If you’re not careful, hosting Turkey Day dinner can blow your budget fast! Here are 15 of my favorite no-nonsense, cheap Thanksgiving dinner ideas.
1. Just serve turkey! There’s no rulebook that says you have to also serve prime rib and a Honeybaked Ham, alongside your Thanksgiving bird. Keep it simple and streamlined. Turkey is all you need!
2. Focus on low-cost sides. Sure, you want to try that roasted Brussels sprouts salad you found online, but with the goat cheese, dried cranberries and walnuts the recipe calls for, that one dish will easily put you over $15. Stick with the basics. Use my favorite eat-your-veggies roasting recipe and simply roast the Brussels sprouts with olive oil, salt and pepper. If mashed potatoes are your thing, ditch the expensive cheeses that some recipes call for and just go with the basic potatoes, butter, milk, salt and pepper. (Pssst! That’s what everyone wants anyway!)
3. Buy only in-season veggies. At Thanksgiving, you can expect to find sweet potatoes, squash, kale, Brussels sprouts, beets and carrots at their lowest prices of the year! Plan side dishes that showcase these darlings of the fall, and skip the veggies that are pricier at this time of year.
4. Cook from scratch. This seems like an obvious one, but it bears repeating. Don’t buy your gravy or pie crusts. The homemade versions cost pennies and don’t take long to make. Same goes with ingredients in your dishes. For instance, my mom’s cheesy potatoes call for a bunch of diced potatoes. I don’t buy the freezer diced potatoes. I roll up my sleeves and dice them myself! Same goes with cranberry sauce. (Plus, do you really want to eat that nasty fuchsia-colored mold that comes out of the can of ready-made cranberry sauce?) I buy my own cranberries and make the sauce myself, which saves about $1.50. And, added bonus: since I never need all the cranberries, I use the remainder in candleholders for the holiday season!
5. Use freezer foods. Yes, this contradicts my previous point, but some foods truly are cheaper from the frozen section. For instance, for my favorite Summit House creamed corn, I save about $7 by buying frozen corn, which it’s much cheaper than cutting it off the cob.
6. Decorate with items you can reuse, like pumpkins and cranberries. As mentioned above, if you use real cranberries to make cranberry sauce, use the extra berries for bright, festive holiday hurricanes you can enjoy through Christmas! And, in most cases, if you buy the pumpkins the day before Thanksgiving, you can harvest them the day after and stock your freezer with diced pumpkin and even homemade pumpkin baby food. It’s amazing how much a single pumpkin can yield. And then you have healthy snacks in the freezer for the months to come!
7. Have your leftovers plan ready now! This is a super-important step, so that those great Thanksgiving leftovers don’t get thrown away or wasted because they went bad in the fridge while you were trying to decide what to do with them. One of my favorite way to use up Thanksgiving leftovers is in chicken enchiladas, just sub the chicken for turkey! Basically, by the time Thanksgiving is over, I’m sick of the traditional Turkey Day flavors, so the last thing I want is another casserole that tastes just like Thanksgiving dinner. Chicken enchiladas are an awesome departure from that, and they’re delicious and different. I usually make 2 batches, and put one in the freezer for those busy weeknights when the kids are rioting on the kitchen floor and I’m about to scream while simultaneously pounding a stiff cocktail.
8. Make turkey stock with your leftover carcass. This is one of my favorite 6 ways to save $5,690 a year. After Turkey Day dinner, cut off and save the extra meat, and throw the rest of the bird into a big pot. Cover with water, and if you want, add some veggies like onions, carrots and celery. (But, you don’t even need the veggies. I never add them and no one’s ever complained!) Let it simmer for a few hours, cool and put into freezer bags to enjoy in meals for the months to come! This makes at least $14 worth of stock. (Translation: More holiday shopping money for you!)
9. Buy cheap wine and serve it in elegant decanters. Guess what? No one will ever know the difference once it’s out of the bottle. This saves anywhere from $40 to $300! Another idea is buy wholesale liquor, and don’t forget about boxed wine. #noshame
10. Ditch the desserts and appetizers. Seriously, do you really need more food? Everyone is going to be stuffed after this meal. Don’t let your guests ruin their dinner by serving high-calorie appetizers and breads beforehand. If you must have appetizers or desserts, ask someone else to bring them.
11. Price shop for the cheapest turkey. This is a pretty easy one, but it can save you a lot. In most cases, buying a frozen turkey will definitely save you a few bucks. Just make sure you buy it early enough so it has time to thaw. Some grocery stores will even give you a free bird as a spending reward, so plan ahead and shop at that store for the month leading up to Thanksgiving.
12. Decorate with what you have. Put your $4 I Am Grateful tablecloth on the table, use extra wine glasses as candle votive holders, and collect branches from your backyard to make a rustic, woodsy bouquet for the table! Keep it simple and classic! (Plus, you’re going to need room on the table for all that food!)
13. Use glass plates, silverware and fabric napkins. Stop your groaning. I know, I know. It makes cleanup way longer and, if you’re like me, you live on paper plates most days of the year anyway. But change it up for Turkey Day. Avoiding paper plates, plastic utensils and paper napkins can save you at least $10. And look on the bright side: you’ll have lots of free labor in the house to help with cleanup anyway!
14. Ditch the dishes no one eats anyway. Yes, green bean casserole, I’m talking about you. Whatever the least-popular dish usually is, don’t make it. It may be a tradition in your family, but who cares? If no one eats it, it’s not worth making.
15. Have fun! Okay, this isn’t exactly a money-saving idea, except that it could help you avoid an emergency post-Thanksgiving trip to your therapist or your manicurist. Don’t forget to take a deep breath, love yourself and remember what the holidays are all about. Your guests won’t remember if your house was spotless, your decor was Pinterest-worthy or your dishes were the best thing they’ve ever eaten. But they will remember how you made them feel.
Comfortable, welcomed, special, loved.
You got this.
Have a wonderful Turkey Day, girl.
If you’re looking for some fun ways to make Thanksgiving more meaningful for your guests, check out my favorite 7 ways to make the holidays more meaningful.