Thanksgiving is about gathering with friends and family to enjoy a special meal. Sadly, the cost of serving food to several people can get expensive fast.
Whether you’re hosting a feast or participating in a festive potluck, consider making some of these Thanksgiving dinner ideas for Turkey Day. Frugal living experts, food bloggers and professional chefs alike shared their favorite affordable Thanksgiving recipes to help you create a scrumptious Thanksgiving dinner without breaking the bank.
Pineapple Glazed Ham
A 16-pound turkey can cost more than $20, according to 2016 data from the American Farm Bureau Federation. But who says turkey has to be the main dish? This year, serve ham to save money on your Thanksgiving gathering.
Lauren Greutman, a frugal living expert and author of “The Recovering Spender,” likes to serve pineapple glazed ham at her holiday gatherings. She estimates that the cost of the dish is $15 using discount grocer Aldi’s private label products.
- 10 to 15-pound ham
- 1 can pineapple slices and juice from the canned pineapple
- Whole cloves
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 1/4 cup spicy brown mustard
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Score the ham in a diamond pattern, about 1/8 inch deep. Place the pineapple rings evenly around the ham, using the cloves to attach them. Place the ham in a large roasting pan on a rack and bake covered for about two hours.
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the pineapple juice, brown sugar, mustard and vinegar to create the ham glaze. Heat over medium, stirring often, until the liquid has reduced a bit and starts to thicken. This should take about 15 minutes. Then,Mon uncover the ham and baste with the liquid. Cook for another 30 minutes, basting a few times as the ham cooks. Remove the ham from the oven and let it rest for about 15 minutes before carving.
Cream Cheese Mashed Potatoes
Potatoes are a comfort food staple, but the tried-and-true kitchen staple can be dressed up for your fancier occasions, too. A favorite Thanksgiving dish of 5 Dollar Dinners founder Erin Chase is cream cheese mashed potatoes, which can be made for around $5 if you go with on-sale or generic butter and cream cheese, or $6 to $7 if you pay the regular price for name brands.
- 1 8-ounce package of cream cheese
- 2 pounds potatoes
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- Salt and pepper to taste
Peel and dice the potatoes and then boil until tender. Drain and return the boiled potatoes to a mixing bowl. Cut the cream cheese block into cubes of 1/2 inch each. Stir in the cream cheese, butter and milk and mix until creamy. Add more milk if you like creamier mashed potatoes. Then, add the garlic powder and salt and pepper to taste.
Sweet Potato Casserole
For many celebrators, Thanksgiving dinner just isn’t right without sweet potato casserole. “This is everyone’s favorite Thanksgiving side dish at my house, and it’s inexpensive because sweet potatoes are always on sale at Thanksgiving,” said Stephanie Nelson, founder of Coupon Mom.
This recipe is from her book, “The Coupon Mom’s Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half,” and costs about $5 to make with a pecan topping or $8.50 with a crumb topping. As a bonus, it falls into the category of side dishes that eat like Thanksgiving desserts.
- 1/2 cup butter, melted
- 3 cups cooked sweet potatoes
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
For the pecan topping, mix 3 tablespoons of butter, 1 cup of brown sugar, 1/2 cup of flour and 1 cup of chopped pecans. For the crumb topping, mix 1/2 cup of quick-cooking rolled oats, 1/2 cup of packed brown sugar, 1/4 cup of butter cut into pieces, 1/4 cup of flour and 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, along with a dash of salt. Sprinkle the topping on the potatoes and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes.
Caramelized Fresh Veggies
Karen Hoxmeier, founder of MyBargainBuddy, serves caramelized fresh vegetables at her family Thanksgiving dinner. The total cost is less than $20.
“This dish is a family favorite because it has a little something for everyone,” she said. “It’s also great on the pocketbook because you can swap out any of the veggies that might not be on sale with another that is priced better at the time.”
- 1 pound yams, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
- 1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons stone ground mustard
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons whole thyme leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 450 F. Combine oil, mustard, vinegar, thyme, pepper and salt in a large bowl. Add veggies and toss to coat. Then spread the veggie mixture in a single layer on a roasting pan that has been sprayed lightly with non-stick cooking spray.
Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until the veggies are browned and tender, tossing once about halfway through.
Slow Cooker Pecan Honey Squash
Are you looking for easy-to-make slow cooker recipes? Try this Thanksgiving food favorite of Sarah Roe, founder of Money Saving Queen. It costs $10 at most.
- Acorn squash
- Brown sugar
Cut the squash in half and remove its seeds. Fill the area where the seeds were with pecans and honey. The measurements are up to you, but be aware that you don’t need much honey, because it liquefies with heat. Sprinkle brown sugar on top of the squash, wrap each half tightly in foil and place them in a slow cooker with 1/3 cup of water.
Keep the squash in the slow cooker for three to four hours on high. It might take closer to four hours for a larger squash. When the squash is done, it will be very soft to the touch, which you can test with a fork.
