The Thanksgiving meal should be a big blowout in the culinary sense — but not financially. Blogger Erin Chase of $5 Dinners is a master at cutting the cost of her holiday meals. She requires her Thanksgiving dinner to cost no more than $5 per person — or $5 per side dish, if you’re bringing one to someone else’s feast.
“Thanksgiving is also the most ‘coupon-able’ meal of the year,” she said, and prices during the last week before Thanksgiving are already at their lowest for the main items you’ll buy. “You might not want to brave the crowds, but if you do … you’ll spend the least possible on your feast.”
Christmas and New Year’s are just around the corner, and the time and money you save by turning your leftover food into easy, frugal meals will come in handy. Chef Mary Payne Moran shared some of her tried-and-true recipes plus some supplemental side dishes — and the classic favorites — all for under $5 for your budget-friendly holiday feast.
1. Cheesy Green Bean, Turkey and Rice Casserole
Leftover turkey casserole is a traditional way to free up some fridge space, but Moran’s is different from most: It starts with your leftover green bean casserole. Adding rice and turkey to the green beans transforms this side dish into a complete meal.
Moran’s recipe calls for rice, cream of chicken soup, cheddar cheese and some curry powder for flavor. Mix it together in a large bowl and bake in a casserole dish. You can save money by buying generic for these basic ingredients, said Moran. In most cases, the generic versions of these items are just as good as the brand-name, so you won’t be compromising on flavor or quality.
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2. Turkey Chili
Turkey chili is one of the quintessential leftover turkey ideas: A cheap recipe you can cook in bulk and freeze to eat during the cold months. You’ll need turkey left over from that Thanksgiving meal as well as rice, Better Than Bouillon and Monterey Jack cheese to follow Moran’s recipe. If you’re not up for a big batch, it’s still a quick and simple recipe for a hearty bowl of chili at lunch or dinner.
Moran recommended making your chili with dried white cannellini beans instead of canned, to save money and reduce sodium. If you don’t normally keep cumin and coriander on hand, go ahead and buy some to flavor your chili. It’s a small investment since you can add them to other chili dishes and tacos.
3. Crispy Skillet Mashed Potatoes
If you made way more mashed potatoes than you needed this year, the surplus can be turned into delicious side dishes or light meals. Simply reheating your mashed potatoes in a skillet, to give them a crispy texture, is as easy and frugal as food can get. Dress them up with toppings including crispy bacon, cheese and sour cream.
“If bacon isn’t in your budget, you can leave it out,” said Moran. “Stick with the sour cream, cheese and green onion for maximum flavor.”
4. Stuffing-Stuffed Bell Peppers
A good stuffing is loaded with holiday flavors, but on its own, it’s pretty carb-heavy. That’s why it’s often incorporated it into muffins, sandwiches and casseroles, but Moran has a better idea. She recommended scooping leftover stuffing into bell peppers, to give stuffed bell peppers a seasonal twist.
Adding Parmesan cheese, parsley and basil makes this side dish as flavorful as possible. Moran suggested not using your good Parmigiano-Reggiano in this dish since the flavor of the stuffing will overpower the cheese. “The cheaper variety is acceptable,” she said.
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5. Cranberries Over Oatmeal
If you’ve been looking for a way to use up extra cranberry sauce, incorporate it into your breakfast or brunch recipes. You’ve got plenty of time: Homemade cranberry sauce lasts 10 to 14 days in the fridge or one to two months in the freezer. Unopened cans can last for years beyond their best-before date.
Moran recommended using reheated cranberry sauce to use as a topping for oatmeal, ideally with a sprinkle of cinnamon and brown sugar on top. It’s a hearty, healthy “morning-after” breakfast that needs minimal prep. If you’re making breakfast for a crowd, let it cook overnight in your slow cooker so it’s ready in the morning. It also gives you a reason to buy the larger size of oatmeal, which — as Moran pointed out — saves money per serving.
6. Turkey Pot Pie
Turkey pot pie is another one of those classic, slam-dunk leftover turkey recipes. In fact, if you’re using leftovers, you really don’t need a recipe at all. Just dice up a mixture of light and dark meat with whatever vegetables you have left, smother it with leftover gravy — or store-bought, if your own got used up — and choose a crust.
Whether you fall into the two-crust camp or the topped-with-biscuits camp, your only expense will be the crust. Refrigerated biscuit dough, instant biscuit mix and frozen pie crusts are all well under the $5 target, and making them fresh from scratch is even cheaper.
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7. Leftover Turkey Croquettes
If you want to put all the flavors of your Thanksgiving meal together in one bite, croquettes are a great way to do it. They’re another tasty and traditional use for your leftover mashed potatoes, and they’re good enough that you might find yourself deliberately cooking extra spuds next year.
Croquettes go together easily: Just mix the potatoes with leftover turkey, stuffing and — optionally — finely diced leftover vegetables. Roll the mixture into balls or fingers, bread them, and then fry or bake them until they’re crisp and golden.
8. Ham Pizza Rolls
It’s nice to spend a couple of days visiting with family, especially if they’ve traveled to see you at Thanksgiving, so any opportunity to turn your leftovers into finger-friendly foods for entertaining is especially welcome. If you prepared a ham instead of the turkey, this dish is one way to make your leftovers shine.
It’s pretty straightforward: Lay out a sheet of thawed puff pastry, spread it with pizza sauce, cover the sauce with thin-sliced ham, then top it with mozzarella. Roll up the dough, slice the roll, and bake it in a hot oven until the pastry is baked and the cheese is bubbly.
9. The ‘Day-After’ Frittata
If getting up early for oatmeal isn’t your idea of a good time, sleep late and make a frittata for brunch instead. You can use turkey as one of the ingredients if you wish, but this is mainly a great way to use up all those non-turkey ingredients, from sweet potatoes and carrots to Brussels sprouts and green beans. If you made a ham, include the scraps left over from slicing or the last bits clinging to the bone.
Frittatas are easy and perfect for “whatcha got?” improvisation. Just whisk your eggs lightly with milk and seasoning, add your choice of Thanksgiving leftovers and pour the mixture into a large skillet. Start it on the stovetop until the eggs begin to set, then finish it in the oven. That’s it, you’re done.
10. Leftover-Pie Milkshakes
You’ve worked hard on the big meal and all of your holiday prep, so it’s only right you should get to enjoy a bit of a treat afterward. Pie alone is a fine dessert, and pie with ice cream is even better — but pie and ice cream turned into a milkshake? Now that is what self-indulgence is all about.
If you have a blender, you’re all set. Just drop a slice of leftover pie into the blender jar, crust and all, and add ice cream and barely enough milk to make it blend. Pumpkin pie is the classic, of course, but apple pie, pecan pie or even lemon pie work just as well.
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