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17.11.09

Thanksgiving on the Cheap


When it comes to Thanksgiving, it's not just the calories and fat content that many of us have to worry about--it's the price. The average cost of this year’s feast for 10 is $42.91, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. (That's good news! It marks a 4 percent decrease since last year.)

This time of year, the added cost of a huge meal for the entire family can be intimidating. While we want to entertain our loved ones and give them a tasty, nutritious and bountiful spread, we also need to be able to keep food on the table for the rest of the month.

We know that for many of us, Thanksgiving is the beginning of a long--and often expensive--holiday season. We embrace frugal living and know you do, too. So we've asked readers, SparkPeople experts and few dietitians to share tips on how they save money on their Turkey Day dinner. We've got dozens of ideas to help you save money from Thanksgiving through the New Year.



Turkey

* Most cooks today are inexperienced at cooking a fresh from the farm bird. Unless you know what you are doing, stick to a name brand, pre-basted bird with a built-in thermometer, and buy it on sale. For those experienced cooks…yes, they can adventure into the world of grandma-style turkey roasting.
SparkPeople Head Dietitian Becky Hand, Registered and Licensed Dietitian

* Buy two turkeys when the Thanksgiving turkeys go on sale. Freeze it for a December holiday meal or for all your soups for winter.
Meg Galvin, Master Chef and Healthy Recipe Developer

* Consult a turkey buying chart so you know how much to buy. Factor in the desired amount of leftovers. If no one likes dark meat, then it is a better buy to get just a breast (yes, it costs more, but there will be less waste, in the long run).
Becky

* Now’s the time to clean out your freezer, and make room for that second turkey—it will keep for a good year. Also, budget time and space for turkey casseroles and soups—at these prices, you can’t lose by investing now.
Susan Burke March MS, RD, LD/N, CDE


* Bone-in turkey breasts or turkey rolls offer more protein/meat for your dollar compared to whole turkeys which typically only yield about 40% meat/pound purchased. If you use the remaining bones/carcass to make soup stock, it may be worth it to purchase the entire bird on sale but if you tend to just throw them all away when the carving is finished, you will get more for your money from the other options.
Tanya Jolliffe, SparkPeople Healthy Eating Expert and Community Moderator

* If you do buy a turkey breast, buy one that still has the breast bone in it. It's much cheaper. Then use the bone for making stock.
Meg

* Prices for turkey are competitive, so be on the lookout for coupons and specials, especially as we get closer to the holiday. Turkey lovers! Now is the time to buy three—cook one for Thanksgiving, use one for soup and casseroles to make and freeze while the price is right. Freeze the third for another holiday or family meal.
Susan Burke March





Sides

* I start saving my bread crusts and the last slice or two of the loaf for stuffing the turkey about 2 or 3 months before the holiday. I toast the slices on a light to medium setting on the toaster to dry out the bread without making it too crispy, then crumble or tear it into small pieces and keep in a bag until time to prepare the dressing. We feed about 20 or more people every holiday, and with 3 families saving the bread that would otherwise go to waste, we rarely have to purchase any bread or stuffing mixes.
LadyFolder

* The bread ends or "heels" can be saved for weeks in a bag in the freezer. Several days before your big meal, remove them from the freezer and use them to make your stuffing.
Tanya

* Reach for real: homemade stuffing, mashed potatoes, pie/cobbler are much less expensive than the boxed, instant or pre-made varieties. Call in the troops (partner and children) to peel potatoes, tear the bread, cut fresh green beans, etc.
Becky

* Use the KISS method and Keep It (the menu) Simple. You don’t need four different types of salads, two types of stuffing, etc. Don’t make cranberry salad if the majority of folks don’t even like it. Stick to the basics-- food items that you are comfortable making, and make those items HIGH Quality.
Becky

* Sweet potatoes are a Thanksgiving favorite that I love all year round. Scrub and prick them, then bake or microwave (wrapped in a damp paper towel) until just soft, about 4-5 minutes then turn over and repeat. Let cool until you can handle, split down the middle, brush with olive or canola oil and place under broiler until just toasty-topped. Serve with crushed, unsweetened pineapple.
Susan Burke March

* Many family favorites are not only costly but also high in calories, fat and sodium. Consider making this the year to make some changes and go with basics. For example, instead of super mashed potatoes filled with cream cheese and sour cream, try baking small red potatoes instead. Instead of the sweet potato casserole, go with simple baked sweet potatoes instead. Broccoli, rice and cheese casserole could easily become steamed broccoli and green bean casserole could easily become cooked green beans with almond slivers.
Tanya