Brussels Sprouts With Shiitake Bacon
If your family loves bacon but there are vegetarians among you, you can recreate the flavor and texture of bacon with a vegetable for this dish, said Tricia Williams, executive chef and founder of meal delivery service, Food Matters NYC. This recipe serves eight people and can be made for $19 or less.
- 2 pounds Brussels sprouts
- 4 tablespoons avocado oil
- 1 pound shiitake mushroom, stemmed and sliced
- 1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons coconut sugar
- Sea salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Cut Brussels sprouts in half ,and toss them with 2 tablespoons of avocado oil and sea salt. Spread the sprouts on a baking sheet, and cook in the oven for 12 minutes or until golden and crispy.
On a separate baking sheet, toss the shiitake mushroom with 2 tablespoons of avocado oil, black pepper, smoked paprika, coconut sugar and sea salt. Roast in the oven for 12 minutes until slightly crispy. Toss the Brussels sprouts with the coated shiitakes in a bowl and serve.
Want more vegetarian-friendly dish ideas that cost $20 or less? Check out these six meatless meal recipes.
Old Fashioned Candied Yams
Teri Gault, author of “Shop Smart, Save More,” has been making this recipe for 37 years.
“These will be the best yams anyone ever ate,” she said. And all of the ingredients should be on sale around Thanksgiving. So, this dish, which serves eight, will cost less than $1 per serving.
- 6 yams
- 1 cup butter
- 3 cups brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Simmer the yams until tender. Let them cool completely, and then remove the skin and slice into big chunks. Place the yams in a baking dish. Melt the butter, salt and brown sugar over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture bubbles and the color becomes smooth and dark. Pour this caramel sauce over the yams, cover with foil and bake at 350 F for 30 to 40 minutes.
Cornbread Sausage Stuffing
“One of my favorite recipes is a cornbread sausage stuffing,” said smart shopping expert Trae Bodge. And you can make it for $15 or less. Bodge substitutes hazelnuts for walnuts, which can increase the price — but it’s worth it, she said.
Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 diced large onion
- 3 diced celery ribs
- 1 pound spicy sausage
- 3 diced garlic cloves
- 3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
- 10 chopped sage leaves
- 3 chopped sprigs of rosemary
- 10 cups stale cornbread, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 2 cups dried cranberries
- 3 to 4 cups chicken stock
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Coat a large pan with olive oil, add the onion and celery and sauté over medium heat. Season with salt and cook until the vegetables start to soften. Add the sausage and cook until it begins to brown. Stir in the garlic and sauté for one to two minutes. Add the walnuts, sage and rosemary and cook for another minute before removing from the heat.
Mix the cornbread, cranberries and sausage in a bowl. Add chicken stock and knead the mixture with your hands until the bread is evenly wet. Transfer the stuffing to an oven-safe dish and bake until it is hot all the way through and crusty on top, which should take about 30 to 35 minutes.
Pomegranate Orange Quinoa Salad
Brandi Kolmer, founder of the food and lifestyle blog Cocoa & Salt, said one of her favorite Thanksgiving dishes is a pomegranate orange quinoa salad that serves four but could be doubled and still cost less than $20 to make.
“This dish is a family favorite because it’s vegan, delicious and full of fall flavors,” she said.
- 1 cup quinoa
- 2 cups water or vegetable stock
- 1 orange, juiced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon chopped shallot
- 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
- 1/4 cup chopped almonds
- Chopped parsley
- Salt and pepper to taste
Cook the quinoa with the water or vegetable stock. Mix the cooked quinoa with the orange juice, olive oil, vinegar, shallot, pomegranate seeds, almonds and salt and pepper to taste. Top with 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley.
Agrodolce means sweet and sour in Italian, but this dish — which uses simple, affordable ingredients in uncommon ways — is more sweet than not. And according to Jennie Lupo and Zara Tangorra, owners of High Five Girl and caterers for hire through Thumbtack, this dish costs less than $10 to prepare.
- 1 2-pound to 3-pound butternut squash, seeded but not peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes
- 1 cup golden raisins
- Sprigs of rosemary
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup red wine vinegar
- About 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 1/4 cups water
Toss the squash with the olive oil and salt to taste, then roast at 400 F for 20 minutes. Add the roasted squash to a pot with water followed by all remaining ingredients. Simmer uncovered on medium heat for 25 minutes, stirring as necessary.
Rachel Underhill of the Savings Angel website said that this recipe for cranberry relish comes from her grandmother, and she always serves it at Thanksgiving.
“It costs only about $3.50 to make — even less if you shop frugally and use coupons, of course — and is very simple,” she said.
- 1 bag fresh cranberries, rinsed and sorted
- 1 1/2 cups cold water (divided)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 small box lemon gelatin
- 1 small box cherry or strawberry gelatin
- 1 can (about 20 ounces) crushed pineapple
- 1/2 cup pecan or walnut pieces
In a medium saucepan, heat 1 cup of cold water, sugar and cranberries. Stir and boil until the cranberries pop open. As waiting for the cranberries to pop, gently boil 1/2 cup of water in a small saucepan. Add both boxes of gelatin and stir well.
