Thanksgiving on a Budget

Cook the Basics

thanksgivingWhen you think of Thanksgiving, do you become overwhelmed by the potential costliness of buying the turkey, all the fixings, and the dessert? If you’re planning a Thanksgiving dinner for a few people, going budget for Thanksgiving Day is doable. Just keep it to the basic dishes.

  • Go potluck. This will not only take a load of stress off of you but it will also give a sense of community on this holiday. It’s fun to share recipes and ooooh and awww over everyone’s dishes. It also gives everyone a sense of closeness, having a chance to contribute to a meal.
  • Go meatless. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, you could buy a Tofurkey but since this is about budget fixings, you can focus on root vegetables as the main dish. Parsnips, carrots, beets, turnips, rutabagas, and shallots are delicious alternatives. 
  • Go cheap on the turkey. Buy a turkey on sale. Brand is not important. A 15-lb. turkey is plenty of meat for a small group, and you can easily prepare leftovers for a couple of days after Thanksgiving. Generally, a 15-lb. turkey is between $15 and $20, depending on your location. (Save the gizzards from inside the turkey. I’ll explain why below.)
  • Potatoes. This versatile carb is not only cheap but easy to prepare. If you love potatoes (like I do), there are several ways to prepare them but my personal favorite is just mashed potatoes with butter, a bit of milk, and salt and pepper. The key here is to keep it simple and less stressful for you. It’s pretty hard to mess up mashed potatoes (unless you put too much milk, which I’ve done before!) And don’t forget the gravy! Preparing scalloped potatoes is fairly easy, also.
  • Green beans (or other greens). Don’t want to cook the ubiquitous green bean casserole? You can steam and season them, make them savory (with bacon), or pan fry with nuts. There are so many possibilities.
  • Cranberries. Not everyone likes cranberry sauce, but if you do, you can choose to buy it canned or fix yourself. I prefer the latter option; it doesn’t have to be pricy, either. If you make a basic cranberry sauce, it only has a few ingredients and you probably have most of them in your pantry: sugar, salt, orange juice, and fresh or frozen cranberries.   
  • Stuffing. Besides potatoes, this is my favorite part of a Thanksgiving meal. Adding the gizzards you saved from the turkey, you can prepare the gizzards with the stuffing, and put inside the turkey to cook. If you don’t like gizzards, there’s no need to waste them because your pets will love them as a treat. Boxed stuffing is simple to prepare so try to find it on sale. Again, brand names do not matter. But if you want to prepare stuffing from scratch, there are old-fashioned stuffing recipes online that are not costly.
  • Rolls. If there is a bakery outlet in your area, take advantage of it. Cheap bread or rolls doesn’t mean stale. If you buy them a few days before Thanksgiving Day, put them in the freezer. You can bake bread cheaply; there are plenty of recipes to be found online but
  • Don’t forget dessert! If your guests bring pies, then you don’t have to worry about this one but if you’re open to another alternative, you can prepare a Depression-era chocolate cake for pretty cheap. Just Google “chocolate crazy cake” and you should be able to find it. What’s so great about this particular recipe? It has no eggs, butter or milk, and you do not need a mixer. (I buy the cocoa in bulk, because buying in bulk is cheaper.) I must confess that I double this recipe because it does not last more than two days in my house.

The best thing about this Thanksgiving meal is that it’s basic but not any less delicious. Going budget for Thanksgiving is manageable and less stressful. If you double or even triple the recipes for the side dishes, you will have even more food to enjoy as leftovers.

By Juana Poareo


U.S. News and World Report






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