* Seasonal fruits and vegetables are the most economical and ecological. Save dollars on local produce, as well as lower the impact on the environment instead of buying produce that’s been shipped from miles away.
Susan Burke March

* I like to prepare some of my foods (i.e. sweet potato pie or casserole) in the summer/fall when the produce is cheap and plentiful). I also try to buy up a lot of the veggies when they are at the least expensive, and then freeze them, or parboil them, or make a casserole or dish out of them and then freeze it.
1888Michelle

* Use frozen veggies and fruits (like cranberries) to make your family's favorite dishes. Canned veggies/beans can be used, but rinse them to remove excess salt.
Tanya





Sweets and desserts

* Save butter wrappers to coat pans that need to be greased- the amount of butter is minimal.
Chef Meg

* I make my list of what cookies I will make for xmas at the end of Oct. And each week I pick up a ingredent I will need till I start making cookies and put it aside. When the time comes I just pull those ingredents and start baking.
FREEM06

* My mom used to make six different kinds of pie--each person has a favorite. Now, we make just one or two kinds of pies. Apple and pumpkin are easy to make--and they're affordable. Make just enough pie for everyone to have one (or two) slices.
Stepfanie Romine, dailySpark editor

* Making cookie dough ahead and freezing it saves time and money. I can freeze the individual balls of dough and only take out the amount that I need. Also, it saves time when I'm ready to bake to have the dough ready to use. This prevents the temptation of buying the "ready to bake" dough in the grocery store. Bread is another item that I can make ahead from scratch and can freeze easily for a month or two.
STORMTMB

* Skip the whipped topping and whipped cream in a can. Make your own for a fraction of the cost--or skip it altogether and let the pie's natural flavors shine through.
Stepf





Drinks

* Make it a BYOB---the alcohol is expensive, so let everyone share the cost by bringing their preferred drink of choice.
Becky

* Make flavored ice cubes from juices instead of buying soda or expensive beverages.
Chef Meg

* Provide a simple punch for all do enjoy…this cuts back on the individual cans, bottles, juice pouches, Provide a punch, tea, hot coffee, hot tea, or hot apple cider drink for all to enjoy.
Becky





Snacks

* We usually do road trips for our holidays and stay in regular motels around the countryside. We now carry my own breakfast with us so we don't get trapped into starting the day with unhealthy fatty buffet breakfasts. We have a a cooler in the car and refreeze the icepack overnight so our food stays fresh and cold the next day. This is also great for carrying fruit and yogurt to eat on the drive instead of snacking on sweets. This also keeps us alert for the day and we aren't sitting in the car full of heavy food, We have yogurt, good cereal and buy fresh fruit daily. We keep nuts and dried fruits and plenty of water in the car too.
SparkPeople member Maxine





Shopping

* This is a great time of year to stock up on nuts; pecans and almonds. Prices are usually the lowest of the year. Freeze what you won't use within two months.
Chef Meg

* I buy food and baking items at various locations, not just the grocery store. I look for the best prices at the big box stores, at the grocery stores, as well as stores like Aldi's that are "no frills" and at Farm and Fleet, a farm supply store, that has the best prices on bags of nuts.
STORMTMB

* Does the local farmers’ market have better prices?
Becky

* Learn your substitutes: Log on to your SparkPeople Resource Center, and click on Food Charts. Now you know what you can substitute within food groups for any favorite recipe, and make it even more interesting. For example, if your recipe calls for blueberries, if peaches are in season, substitute. Snap up "buy one, get one free" offers!
Susan Burke March

* I buy food and baking items at various locations, not just the grocery store. I look for the best prices at the big box stores, at the grocery stores, as well as stores like Aldi's that are "no frills" and at Farm and Fleet, a farm supply store, that has the best prices on bags of nuts.
STORMTMB

* Check for store coupons and specials during the holidays. Plan the menu now and when those spuds (green beans, etc) go on sale…grab them. Check out stores for day old bread sales and freeze it now for stuffing.
Becky

* Make a grocery and supply shopping list and “stick to it”. Then you won’t be tempted by fancy end of the aisle displays at the store. This holds true for food items and also decorations and table d├ęcor. Do you really need a new table centerpiece or Pilgrim candle holders?
Becky

