Thanksgiving Dinner on a Budget
Each year after Thanksgiving recipes have been enjoyed and turkey leftovers are the main course, there are companies that conduct surveys in the United States to determine the costs of the average meal. They generally figure the costs for a meal that feeds 10 people, and the menu includes turkey and the trimmings — peas, potatoes, pumpkin pie, stuffing, cranberries, rolls, and staple items like butter and milk. They also don’t factor in any leftover food. The American Farm Bureau Association found that the average cost of a Thanksgiving meal in 2008 for 10 people was $44.61, about $4.50 per person. Of course, this is an average, so spending on fresh ingredients, organics, extra food for leftovers and additional items like alcohol can make your Thanksgiving meal significantly more expensive. It all depends on your tastes and traditions.
The holiday season is all about excess. But in this financial climate, simple Thanksgiving recipes and décor can be special on a budget. This year it’s back to basics for Thanksgiving dinner ideas. Here’s how:
Plan Ahead — Here we are a few days before guests will be sharing your traditional Thanksgiving recipes. You should have your turkey defrosting in the refrigerator and your Thanksgiving dinner menu planned. The turkey will account for nearly 40 percent of the cost of your Thanksgiving dinner [source: All Recipes]. During the days before Thanksgiving, commit an afternoon to prep work. Tear up bread for stuffing, mix dough for pie crusts and dinner rolls, and simmer chicken to make stock. Plan your shopping excursion on double-coupon day, and take careful inventory of your pantry so you don’t buy unnecessary items. Take time to search for coupons for the items you plan on buying – not impulsively buying what the coupons promote. Don’t forget your shopping list itemizing your Thanksgiving recipe ingredients. Double check it so you don’t have to return to the store taking time away from your Thanksgiving preparations.
Stick to the Classics — Thanksgiving is no time to experiment with unusual Thanksgiving dinner recipes that exceed your skill level. You’ve got a hungry crowd waiting, and they’ll expect traditional Thanksgiving dishes. When that clove-studded, orange-infused turkey falls flat, you’ll have to tack on another $20 to your budget to cover Chinese takeout for your hungry guests. You really can’t go wrong with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner ideas such as roast turkey, stuffing, green beans, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie [source: Martha Stewart]. As a rule of thumb, choose Thanksgiving recipes with the fewest ingredients and steps to save money and time.
Deviate from the Classics — Think outside the box with nontraditional Thanksgiving dinner ideas. They can make a chic culinary statement and cost less than the storybook spread. Instead of roasting a turkey, grill turkey burgers. Knead fresh tarragon into the patties, and finish them off with a Gwyneth Paltrow-approved condiment: cranberry ketchup, a combination of cranberry chutney and tomato ketchup [source: Huffington Post]. Instead of Champagne, serve cranberry-sparkling water spritzers, or make a root beer float with pumpkin-flavored ice cream.
Add More Décor — Nothing sets the occasion quite like an enchanting Thanksgiving dinner table. You don’t have to spend a fortune at the florist to create an autumnal wonderland centerpiece; rather, collect natural elements from your backyard for free, fresh décor. For the Thanksgiving table centerpiece, fill a vase halfway with acorns, then arrange willow branches, sturdy sticks and gold and red leaves to cascade over the top. Make Thanksgiving place cards with tiny squares of ivory card stock secured to pinecones. Light a few taper candles, and the dining room will be aglow with the magic of the holidays.
Tell Guests It’s BYOS (Bring Your Own Side) — As long as you let guests know well in advance, they won’t mind bringing something to dinner. You can focus on the bird and assign the starches, vegetables, cranberries and dessert to friends and family. In keeping with your traditional Thanksgiving dinner theme, ask them to choose a simple Thanksgiving recipe that they will enjoy sharing. This way, you can put a little extra toward your wine budget.
Be a Discerning Host — If money is tight, you don’t have to be the hostess with the mostest — it’s better to be a discerning host. Make thoughtful, smart choices about your Thanksgiving dinner spread while keeping your guests’ tastes and your financial means in mind. For instance, if your crowd prefers white meat, purchase a smaller, less expensive turkey breast. Perhaps a full dinner isn’t an option this year. You could always host a morning brunch. A few pastries, quiches and mimosas will hold over your friends and family until they’re off to their dinner celebrations. Or, throw an after-dinner soiree: Put on a pot of coffee, mix up a signature cocktail and arrange petit fours, fresh fruit and cheese on a tray. You’ll close out turkey day with style and panache!