Thanksgiving Day Guide: Dinner on a Budget and Hosting Tips

By: Michael Fossbakk | November 21, 2013

So you’re hosting Thanksgiving this year, and with the pressure of cooking a holiday feast looming, things can get expensive. No need to fear—that is why I am here! To provide tips and suggestions on preparing a quality meal at a reasonable price! Oh, and of course some quick tips on hosting as well.

The Turkey

This is probably going to be the most expensive part of your spread. But this in no way means you have to break the bank on it. Consider buying a frozen turkey from your local grocery store instead of the pricier fresh birds. A fresh bird is a great choice, but for those of us on a budget, frozen works just fine. Use a coupon to cut costs even more. Local Hillers stores sell both frozen and fresh turkeys. Remember to allow ample time for the turkey to thaw–especially if plan you to deep fry it.

Make Your Own Thanksgiving Basics

Pie crusts: you have most of the ingredients lying around the house anyways, such as butter, flour, sugar, salt, etc. Just make sure to get a pie tin and follow the recipe.

Gravy: basic brown gravy seems ridiculously easy to make, and that is coming from a guy who sometimes forgets how to make a grilled cheese sandwich. Two tablespoons of butter, a can of beef bouillon, two tablespoons of flour and perhaps a dash of salt and pepper required. You may want to do a practice run, so you assure you have lump-free gravy.

Cranberry sauce: obviously, canned cranberry sauce is cheap, but if you want to make homemade cranberry sauce with fresh cranberries it still would be inexpensive. A cup of sugar, a cup of water and four cups (or roughly one 12-ounce package) of cranberries is all you really need. Optional ingredients like pecans, raisins or nutmeg can add to the flavor.

Sides

I recommend trying “cornbread casserole” this year. All that is needed is a quarter pound of melted butter, a couple cans of corn (one creamed and one whole kernel), sour cream and a package of cornbread mix. My sister made this last year. She is the last person I would consider a “good cook,” but it was incredible. I hope she doesn’t read that. Try it and thank me later. Rolls are a cheap and easy staple of Thanksgiving sides and sticking to canned and bulk items can keep prices down.

Desserts

If you are a regular Betty Crocker and prefer to make homemade desserts, then once again you already have most of the ingredients you need at your house. Sugar, dough, chocolate chips, fruit, that pie crust that the really intelligent author of this article told you to make. Or if you want a convenient and quick way to have dessert, buy a couple of pies and a package of cookies from the supermarket for $3 or $4 each and call it a day. If you’re willing to spend a little more money, try a bakery. Zingerman’s Bakehouse of Ann Arbor is highly recommended.

Quick Hosting Tips

Plan ahead: Don’t wait until the last minute to decide what dishes you are going to have, what time to expect people and how many people you plan on inviting. That is preliminary stuff. If you are reading this article that step should have already been taken.

Less is more: You don’t have to have a spread fit for a king and his castle to have a good Thanksgiving dinner. The theme of this article is to save money, and you will also save yourself some time by not working a 16 hour shift in your own kitchen. Turkey, perhaps a ham, three or four sides and dessert should be more than enough.

Have your guests bring a dish: This is just a suggestion, but if you ask your sister to bake some cookies or your mother to bring her famous sweet potato casserole, I don’t think they will mind. Just something that will save you more time and money.

Make your guests commit: There is always that guy or girl that says “maybe” or “I’ll try to make it.” Don’t let there be that person. You already have enough stress from cooking the dinner and setting everything up. Get a definitive answer by a certain date, so you have an exact head count. This way you’ll know how much food you need.

Offer light snacks before dinner: Obviously not anything that fills your guests up, but nobody wants to go to a house and wait for two hours for dinner to finish without having snacks sitting out. Cheese, meat and crackers, chips and salsa or fruit with yogurt are always a hit.

Offer drinks for all ages: Shirley Temples for the children and something a little harder for the 21 and up crowd.

For those of you preparing this year’s Thanksgiving dinner for your family, friends and loved ones, I applaud you and wish you the best of luck! Happy Thanksgiving.