot dogs
  •  Puff pastry sheets
  •  ¼ cup of milk
  •  Optional: Sesame seeds for topping


  • Thaw the puff pastry sheets according to the package instructions.
  • Cut the puff pastry into strips wide enough to wrap around each hot dog.
  • Place a hot dog at the end of each strip and roll it up.
  • Brush the edge with a bit of milk to seal.
  • If you want to make them a bit fancier, brush the tops of the pastry with more milk and sprinkle sesame seeds.
  • Cut into bite-sized pieces and either freeze or cook them immediately.


2. Priyanka’s pumpkin and carrot soup 

Soup is another great starter alternative because you can cook up a batch at once, then reheat and serve when required.


  • 400 g cubed pumpkin
  • Drizzle of olive oil
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 teaspoon dried herbs
  • 2 tablespoons garlic
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • ½ cup cream
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Fresh parsley


  • Season the pumpkin with salt, pepper, sugar and ground cinnamon. 
  • Drizzle with olive oil.
  • Roast in the oven at 180°C for 25–30 minutes.
  • In the meantime, sauté the sliced onions with garlic and dried herbs.
  • Once the onions are translucent and slightly caramelised, add the vegetable stock. 
  • Let it simmer for a few minutes.
  • Once the pumpkin is cooked, add it to the stock and simmer for another 5 minutes.
  • Use a hand-held blender to blend the mixture until smooth.
  • Put the mixture back into the pot, add the fresh cream and season it with salt and pepper. 
  • Serve the soup in a big bowl, crack some black pepper and sprinkle fresh parsley over it.
  • Drizzle a bit of cream over it for that bougie, festive touch. 
  • Pair it with fresh buttered bread or garlic bread.
  • Serve hot and relish the warmth!


3. Build-your-own salad

Prepare a large salad base of leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers and any other veg that you have available. 

Lay out an assortment of toppings like nuts, cheeses, summer fruits or cold meats, so that guests can customise their own salads.


These are at the heart of any feast, and at Christmas, a perfectly browned chicken or turkey is often the centrepiece. However, the surge in bird flu has pushed up the price of all poultry, so here are 2 alternative ideas that won’t force you to buy a whole bird:


1. Roast chicken or turkey lasagne

This dish is perfect if you want to include poultry in your meal but save some cash. It uses minced chicken or turkey instead of a whole bird, but you still get those traditional roast flavours in a unique, affordable way.


  • 400 g chicken or turkey mince
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 400 g canned chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 9 lasagne sheets
  • 200g grated cheddar cheese (or more, or leave it off altogether, as you prefer)

For the white sauce (Béchamel)

  • 50 g butter or margarine 
  • 50 g all-purpose flour
  • 500 ml milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Preheat your oven to 180°C.
  • In a large pan, cook the mince over medium heat until browned. 
  • Add the chopped onion and garlic and cook until softened.
  • Add the diced bell peppers and grated carrot to the pan and cook it for a few minutes until the vegetables are tender.
  • Pour in the canned chopped tomatoes and add the tomato paste, dried oregano, dried basil, dried thyme, salt and pepper. 
  • Stir well and let it simmer for about 10–15 minutes, allowing the flavours to meld. If available, use fresh herbs. 
  • Throw in some of your favourite veggies as well (optional).
  • Prepare the sauce (or use a store-bought packet Béchamel sauce):
    • In a separate saucepan, melt the butter for the white sauce over medium heat. 
    • Add the flour and whisk continuously to form a smooth paste.
    • Gradually add the milk to the smooth paste, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Continue cooking until the sauce thickens and season it with salt and pepper to taste. 
  • In a baking dish, layer the lasagne sheets, followed by a portion of the poultry mixture, and then pour a layer of the white sauce. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with a layer of cheese on top.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 25–30 minutes or until the cheese is golden and bubbly.


2. Festive fish cakes

Apart from the tuna, potato, bread, onion and breadcrumbs, many of the ingredients to this treat are optional. Feel free to experiment with fresh or dried herbs, or sauces other than mayo. You can also add any finely chopped vegetables you fancy, so this is a great recipe to use up leftovers. You could even replace the tuna with another canned fish, according to your budget.


