The recession has been about tightening belts, so what better way to loosen them than with a lavish Christmas lunch?

A fancy spread doesn't have to bust the budget, with top chefs agreeing it's possible to feed a family of four for $25 or less on the 25th.

They agreed one way to keep costs down would be to have a lighter meal than the traditional roast option popular in the northern hemisphere.

Award-winning chef and Herald on Sunday food writer Paul Jobin said a good way to save money was to eat food appropriate for a summer Christmas.

"Lightening things up brings the cost down," Jobin said.

He recommended cooking low-cost meats on the barbecue, and serving them with Italian and Asian-style salads.

"Mince is cheap and can go a long way, and can make some good hamburger patties," he said.

John Flack, head chef at top Auckland restaurant Mikano, said low-cost fish, such as a whole kahawai or mullet could be bought for as little as $4.

"A raw fish entree of kahawai and lemon with coconut milk would be very cost-effective," Flack said.

He said he always shopped around to keep costs down, and recommends smaller Asian supermarkets and Halal butchers.

Traditional roast dinners don't have to break the bank. Jobin said slow-roasted cheaper cuts of meat - such as lamb shoulder and rolled pork belly - would be a good bet.

If you're intent on gobbling down turkey, chef, author and TV personality Alister Brown recommended buying drumsticks instead of the whole bird.

Jobin said although drumsticks were a cheap alternative to a whole turkey, buying and roasting a whole chicken could make food stretch a lot further.

He recommended stripping the meat of a roast chicken, then adding stock, roast vegetables, ginger, garlic and cinnamon to the roasting fat to create a tasty soup. Roast veges are always a winner; carrots, potato and kumara are cheap to buy, Brown said.

For dessert, all agreed fresh fruit and pavlova were hard to beat for a budget-conscious end to the meal. Rather than buying expensive berries from the supermarket, some farms and orchards offer a pick-your-own option, he said.

Jobin said fresh watermelon is always a hit with the kids. And he said trifle was a good alternative if you buy a cheap sponge, make your own jelly and pick your own fruit.