Eat Well, Spend Less: Homemade Substitutes for Holiday Favorites

You may have noticed the barrage of holiday food items in supermarkets. The towers of garishly colored fruitcake, rows and rows of pale frozen shrimp rings, and battalions of eggnog cartons.

As most of these once-a-year items tend to be highly processed and contain unrecognizable ingredients, they never make it into my shopping cart. That is not to say I don’t enjoy eggnog, butter tarts or other Christmas-time specialties, I just try to make them myself, from scratch, when I can, because they taste that much better and I know what they contain.

Take fruitcake, for example. My mother’s recipe (which was also her wedding cake) contains ingredients like fresh lemon zest, dried figs, currants and apricots, apple cider and rum, and freshly ground spices. It’s a confection that makes you weak in the knees and momentarily lose your train of thought.

My mother’s Christmas fruit cake simply cannot be compared with a commercial product, which – in a perfect example of mystery ingredients – contains those candied ‘fruits’, fruits that are actually pieces of dyed rutabaga. Yep, turnip.

We know homemade is better, so why spend a penny of your Christmas budget on less than stellar products when, with a little planning, you can make many, if not all of your favorite holiday foods?

Today I’ve rounded up some recipes for traditional and popular holiday foods. As we all come from different backgrounds, cultures and family traditions, my favorites may vary from yours. Feel free to share your holiday eats, recipe notes, or personal must-haves in the comments!


Photo by Katie


pumpkin challah





What is a dish you cook or bake from scratch over the holidays?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. Ha! We both talked about those scary premade shrimp appetizers in our posts today. I guess they strike fear into every DIY-er’s heart.

  2. After reading your very descriptive description of your mother’s fruit cake it also made me weak in the knees! I looked on your site but couldn’t find the recipe. Are you going to share it with us? Also, is there an alternative for citron? Thank you!

    • Thanks, Susan! I haven’t shared the recipe yet; it just hasn’t felt right. If I ever publish a cookbook, you can bet it will be included, though!

  3. Melissa @ Baking For The Boys says

    I do love making homemade caramels, especially gingerbread caramels. Of course the kitchen is filled with homemade breads and cookies this time of year. And it doesn’t seem like Christmas until I slather some lemon curd onto a piece of gingerbread!

    And yes, your mother’s fruitcake seems amazing. I have only made fruitcake once and it was VERY strong. One could get intoxicated with just a sniff of it! Yikes!

    • Love the picture of your kitchen that you’ve painted! I made eggnog caramels for the first time this year. The texture came out pretty amazing.

  4. The two things I do buy are eggnog–since my one attempt at homemade eggnog ended up in a runny liquid with tiny bits of scrambled egg in it, yuck–and those tiny sausages (‘lil smokies’) because I grew up eating them as an appetizer this time of year, and I have to buy them at least once.

    But I make most other things from scratch. All breads, cookies, and cakes are made in my kitchen!

    • Last year we made our own eggnog for the first time and now we can’t go back! If you ever want to attempt it again, I have to recommend the link above. 🙂

  5. I have never had mincemeat……for some reason, it scares me. LOL

  6. I have never been a great cook and the basic fare with convenience foods was our staple diet for years. This year I have begun to cook more, mainly to control better what we are eating as with prepared foods you never really know what you are getting. You have given so many good suggestions here, I will definitely be giving some of them a try!

  7. I always want a loaf of cardamom bread every year – my grandmother used to make THE best loaf around, and I miss it and her every year! What a fabulous round up of recipes!

  8. I’m really getting hungry now!! And I must try the pumpkin challah recipe. {I’m going to admit that I’ve never even tried eggnog; for some reason it has always intimidated me, and the premade stuff scares me.} This time of year I love stopping to get a peppermint mocha at Starbucks. It’s a weakness. However, last year I started making my own. They are very good, and save my wallet! I’ll still stop and get one on occasion as a treat; just not everyday. 🙂

    • Daniel Bourque says

      If you let the Starbucks get cold in your cup and then have a peek, it may be the last flavored Starbucks drink you buy. I had a pumpkin coffee go cold on me once, and the scum that rose to the top freaked me out. Try it and it may change your mind on what a “treat” it is.

  9. I am all over making things at home from scratch rather than buying the mystery the versions at the store, especially during the holidays! And, thanks for including me in your roundup; I am in wonderful company. 🙂

  10. A big yum to everything! I remember reading about Martha Stewart’s fruit cakes one year and tried making them. They came out pretty well. The panettone was delicious, too. I should make some of that to give out after Christmas.

    Another favorite is Angry Chicken’s Swedish Bread. If we have leftovers, it makes great French toast.

    • Is panettone a New Years thing? I don’t know the tradition behind it, but DO know that it is delicious! 🙂

      • I don’t know if it is. I’ve just heard of it as an Italian Christmas bread. When I googled it, I found that the panettone has a long rising process. Depending on the recipe it could rise 2 to 3 times. Whew! I had forgotten about that, or maybe Martha’s recipe shortened the process.

  11. Everything sounds wonderful. I ended up with $45 worth of raw swiss cheese. I’m trying to make it breakfast lunch and dinner. (without it being obvious) I bet I could make some fondue or even sneak it into little savory quiches or tarts! So many good ideas.

  12. I’m sorry to not get it, but can you please let me know what is wrong with shrimp cocktail? Now I don’t buy the ring of shrimp from the market…I buy it frozen/raw and roast it in the oven (a la Barefoot Contessa), and mix up my “own” sauce. Would that pass as not scary? I’m sincerely just wondering, because I do try to be careful about what we eat.

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