  • 2 cans of tuna
  • 1 potato, peeled, boiled and sliced
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • ½ cup spring onions, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes or chopped fresh chillies (optional)
  • Fresh or dried thyme, to taste (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Breadcrumbs for coating patties


  • Drain the tuna and place it in a bowl.
  • Add the bread, moistened with a little milk, and the potato.
  • Mix together with a fork or a food processor.
  • Add all the rest of the ingredients – except the breadcrumbs – and mix together well.
  • When the mixture has the texture of a firm and chunky dough, shape it into palm-sized patties and coat them with breadcrumbs.
  • Shallow-fry the patties (or brush them with oil and bake in an oven or air fryer) until golden brown.
  • Serve with some garlic rolls and roast veggies, fried chips, mash or even traditional Christmas stuffing.


What’s Christmas without a sweet finale to a fabulous feast? Desserts bring a burst of joy to the table, appealing to both the young and the young at heart. Being on a budget certainly doesn't equal disappointing desserts. Here are some sweet crowd-pleasers to prove it:


1. Jelly and custard

Christmas trifles hold a special place in our hearts, but the ingredients list can get pricey. Instead, take it back to basics and embrace the comforting simplicity of a delightful jelly and custard dessert. Prepare both according to the instructions on the box.

2. Creamy pineapple dream

Simple to make with just 6 ingredients, this is guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser.


  • 1 cup fresh cream 
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 tin condensed milk 
  • 1 tin cream
  • 1 tin pineapple crush 
  • 2 tubs granadilla pulp


  • Beat fresh cream until thick. 
  • Add sour cream and mix well. 
  • Add condensed milk and tinned cream and mix well.
  • Add crushed pineapple and granadilla pulp. 
  • Mix thoroughly and refrigerate.


Tweaks to a traditional Christmas menu

If you don’t want to skip the traditional roasts, there are slight changes that you can make to cut the cost of your meals. 

Priyanka shared her Christmas meal tip: ‘Christmas time isn’t just about Christmas Day – plan for both Christmas and Boxing Day together. Here’s a smart trick I use every year: be friends with leftovers. It not only reduces waste but also gives a tasty repeat to the celebration without spending too much. Take any leftover meat and gravy, warm it up the next day, and make sandwiches with mint sauce, salt and pepper. It's become one of my favourite meals of the year, and a special treat only enjoyed during Christmas holidays.’

If you want a roast turkey but it will leave you with too many leftovers, try roasting just 1 or 2 turkey drumsticks. It’s a budget-friendly option since turkey drumsticks cost less than a whole bird, and they cook much faster, saving you time in the kitchen.

Try to use fruits and vegetables that are in season. ‘South Africa's fruits and veggies are top-notch, especially when they’re in season,’ says Priyanka. ‘Enjoy the flavours of the season – using fruits and veggies when they’re at their best not only tastes great but also helps local farmers. Cooking with what’s in season adds a touch of nature’s perfection to your meals. In December, I love apricots, peaches, mangoes, litchis and cherries. If you’re on a budget, freeze the fruit for homemade ice lollies or make a simple fruit salad that can be served with vanilla ice cream. Ice cream and fruit salad is very South African, or you can just savour the freshness as it is!’

Here are a few other quick tips:

  • Opt for a bring-and-share. That way, everyone gets a chance to add to the table, and you don’t have to cover all the costs.

  • Plan your meals ahead so that you can find the best deals on the ingredients that you need.

  • Make delicious homemade stocks and gravies using vegetable scraps, leftover bones and off-cuts.

  • Team up with friends and family to buy in bulk and split the costs while enjoying the benefits of wholesale pricing.

  • When fresh produce is not budget-friendly, consider using frozen or canned alternatives.

  • Create your own festive decor and table settings. DIY projects can be both fun and cost-effective, adding a personal touch to the table setting.

‘No matter what you decide to serve, it’s about the essence of Christmas,’ says Priyanka. ‘Whip up what makes you and your family happy on your own budget. Yes, you’ll see glamorous meals all over. Don’t feel pressured to create the ‘perfect Christmas meal’. The perfect Christmas meal should be about simplicity, clever planning, a touch of creativity and the most important ingredient: love.’