The holiday season is upon us, and with it comes a few hearty meals to look forward to, along with lots of time spent making memories with family and friends. However, the holidays do come with a price tag, and it can be pretty steep if you have a large family to provide for. This Thanksgiving, try to stretch your budget using our helpful tips.
1. Decide on the Menu Well in Advance
Start early on your meal planning. That way, you’ll know what ingredients you’ll need for your Thanksgiving dinner, and you can start purchasing them and take advantage of any deals you find in the weeks prior.
Keep a separate list of your Thanksgiving ingredients as you do your weekly grocery shopping. If you see items on sale, grab them. Anything except some produce and dairy products will store safely in the freezer or pantry for weeks or months.
Certain types of fresh produce can last longer than others. For example, apples can remain uncut in the refrigerator for up to three months, while oranges stay fresh for up to two months. If you use a lot of potatoes in your dinner, you can keep them in a pantry or root shelf for three months.
Berries have a much shorter storage life. If you plan on using cranberries, blueberries, or strawberries for your dishes, consider buying them frozen. They retain the same taste and a similar nutritional profile, and you can usually save a few dollars when you buy in bulk.
2. Cook What Your Family Likes
There’s not much point in making extravagant dishes if your family doesn’t like them. Some people aren’t big fans of turkey, while others prefer ham. Anyone following a vegetarian or vegan diet will steer clear of meat dishes.
When deciding on the focal point of your meal, make sure it’s something everyone will eat. If you have to explore some more unconventional options, do so. Ideally, you’ll have leftovers that last a few days, allowing you to spread the cost of your Thanksgiving dinner for several days.
Some potential less-expensive alternative options to the traditional turkey dinner include roast chicken, pork roast, ham, or a vegetarian-friendly lasagna.
3. Make Enough for Lots of Leftovers
Your Thanksgiving meal should be large enough to feed everyone for the next three days. While it may take some additional cooking time and preparation, you’ll appreciate the extra time you have over the rest of the weekend to spend with family and friends. You’ll also save money on other meals that would generally be another outlay for you.
For instance, if you spend $100 on all the ingredients for your Thanksgiving meal and the leftovers last for three more days, you’re spending a total of $25 per day to indulge your family in a delicious feast. They’ll stay full, and you won’t need to worry about preparing additional meals over the weekend.
4. Keep a Close Eye on Frozen vs. Fresh (And Canned)
People often find it cheaper to purchase frozen produce than fresh. In most cases, there’s no difference in taste, especially if you’re using fruits or vegetables in a comprehensive recipe with many ingredients. You’ll usually achieve the same great-tasting fruit pie when you use frozen produce as you would with the real thing.
You should also keep an eye on canned options. While canned food often gets a bad rap for being full of additives, it’s an excellent way to save money. Many canned food options come in low-sodium, low-sugar, and additive-free versions for just a little extra.
There are lots of great options for canned pumpkin filling and cranberries. You may find other appealing alternatives for fruits like blueberries, too.
5. Store-brand Is Your Friend
Make sure to stick with the store-brand version of packaged goods and canned foods unless there’s a special deal on the name-brand options. You likely won’t find a difference in taste, especially if you’re using it in a recipe.
In most cases, buying store-brand versions of spices is immensely cheaper than the well-known varieties. If you need garden-variety spices like thyme, oregano, cumin, cinnamon, and nutmeg, stock up at a discount retailer like Wal-Mart. There are few reasons you’d need a brand name spice unless it’s a unique mix only one producer makes.
6. Prepare Your Own Chicken, Beef, or Vegetable Stock
Many recipes call for a base of stock to prepare. While there are many premade stock versions that you can easily pull off the shelf, you can make your own for as little as 5% of the cost of the bottled version.
Simply buy a pack of stock cubes. They come in multiple flavors, and you can purchase a box for less than a dollar. Your package can contain ten cubes or more, which should be more than enough to last for a few months.
To make stock, simply combine water and the cube in a saucepan. There’s nothing to it – just make sure you turn off the burner once the cube fully dissolves.
7. Examine Your Pantry for Ingredients You May Already Have
Few families use all the foods they purchase in their regular grocery shopping trips. You likely have several ingredients in your refrigerator, pantry, or freezer that you can use for your meal. Take a close look and see what you have so you don’t end up with duplicates.
Most people keep staples like flour and sugar on hand, and you may have some canned or frozen foods that you can use in your meal. Check over your spices to make sure you don’t purchase new ones you already have at home. Sometimes Thanksgiving meals call for spices you don’t usually use, but you may find what you need in your spice cabinet.
8. Pick Dishes That Don’t Contain Lots of Ingredients
While preparing your Thanksgiving feast is a special annual event, sometimes people get so caught up in planning that they try recipes that sound delicious but contain so many ingredients that the cost is prohibitive.
Maintain a careful balance between preparing a meal you know your family will enjoy and keeping an eye on the ingredients list. Any dish with over five to ten ingredients may be too costly, especially if it includes out-of-season produce or exotic foods you’re unfamiliar with. Keeping with more traditional staples helps tamp down costs.
9. Prepare Dishes That Use the Same Ingredients
The more dishes you make that contain the same ingredients, the lower your bill will be. You won’t need to fill your cart with numerous foods that play only a minor role in each dish. Instead, you can buy some ingredients in bulk, so you have enough for each course.
For instance, you could cook multiple dishes containing potatoes, like a roast vegetable platter and a plate of mashed potatoes. If you’re planning on dessert, make a few fruit pies that use the same ingredients, the only difference being their filling. You’ll save money while preparing food to hold your family over for a few days.
10. Share Thanksgiving Among Extended Relatives or Friends
If you’re lucky enough to have extended family nearby, you can share the cost of cooking a full Thanksgiving dinner by asking everyone to bring a dish to dinner. While you may not be left with many leftovers to savor, you’ll save time and money by only preparing a single course. Everyone else will do the same.
Having many people over for Thanksgiving helps build memories and catch up with relatives and friends you don’t often get to see.
What better way to share the holiday than with people you love?
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