* Based on what I need, I begin buying various staples in the fall, such as sugar, flour, baking chips, etc., to spread out the cost of the things I know I will need. This goes for canned and frozen foods as well. I have an extra refrigerator and freezer, so I can preserve some of these items for a length of time. STORMTMB

* Planning, planning, planning, and inventory. Make a concise list of what you need for the December holidays before cooking Thanksgiving dinner. As you’re cooking for Thanksgiving do an inventory. Did you find a bag of powdered sugar you didn’t know you had? Evaporated milk in the back of the cupboard? Finalize the shopping list and keep it on the fridge. While doing your regular shopping, keep the holiday list with you and watch for specials on the non-perishable items on your list. If you need flour and you see a coupon or loyalty card saving for 30 cents off a bag, buy it then but only buy what you need and don’t be afraid to buy generic which will often be on sale more often if it’s the store’s brand. And to help the especially calorie conscious – save your wallet and your healthy lifestyle by not over planning the cookies! How many cookies do friends and neighbors bring by around the holidays? Serve those at your holiday festivities and save on buying your own ingredients as well as your cookie dough intake!
gabika99

* I begin by working on a plan for the meals I will be hosting or to which I will be contributing. I also consider food gifts that I will be giving. I break it down by holiday, month, date, so I know what food items I need to have or make and when I need them. The master list is helpful for planning, especially when there are sales in the grocery and other stores.
STORMTMB

* Some recipes call for expensive macadamia nuts and cashews so choose more wallet-friendly walnuts, almonds and peanuts—they’re dramatically less expensive, very tasty, and offer similar nutritional value. The same goes for cooking oil; canola and regular olive oil are perfectly fine for cooking and salad dressings—and much less expensive than extra virgin.
Susan Burke March

* Also, in October and November, I look for ways to double a batch of whatever I am making for dinner. If the dish can be frozen, then it's a meal that I can pull out and warm up easily when I'm in a crunch. It saves me from buying take-out or delivery. I also benefit because the food is homemade and more nutritious.
STORMTMB





Entertaining

* We keep the old tradition of potluck alive. Each guest usually has a dish they're very good, love to make at or have a soft spot for. They bring that. My mother is a big contributor simply because locale deprives her of the chance to host the meal. She brings candied yams (everyone prefers her recipe) and some of her pies: apple for my older daughter, mince for herself and my youngest, and rum cream for the adults in general. My brother makes fantastic garlic mashed potatoes. My 82-year-old father-in-law brings cranberry sauce (because he likes to watch the little ones play with it as much as he likes to eat it) and my brother in law brings extra olives (because he knows he eats more of them than the rest of us). No matter what, no one pays for the whole meal!
FRANCLYN

* Make your own simmer pot by placing fruit skin in a saucepan with a cinnamon stick and cloves, simmer on low to make your whole house smell great- do this instead of buying expensive candles. Meg Can you and the children make the decorations? Go to the local library, check the craft books, and make it a simple, easy and fun family activity. Ideas: name cards, napkin rings, a simple centerpiece, etc. Check the second-hand store for items too.
Becky

* Decorate the center of the table with fruits of the season not flowers or decorate your table from the outside- Holley branches, twigs, rosemary.
Chef Meg

* Have someone else cook the meal. Splitting the cost between the members of a family can be a great way to reduce the financial impact on one family’s budget.
Debi Silber, MS, RD, WHC, The Mojo Coach

* Make your own gift tags--I make mine out of gingerbread.
Chef Meg

* Instead of a huge turkey and loads of side dishes, consider a turkey breast, fresh vegetables and one starchy side (potatoes OR stuffing instead of several versions of each). Keep the dishes that mean the most to you, and let go of the idea of an overflowing table.
Debi Silber

* Have each family member bring one dish to spread the cost around. Ask for specific contributions to avoid duplicates.
Debi Silber

* Make it a pitch-in meal and everyone can bring their favorite side dish. Becky Coordinate the side dishes or assign the side dishes so one does not end up with 3 green bean casseroles.
Becky

* Find a new holiday tradition instead of the big meal. Maybe you’ll all go volunteer at a homeless shelter. Maybe your family will spend the day at a museum. Maybe a neighborhood touch football tournament. Maybe a bike ride to admire the changing leaves or a walk to soak in all of the beautiful decorations. Instead of sitting around the table overstuffing yourselves, participating in an activity that celebrates your togetherness and the things you truly want to celebrate can save your wallet and your waistline.
Debi Silber

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