Every year, when Thanksgiving rolls around, I start thinking about the big spread my grandmother always put on. I want to be able to do something similar, but every time I sit down and start planning, I’m reminded that the budget she set for Thanksgiving was always more than I budget these days. So what should I do? The classic method most families use — the potluck — helps, but it wasn’t my grandmother’s favorite, especially since many family members drove over an hour on the day of Thanksgiving. Here are 5 ways I came up with:
- Plan as far ahead as you can. The Thanksgiving menu doesn’t change that much from year to year in my family, which allows me to stock up whenever it is convenient. There are some people who take this philosophy to extremes, picking up a turkey right after Thanksgiving and sticking it in the freezer (which is still safe to eat, according to the USDA). I usually start keeping an eye out for my main courses about three months out, buying non-perishables and food that can be frozen as they go on sale. I’m also better able to make use of what I’ve put up from my garden by planning far ahead. I’ve known since mid-summer that I’d be serving zucchini at Thanksgiving, based on what I was able to put up.
- Keep meat to a minimum. I’m not actually cooking a turkey big enough to feed all of my guests this year — several of them are vegetarian. There are a few other dishes that I’ve found are simply cheaper to make when you make a vegetarian version, like stuffing. At the very least, you can avoid making two of every dish, so that your vegetarian friends and family can eat even the gravy on the mashed potatoes. (Although, I have to admit that I’ll be making two gravies, just to make sure that I use up my pan drippings from the bird).
- Make a guest list. We always host several guests — friends who can’t head home for the holidays and so on. Just because there are extra friends coming, though, doesn’t mean that having a very clear guest list is out of the question. I’d never turn someone away from my house at Thanksgiving, but I do try to keep things manageable.
- Cook from scratch. The price of a couple of boxes of stuffing may not seem like much, but the cost of making a basic stuffing from scratch is a matter of cents, especially if you choose a recipe that doesn’t require much beyond what you’ll have to buy to get the turkey and dinner rolls on the table.
- Don’t try for leftovers. One year, I made a big turkey with plans for using the leftovers for meals for the next couple of days. You can’t probably guess how that went. Fixing just enough to fill up your guests is a skill, and one worth practicing.
So, how do you keep the cost down but still have a great time during Thanksgiving? Any tips you can share other than the one listed above?