Sharing a meal with beloved family and friends gathered around the table and giving thanks for all we have is the heart of the Thanksgiving holiday. This year, however, nationwide financial struggles, food shortages, and worries over ever-increasing food prices may raise concerns.
Well, take comfort, because with some planning and creativity, you can still host a delicious, comfort-filled feast with all the fixings, while keeping costs low.
Make a Plan and Keep It Simple
Planning is key. First, set your budget. This will determine the number of guests you can invite.
If you typically host a large gathering, consider having a potluck dinner. Shared expenses help keep everyone around the table. Or consider hosting immediate family only for dinner, and then in the evening, invite everyone to a dessert potluck with coffee.
Before you shop, check your pantry, vegetable bin, and freezer. Chances are you already have most of the ingredients you’ll need for sauces, gravy, and possibly entire side dishes. From there, plan your menu, while also keeping in mind your family and friends’ food preferences and dietary needs.
Shop Early, Shop Smart
Now is the best time to shop.
Let’s talk turkey. Many grocery stores across the country offer free or low-cost turkeys to shoppers who’ve accumulated a specific number of points on their store bonus card. Check out Hip2Save.com’s list to see if there’s a participating store near you. Remember, free turkeys disappear fast, so pick it up this week, the earlier the better, because you also need to factor in defrosting time.
Also be on the lookout for coupons and store flyers. Items such as canned goods, spices, sauce mixes, and all things Thanksgiving dinner prep tend to be on sale. In-season produce, such as sweet potatoes, squash, and apples, will also be cheaper and more abundant.
By sticking closely to your planned budget, you may have some money left over. Depending upon what you already have, what’s on sale, and your time frame, don’t be afraid to add a fun new dish, dessert, or table decoration. This is your Thanksgiving feast, after all, so it’s OK to splurge a little bit.
Bake Your Own Bread
It’s always cost-effective to make your own bread and dinner rolls. I know what you’re thinking: What about all that labor? Well, no knead to worry. Look for a no-knead recipe, or let your bread machine do the work for you while you sit back and enjoy that heavenly scent wafting through your house.
Stick to Classic, Low-Cost Sides and Desserts
Yes, the smell of turkey roasting teases your taste buds for hours while it cooks ever so slowly. But maybe the real stars of the show are the yummy side dishes—creamy mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, chunky applesauce, creamed corn, bread stuffing, candied sweet potatoes, and cranberries—that both dress up your table with a little color and are economical to whip up.
Whether you prefer stuffing your bird or serving your stuffing as a side dish, DIY bread stuffing is oh so delicious and easy to make. Instead of tossing bread that’s gone stale, save it for your Thanksgiving stuffing.
For dessert, nothing says Thanksgiving like a traditional pumpkin pie, but you could also switch it up with some soft and chewy pumpkin cookies, or a cake with cream cheese frosting. If you have a pumpkin-shaped cake pan, tint your frosting orange.
Too much pumpkin? Remember that it’s also still apple harvest season, and you can buy bags of apples for pennies. Try a homemade chunky applesauce, and if you have apples left over, make an apple crisp or pie to serve with ice cream for dessert.
Add DIY Decorations
Now for the finishing touches.
Go ahead and dress up your table with your pretty linen tablecloth. If you don’t already use cloth napkins, this is the perfect time to make some; all you need is a pair of pinking shears and some fabric. If you don’t have pinking shears, ask a sewing-savvy friend if you can borrow a pair. Then, cut out an 18-by-18-inch square piece of fabric, and voilà, you have a simple, homemade cloth napkin. These will begin to fray after a couple washes, so if you want a more reusable-friendly napkin, use regular scissors and simply hand- or machine-stitch a hem around the outside. Now roll up your pretty new creations, tie them with a contrasting ribbon, and set one on each plate.
You can make your own place cards by upcycling old greeting cards with enough white space to print a name and fold over, or set out art supplies and paper and invite your guests to make their own. Or simply download printable, customizable place cards.
If you have kids, recruit them to help craft some table decorations.
Finally, let Mother Nature help you create a simple but beautiful centerpiece. If you still have some fall-blooming flowers, make a DIY arrangement and you’re all set. Or set the stage with colorful mini pumpkins, gathered pinecones and acorns, and a few candles randomly placed along the center of the table.
Make a Celebratory Toast
Ah, it’s finally time to sit down and enjoy your holiday meal. What better to complement the meal than a festive Thanksgiving punch? Make a homemade version by experimenting with combinations of apple cider, cranberry juice, and orange juice. Add in some lemon lime soda or your favorite seltzer or sparkling water to give it a little fizz. Once you’ve settled on just the right ratio of ingredients for your own signature punch, serve it to your guests, raise your glasses, and toast to all your blessings.