x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Don't make a meal of your festive feast

Christmas is a time for celebration, hospitality and eating to excess, leaving you feeling bulkier around the waste and a lot slimmer in the wallet.

The cost of Christmas staples can vary from supermarket to supermarket, so shop around to find the best deals.
The cost of Christmas staples can vary from supermarket to supermarket, so shop around to find the best deals.

Christmas is a time for celebration, hospitality and eating to excess, leaving you feeling bulkier around the waste and a lot slimmer in the wallet. It's easy to get carried away while shopping for that Christmas meal. There's the turkey, plum pudding, cake, mince pies, shortbread, spiced nuts, sweets and smoked salmon hors d'oeuvres - all of the special Christmas touches that can suck the dirham out of the purse.

Sarah Monk, who is from the UK, said that last year she spent more than Dh1,000 on the Christmas dinner she cooked for her husband, one-year-old girl and two other couples. "It was definitely more than I had expected to pay," Ms Monk, 36, says. "I did go to Spinneys and bought everything there, so I guess I could have done it cheaper. I bought stuffing and things I could have done myself. Because we're British, we wanted to bring in our tradition, which includes things like sausages wrapped in bacon and smoked salmon - items you have to pay more for."

This year, Ms Monk, who is due to give birth to her second child on December 22, has reduced the cost and stress of the day by buying a pre-cooked meal from the Abu Dhabi Golf Club. The Monks will gather around their table with another family to feast on honey-glazed turkey with stuffing, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, gravy, cranberry sauce and apple pie. The deal costs Dh395 with a 6kg turkey, or Dh495 for an 8kg bird.

Pricier options are available from the Hilton Hotel in Abu Dhabi (Dh549 for a 6kg turkey plus vegetables and trimmings), the Sheraton Abu Dhabi (Dh750 for a 4-5kg turkey plus vegetables and trimmings) and the Shangri-La Qaryat (Dh390 for a 6kg bird with vegetables and trimmings available at extra cost). The Intercontinental Dubai offers a 6kg turkey with a choice of five side dishes for Dh525, Dubai's Hyatt Regency has a 5-6kg turkey with vegetables and trimmings for Dh500, while the Renaissance Hotel offers a turkey dinner for four for Dh380. And if you live in Sharjah, the Coral Beach Resort offers a 6kg turkey with vegetables, trimmings, rice and nuts for Dh270.

"I'm doing it this way because I'm having a baby and who knows what will happen," Ms Monk said. "We wanted to do something which didn't require any work and which we could just put into the fridge if we really had to." If you do decide to labour in the kitchen this season, it will definitely cost you more than time. One of the most expensive items at Christmas is, of course, the turkey, and it gets pricier if you opt for a fresh bird. Spinney's is charging Dh69.75 per kg, Jones the Grocer's fresh turkey, imported from France, is priced at Dh160 per kg, while a fresh turkey from Lulu Hypermarket is just Dh39.50 a kg.

But many people say the frozen alternative, if prepared properly - many people brine their turkey overnight in the refrigerator - tastes just as good. Frozen birds are selling for Dh15.95 per kg at Spinneys, and Dh18.95 per kg at Lulu and local co-operatives. You could choose an alternative to save some cash. After all, no one has ever said that you must serve the same thing year after year. Rachel Bond, who arrived in Abu Dhabi from the UK in May 2008, is celebrating Christmas with her husband, two children and mother-in-law at home with roast beef and all the trimmings.

"I think we probably spent between Dh500 and Dh600, including drinks," Ms Bond, 38, said. "We bought Yorkshire puddings, and we weren't short on nibbles. But I did make my own mince pies." Ms Bond said she economised by buying Christmas fare bit by bit in the run-up to Christmas, rather than in one big shop. "When you do one big shop before Christmas you can get carried away," she said. "And my big tip: don't ever look into other people's trolleys while you're shopping, or you'll just think, 'I must get some of those'."

But like the Monks, the Bond family is doing something a bit different this year by celebrating outside the home: and lunching with friends at a Rotana hotel in Dubai. For this family, the perfect Christmas involves booking a restaurant with friends and letting someone else worry about the cooking. The Jumeirah Rotana Hotel offers a four-course Christmas dinner for Dh189 per person, including soup, salad, main course with a turkey option and dessert.

If you are looking for a bit more variety, the hotel's international buffet is available for Dh209 a person. There are many dining options at hotels in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, so it's a good idea to call around and discover which option is best for you. Likewise, for those of us who prefer the company of our homes, it's always a good idea to price everything on the menu. Christmas staples can vary greatly in price from supermarket to supermarket. A basket, including a 500g Christmas cake, 500g pudding, six mince pies, 500g of mixed nuts, shortbread, cranberry sauce, bon-bons and smoked salmon, will cost Dh389.70 at Spinneys, compared to Dh260.55 at Lulu. Similar deals are available at your local Carrefour and other supermarkets.

Once the shopping's done, it all comes down to preparation, and spending a little extra time in the kitchen can save you plenty of money. Pre-cut vegetables can cost three times as much as the uncut variety, so why not gather the family in the kitchen and start chopping and mixing? The internet is also home to plenty of recipes for stuffing, mince pies and ways to turn plain inexpensive nuts that sell for Dh12 a kilo at Lulu's into a spiced variety that can cost up to Dh30.5 at Spinneys.

Shortbread is another treat that is easy to make, but Jessica Milhouse, 44, who moved to Abu Dhabi from Canada in March 2008, recommends buying the cakes and puddings. "I made both last year and it cost well over Dh120," Ms Milhouse, 44, said. "The ingredients are so expensive and you can't buy them in small enough quantities."It's such a waste." And finally, don't go overboard. We have all looked back at holiday dinners and regretted making and buying too much food. An over-abundance can backfire on you, confusing your guests.

"It's not necessary to open three dips and four packet of chips," Ms Bond said. "You don't need a giant load of nibbles on Christmas Day. People buy too much."