Host Thanksgiving dinner on a budget with this helpful guide. Includes tips, tricks, meal ideas & recipes (like fluffy dinner rolls) to help you create a healthy & delicious menu.
Thanksgiving is all about the food, right?
And if you’re trying to eat healthily – or you’ve walked into a grocery store in the past year or two – you know that healthy food can get pricey.
But it doesn’t HAVE to be expensive.
I’ve done a lot of grocery shopping over the years, so I’m sharing my tried-and-true method for serving a classic Thanksgiving dinner on a budget.
Budget Thanksgiving Dinner
Turkey. Aim to pay anywhere from $7 to $40 for a turkey.
The most inexpensive turkeys will be frozen, coming in around 47¢ – 99¢ per pound. Frozen turkeys aren’t less healthy than fresh turkeys, they’re just frozen. And this isn’t a big deal if you have someplace to thaw the bird. This can be a cooler, a fridge, or even the garage if the weather is cold enough.
Fresh turkeys range from 99¢ to $1.49 per pound, and organic turkeys are usually around $2.79/lb.
Be realistic about how much turkey you really need, too. According to The Kitchn, you need about 1lb of turkey per person. (Or if you REALLY love leftovers, 1 1/2lbs.) You won’t need a 20lb bird to feed 10 people. Save a little here so you can afford the fun dessert!
If you’re going to have turkey and the cost of the bird is prohibitive, I recommend setting aside money from the budget and saving up BEFOREHAND to ease the burden.
Side Dishes. Aim for in-season vegetables that are $1/lb or less for conventional, $2/lb for organic.
To have a successful Thanksgiving dinner on a budget, stick to the vegetables that are in season right now. That would be vegetables like sweet potatoes, white potatoes, squash, and Brussels sprouts.
Keep the vegetables that aren’t in season, like green beans, corn, and asparagus to a bare minimum, or avoid them at all. If you MUST have your Aunt Susan’s amazing green bean casserole, consider frozen green beans instead of fresh. Frozen vegetables can often win out on price when they are off-season.
A good rule of thumb is if you can find a vegetable that costs LESS than 99¢ per pound, take the money saved and put it towards another vegetable that costs more.
For example, I once found a 10lb bag of russet potatoes for 97¢ – that’s less than 10¢ per pound. That means I have 80¢ per pound (up to 10 pounds) to work with for other vegetables that might cost more.
Another idea is to serve plenty of inexpensive vegetables (like mashed potatoes) and just one pound of the pricey vegetable, like green beans. Here are some of my favorite inexpensive vegetable recipes that also taste amazing:
- Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes
- Crash Hot Sweet Potatoes
- No-Sugar Sweet Potato Casserole
- Healthy Green Bean Casserole
Bread. Bake it yourself!
Homemade bread is CHEAP – as low as 25¢ per loaf – and healthier than store-bought. Plus you can make the bread ahead of time and freeze it for the big meal.
Almost any bread recipe can be shaped into rolls, and if you want a sweeter bread, double the sweetener and use pineapple or orange juice in lieu of water.
- Fluffy Dinner Rolls (Just like Hawaiian Rolls!)
- No-Knead Artisan Bread
- 90 Minute Man Bread
- Rosemary Olive Oil Bread
- Cloud Rolls
Dessert. Stick to the classics.
Canned pumpkin puree runs from 79¢ – 1.29¢ per can, which is pretty cheap considering one pie serves 8 people. (Or you can make it yourself and make ALL THINGS PUMPKIN!)
Apples are in season right now, so like the vegetables, aim for $1/lb for conventional or $2/lb for organic.
Other desserts that don’t rely on seasonal items – like a chocolate pie – will be affordable this time of year as well. Here are some great options:
- Healthy Pumpkin Pie
- Slab Apple Pie
- Apple Crumble Ice Cream
- Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
- Pumpkin Cookies with Cream Cheese Frosting
How to Cook Thanksgiving Dinner on a Budget
Other ideas to consider:
- Pick ALL the meat off the turkey. Measure it into 2 cup portions and freeze right away.
- Make turkey stock. Keep all of the vegetable scraps from the day and as soon as the turkey is meat-free, make stock with the bones and scraps. If you use a steaming basket inside the Instant Pot, you can make multiple batches back to back with minimal effort (here’s the tutorial).
- Reduce the number of side dishes you serve. Do you REALLY need 10 different sides? Or will 2-3 be plenty? It’s easy to think we have to do it ALL on Thanksgiving, but it’s ok to kick it back a little and enjoy yourself!
- Keep the side dishes simple. Extra ingredients mean extra cost. Again, no fuss sides will help YOU, the cook, enjoy the day even more.
- Let your company bring something! Write down your holiday meal so when they ask what they can bring, you have an exact answer. This is SO MUCH more helpful than saying “an appetizer” or “bring dessert,” especially when it’s a holiday meal. Just be sure to note who is bringing what.
Inexpensive Shopping for Thanksgiving Dinner on a Budget
I’ve done a lot of shopping over the years, and I have a lot of tricks up my sleeve to help you survive the stores come holiday season! Here are my very best shopping tips:
- Make a thorough meal plan. Write down EVERYTHING you’re going to make, even if you’re not 100% sure you’re going to make it. If you buy food for a dish you don’t end up making, put it on the following weeks’ meal plan.
- Make a thorough shopping list. Like the meal plan, write down EVERYTHING you need for EVERY recipe. Don’t assume you know the recipe by heart.
- Shop your kitchen, first. Go through your list and physically touch the item you need. Double-check that you have enough for what your recipe calls for.
- Don’t shop too early. The best deals go live the week leading up to the holiday. Stores will have some things on sale earlier, like pumpkin puree in early November, but nearly everything you need for a traditional holiday meal will be on sale the week leading up to the holiday.
- Shop early in the sale cycle. If the sale goes live on a Wednesday, shop Wednesday or Thursday. If it goes live on Sunday, go on Sunday. You want to get what you need as early as possible, to avoid the people who are waiting until the last minute.
- Shop in the morning, during the week OR after 8 pm. This is when the stores will be the least busy. Avoid the weekends and the after-work crowds.
I use most of these same tips in my everyday meal planning and shopping. There’s no sense in NOT using the same methods for my holiday meals! You can learn these methods as well in my signature course Grocery Budget Bootcamp!
Thanksgiving sure can be an expensive time if you let it be. I agree with your post except for the fact that I could never get the bread thing down. Mine never turns out right.
I also shop for my produce exclusively at farmers markets. i have found that it is much cheaper than the box stores and, of course, the quality is much better.