With prices soaring on all manner of Thanksgiving staples, the prospect of trying to feed a large group of guests without busting your budget can be incredibly daunting. What’s a financially conscious foodie to do? Get resourceful!
If you’re unsure where to start, don’t worry: we’ve got you covered. Let’s roll up our sleeves and dig in!
Make a Budget-Friendly Holiday Meal Plan
If you’ve ever cooked for more than a few people at a time, then you’ve probably had to make at least a rudimentary holiday meal plan. In order to make your dollars go further this Thanksgiving, you’re going to want to jettison the simple grocery list in favor of a more in-depth holiday meal plan that accounts for key details like portioning and prices.
First, determine how many guests you’re trying to feed at your Thanksgiving meal and, if you can, it helps to determine their respective appetites as well. Web tools like savethefood.com’s Guestimator are a fun way to simplify this meal-based math problem and can also give you great meal-planning ideas outside of the holiday season. If you’re in search of a calculator tool with more turkey-oriented specifics, then the poultry pros at Butterball also have you covered. Doing this math up-front is key to avoiding over-buying on any ingredients, ensuring that your shopping list is airtight and efficient.
Holiday meal planning is also key to making sure that you get the most out of your ingredients, and utilizing affordable staples for multiple dishes is a great way to stretch your budget further. Here’s an example: You can bake potatoes in the oven, scoop out their insides to make mashed potatoes, and then save the potato skins to use as the base for a crispy appetizer dish.
Rice is another wallet-friendly and incredibly versatile ingredient that can serve as the base for your turkey’s stuffing, as well as another side dish on the menu, like this Mexican-inspired tomato, rice, and beans from Food Bank of the Rockies’ recipe page.
Sourcing Ingredients on a Budget
A major step in our budget-friendly holiday meal-planning process is to determine where and how we’re going to source our ingredients.
Before you head to the store, start by “shopping” your own pantry for ingredients that could be used in service of a Thanksgiving entree or side dish. It can be easy to forget about canned food items in your pantry or frozen items in your fridge! Do the same thorough examination of your spice collection to avoid double-purchasing costly seasonings or dried herbs.
Big-box grocery retailers, especially value-oriented chains, generally offer the most competitive price points, but no matter where you’re shopping, it pays to hunt for deals. Check your grocery store for a coupon or sale booklet, and use these deals to inform and inspire options for side dishes. People with access to transportation and who have the ability to shop sales at multiple retailers will have an additional advantage here.
Thanksgiving hosts operating on an especially tight budget should think beyond buying when it comes to sourcing ingredients for their holiday meal. There’s no need to feel embarrassed about asking guests to provide ingredients from their own pantries — it can even be a fun way to involve them in the meal!
We also encourage anyone looking for additional support this holiday season to obtain supplies from their local food pantry. If you’re looking for food in the Denver metro area, the Western Slope, or northern and eastern Colorado, check out Food Bank of the Rockies’ Food Finder tool. There, you’ll find information about our regular distributions throughout our service area as well as special holiday distributions to stock up for the upcoming festivities. Meal-kit boxes from our Hunger Relief Partners and mobile pantries will likely contain a mix of canned fruits and vegetables, as well as shelf-stable grains and sometimes dairy, all of which can be used to help make a memorable Thanksgiving meal.
Stick to the Plan When Shopping
It can be oh-so-tempting to improvise at the grocery store, especially when a tasty-looking ingredient or prepared food item is calling to you from the shelves. But staying on budget means resisting their siren song and sticking to your shopping list.
Also, it might sound silly, but shopping on a full stomach rather than an empty one can help you avoid snack-based splurges.
Get Creative to Stretch Those Leftovers
Thanksgiving leftovers are a time-honored part of the holiday tradition — you might even have a friend or relative who prefers these day-after delights to the main event.
Leftovers aren’t a universal experience, however. Depending on how tightly you structured your holiday meal-planning math earlier, you may or may not have much that’s immediately edible — but you probably have some raw materials!
Leftover bones and other carcass pieces from your turkey can be used to make a stock that can be frozen for future use in soups and stews. Grab your biggest saucepan or Dutch oven, cover the bones with water, and let them simmer for one to two hours. Since you’ll be straining the stock before discarding it, you can add any number of veggie scraps to enhance the flavor: leftover onion peels and bits of carrot or celery work great for this. If you happen to have a few more ingredients and a bit more time on your hands, check out this recipe for an extra-rich and savory brown stock using turkey bones.
Cooking a Thanksgiving meal is always a tall task, and doing things cheaply often means doing things the hard way. But by budgeting and shopping smart, getting resourceful with your ingredients and leftovers, and asking for help when you need it, you and loved ones can focus on enjoying time together, rather than worrying about the bill. Everyone deserves that peace of mind this holiday season!
To find a Food Bank of the Rockies food distribution near you this holiday season, visit foodbankrockies.org/find-food.