Carving Down Your Thanksgiving Dinner Costs

When it comes to hosting a Thanksgiving dinner, the prospect of preparing for guests can quickly become daunting. And that’s before you even add up the cost! Here’s a few questions to ask that can help make your Turkey Day go as smoothly as possible:

How many? Will it just be your nuclear family of 4 or will you have parents and nieces and nephews from both sides of the family for a total of 15? That will vastly determine how much turkey to buy!

How costly? Be realistic on how much you have to spend. If you only have $50 to spend on hosting, decide how much of that needs to go to decorations, disposable plates and utensils (if you’re not cooking PLUS washing for a dozen people), and activities for the kids. That’s before you even start buying food.

How much? I don’t care how good a cook you are, you don’t need to show off every skill at once. Take a page from one of my favorite cookbook authors, Ina Garten of the famed Barefoot Contessa. She has written that she generally makes one or two big items for a dinner party (whether it’s the main course, a side, or dessert) and has the rest store-made or brought by guests. If you roast an amazing turkey, do it.  If pies are your thing, have a family member fry that turkey the morning of and bring it with him and you focus on having the perfect pie crust. Besides, what’s Thanksgiving without Aunt Betty’s green marshmallow “salad” fresh from her own kitchen?

How homemadeSome items are much cheaper to make yourself like mashed potatoes and the veggie platter that everyone pretends to eat. But some items are not. As much as I love to cook, it’s not worth the time and effort to make homemade cornbread for stuffing when everybody else just wants an 88 cent box of Stove Top anyway.

Other outside-the-norm tips? The year that it was just my family of four, we got thick-cut turkey slices from the local deli and called it a day on the meat. Four dollars instead of a huge whole bird. I was also gifted a beautiful fresh, organic whole chicken from a local farm one year. Rather than put it in the freezer for some indefinite time, we took advantage of what we had, roasted it, and it was just enough for myself, my husband, and our two little ones. I’ll often do the veggie run last minute to see what’s available for cheap at the farmer’s market or store (or neighbor’s garden if I’m lucky enough to have him share). We’ve been known to have roasted Brussel sprouts, steamed green beans, or sautéed garlicky winter greens depending on the offerings that year.

So the big question… what does this year hold for the Ludwig clan? We’re hosting my in-laws, so a total of 4 adults and 2 children. Here’s the breakdown of what our table will look like:

  • 12-lb turkey –  $6.50 (Meijer has them on sale for 52 cents a pound if you spend an additional $20 in your shopping trip, but many stores have similar sales)
  • 1 box stuffing  (but NOT in the bird…not my thing) –  $1.00
  • 2 lbs mashed potatoes for my father-in-law from scratch (plus butter & milk) – ~$2.00
  • 1.5 lbs roasted asparagus, on sale this week –  $3.00
  • My grandmother’s cranberry Jello salad (a must have, even if only I and the kids eat it) –  ~$6.00
  • Store-bought yeast rolls (because every Thanksgiving table needs 3 starches) –  $2.00
  • Gravy from the turkey drippings – basically free with a few tablespoons of flour and some herbs
  • Store-bought apple pie –  $4.00

No, we don’t have 10 different side dishes for only 4 adults. A turkey, a fruity, a starchy, and a green are really all we feel we need. If the in-laws want something to drink other than our boring staples of water, milk, and juice, they bring it themselves. All in all, a full dinner for 6 with leftovers for the following few lunches for less than $30.00! Plus, I’m old fashioned and want real plates and silverware. It helps that the in-laws will wash them once I’m done slaving in the kitchen and dealing with a rolls-and-gravy overdose.  Teamwork, right?

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