Let's Eat

Eat well, spend less: Keep it seasonal for lower cost chagim

Think seasonal for the High Holy Days to keep catering costs down


Honey in jar and apple

From the first night of Rosh Hashanah until Simchat Torah, I have counted 20 festive meals I’ll be serving over 24 days.

That level of entertaining means that many of us will be heading into September with mixed feelings: on the one hand looking forward to celebrating the new year with family and friends, but also fretting over honey cakes and the rising cost of living.

It’s possible to keep your chagim food spend under control, and to enter the holiday season in high spirits rather than extreme anxiety. As with my previous Eat well Spend Less columns, the key principle is planning.

Here are my tips on how to manage the yom tovim on a budget:

Diary dates

As soon as possible, you need to know how many meals you are hosting and the number of people expected. Don’t forget food allergies and aversions. Get those invitations out to the people you want around your table as soon as you can.

Menu planning

This is not a time to experiment with miso paste or kimchi. What you need now are tried and tested recipes, not expensive new ingredients. Make dishes your families love that always work. When you are cooking and serving back-to-back meals the key is a focused menu for each meal — with loads of repetition.

Make friends with your freezer

Choose menu items that can be shopped for and cooked in bulk. One year I made 20 potato kugels and served one with every meal, no one complained — as far as I can recall. Chicken soup, brisket, stuffed cabbage, meatballs, honey cake and any kind of kugel, all freeze and defrost like a dream. You can save money buying ingredients in bulk, and save energy as the oven will be functioning at full capacity when you cook the bulk batches. You’ll also then save time during the holidays when time is at a premium.

Season’s eatings

Eating seasonally is one of the quickest ways to save money on fresh ingredients. This ties in nicely with one of my favourite aspects of Rosh Hashanah — the symbolic foods. The list includes apples, butternut squash, cabbage, pumpkin, and spinach, which are not only symbolic for a year filled with blessings, but also almost entirely seasonal here in the UK.
Over Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, all this produce will be coming into its own and will not only be cheaper than fruits and vegetables flown from the other side of the world but also tastier. Each one of these has a place on our festive table — a win win.

Honey Honey

There are savings to be made around the amber nectar and, with a bit of forward planning, it can make a relatively inexpensive gift.

When making honey cake, you do not need to go for the most expensive honey. Once it has been mixed in with all the other cake ingredients and baked, the difference between honeys is no longer discernible.

Supermarket own-brand honey can be 50 per cent cheaper than name brand honey; and when you buy a jar rather than a squeezy bottle the price goes down further — plus it’s better for the planet.

Another saving can be made by replacing the honey in our cakes with golden syrup which is, on average, 75 per cent cheaper per 100g than name brand honey.

Infused honey makes a lovely gift. You can make your own — there are plenty of recipes online — far cheaper than buying flavoured honeys. Buy honey in bulk — choose your flavouring — cinnamon is my favourite — infuse and then decant into inexpensive glass jars. Use your printer to create fun homemade labels. Allow a week or two for the infusing process to work.


No one will miss that extra course. In recent months I have eliminated appetisers from all my meals – no one has noticed yet, and if they have, they have been too polite or too full to mention it.

Make a break with tradition

Not every Yom Tov or Shabbat meal needs to be the full works, especially if you do not have invited guests. One of my favourite times to cook is on a Yom Tov that is not Shabbat, when — within specific halachic guidelines — one is allowed to cook. [All the chagim this year are within this category as they do not fall on Shabbat.] Keep these non-company meals simple — a bowl of pasta (puttanesca sauce is one of my favourites as it is a pantry staple meal that can come together in about 15 minutes after shul) or couscous that just needs to be rehydrated and dressed up with olives, capers, fennel, and strips of left-over roasted chicken, seasoned with olive oil and lemon juice — a great main dish salad that is ready in minutes.
It will take the pressure off to remember that, at the end of the day, we gather for the company not the meal. People have come to spend time with us, not our food.

There’s help out there:

If you are struggling, 
GIFT supply weekly food packages designed to help supplement weekly shopping as well as meals.

Mesila UK provides a coaching service, workshops, and seminars on the basics of financial stability. Watch out for Ilana’s video tips on their website and at

GIFT and 
Ta’am are part of the Jewish Futures family of organisations. Ilana Epstein is Director of Projects at Jewish Futures.

Find more money-saving recipes at and Ta’

Brought to you by The JC in partnership with Jewish Futures, GIFT and Mesila:, helping you eat well and spend less

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