When the cranberries are ready, mix everything together in a large bowl, adding the can of pineapple and nuts. Cover and allow the dish to set in the refrigerator before serving.
Krysten Dornik, who blogs about food at Krysten’s Kitchen, said that she makes this allergy-friendly dish for her family’s Thanksgiving meal.
“It’s ‘rice’ made from cauliflower, and no one knows the difference,” she said. “And, for those of us with food allergies, it doesn’t feel like we have to eat something different than everyone else, either.” The dish costs about $8 to $15 to make, depending on whether you include almonds or feta.
- 1 head cauliflower
- 1 1/2 cups yellow onion
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 to 5 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup sliced green onions (optional)
- 1/3 cup sliced almonds (optional)
- 1/2 cup crumbled feta (optional)
Wash the cauliflower and then cut off the main stem. Cut the head of the cauliflower into quarters or smaller pieces. Place a quarter of the cauliflower into a blender, and using a blender wand, push the cauliflower down as the blender is on a low speed. Repeat with the rest of the cauliflower until it is all riced and set aside. If you don’t have a blender wand, a food processor or blender on low speed works well.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil on medium high. Add the diced onion and saute until transparent. Then add the garlic and stir. Add the cauliflower rice and stir, turning the head down to medium to cook for three to four minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, along with any desired optional ingredients.
Kendal Perez, a savings expert with Coupon Sherpa, said that she never liked pumpkin pie until she tried this recipe, which costs about $8 to make.
- 5 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening
- 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons ice water
- 2 tablespoons cold vodka
- 2 cups (16 ounces) pumpkin puree
- 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground (or freshly grated) nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 2/3 cup heavy cream
- 2/3 cup milk
- 4 large eggs
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Combine the flour, sugar and salt. Scatter the butter and shortening pieces over the flour mixture and use a pastry blender to cut the pieces into the mixture until large crumbs form. Add the ice water and vodka one tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together in a mass. Transfer the dough to a work surface and shape it into a 6-inch disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Roll out the pie dough, place it in a pie plate and freeze it for 30 minutes. Line the frozen pie plate with foil and pie weights and bake for 15 minutes, or until the foil no longer sticks to the dough. Reduce the oven to 350 F and bake for another five minutes or until the crust is lightly browned.
As the pie crust is baking, blend the pumpkin, brown sugar, spices and salt in a food processor for one minute. Transfer the mixture to a 3-quart heavy saucepan and bring it to a “sputtering simmer” over medium-high heat. Cook and stir constantly until the mixture is thick and shiny — about five minutes.
Adjust the oven temperature to 400 F and place the oven rack on the lowest position. Whisk the heavy cream and milk into the pumpkin mixture and bring it to a “bare simmer.” Process the eggs in the food processor until the whites and yolks are combined, or about five seconds. With the motor running, slowly pour half of the hot pumpkin mixture through the feed tube. Stop the machine and add the remaining mixture; then process for 30 seconds longer.
Immediately pour the filling into the hot pie crust and bake for 25 minutes, or until the filling is puffy, dry and lightly cracked. The center should wiggle like gelatin when gently shaken. Cool on a wire rack for one hour or more.
Crockpot Cranberry Apple Cider
Mary Hoover, founder of Mission: to Save, treats her Thanksgiving guests to a seasonal beverage: cranberry apple cider.
“Since the base of this seasonal beverage is fruit juice, you can often find great sale prices on the juice,” she said. “Thanks to seasonal sales on cranberries, too, you can definitely make a batch of this sweet cider for around $3.”
- 5 cups apple cider (or apple juice)
- 1 cup cranberry juice
- 1 cup orange juice
- 1/2 cup cranberries
- 2 oranges, peeled and segmented
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
Place all the ingredients in a crockpot and heat on high for 25 minutes. Serve hot or cold, garnished with orange wedges if desired.
Wine for $20 or Less
If you enjoy wine with your Thanksgiving dinner, you don’t have to spend a lot to impress your guests. Erin Vaughen — owner of Vinley Market, an online wine boutique and wine club that curates fancy wine at friendly prices — says you don’t have to drop more than a Jackson to score perfectly paired vino for your guests.
For white wine, she suggests Pierre Henri Gadais Muscadet Sevre Et Maine “Saint-Fiacre’’ Sur-Lie 2014. This $16 Muscadet is from France’s Loire Valley and shows the influence of the Atlantic through its refreshing briny quality. This is a lesser-known French white that is very reminiscent of Chablis, without the price tag, Vaughen said. Or, try Schloss Gobelsburger Grüner Veltliner Gobelsburger 2015 for $16.99. It’s a white wine from Austria that’s a great alternative to Pinot Grigio and a good complement to heavy dishes.
For reds, she recommends Jean-Marc Burgaud Beaujolais Villages Les Vignes de Thulon 2014 for $16, which she said is a great find for the price. Or, go with a brut rosé, such as Allimant Laugner Cremant d’Alsace Rosé for $16.
“It’s the perfect sipper for your guests as they wait for the gravy to finish and the meal to commence,” Vaughen said.
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August McLaughlin contributed to the reporting for this article.
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