Nov 15, 2023

Make a Memorable Thanksgiving Meal...

Without Spending a Lot of Money!
Make a Memorable Thanksgiving Meal...

Reading time: 9 minutes

Hosting Thanksgiving, with its iconic dishes like whole turkey, Brussels sprouts, fresh green beans, cranberries, and pumpkin pie, can strain your wallet. But fear not, you can still host a delicious Thanksgiving meal without breaking the bank.

Here are some practical strategies to help you save money this holiday season and still enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration!

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Dad hugging his little girl at the table.

Rethink the Main Course:

The classic whole turkey might be the star, but it comes at a price. For the fabulous Thanksgiving you're throwing, consider alternatives like chicken leg quarters, which offer more edible meat per pound and are generally more budget-friendly.

Grilled chicken thighs.

Another option is to focus on turkey parts instead of the whole bird, such as flavorful turkey legs. By making this switch, you can cut costs significantly without compromising on taste.

Opt for Affordable Fruits and Vegetables:

Choose cost-effective options like apples, pears, frozen cranberries, white and sweet potatoes, carrots, green cabbage, broccoli, and kale.

Frozen cherries and berries.

These items not only enable you to spend less but also allow for creative and delicious side dishes. Consider using frozen produce if you want a budget-friendly alternative to fresh, ensuring both taste and savings.

Simplify Appetizers:

Skip elaborate appetizers and opt for a smaller, more straightforward spread. Look for deals on crackers, chips, or pretzels at the grocery store, and consider frozen party-size packages of appetizers like pizza bites or tater tots.

Plate of appetizers. Photo by Liz Joseph on Unsplash

Hummus or bean dip can replace pricier options, helping you save without sacrificing flavor.

Share the Load

Don’t hesitate to ask your guests for help to host Thanksgiving. Encourage them to bring drinks, whether it's wine, beer, or non-alcoholic options, and contribute desserts to the meal.

Group of friends toasting with beer.

Even if you enjoy sipping water or other drinks at room temp, your friends might expect ice-cold bevvies. Your best bet is to snag at least two giant bags of ice from the nearest supermarket or drugstore. Divide most of it into containers in your freezer, then store the rest in handy coolers or bowls in the kitchen.

By sharing the responsibility, you not only ease your financial burden but also create a collaborative and enjoyable atmosphere.

Host a Thanksgiving Potluck:

If covering the entire meal cost is daunting, suggest a Thanksgiving brunch or potluck. Create a shared spreadsheet with various dishes listed, including turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, side dishes, dinner rolls, cranberry sauce, and pies.

Woman bringing a dish to a potluck dinner.

Make sure to send around a potluck menu and sign-up sheet before the big day and let your guests claim items they'd like to prepare. This way, everyone contributes to your epic Friendsgiving, and you can enjoy a diverse feast without overspending.

 Dinner for 8: Three Delicious Recipes for Your Thanksgiving Menu

Here are three wallet-friendly Thanksgiving recipes that don't compromise on taste or presentation. These dishes are not only budget-conscious but also delicious and visually appealing.

You can either serve this modest spread as it is or invite guests to bring additional Thanksgiving favorites to complement the meal.

Braised Turkey Legs with Roasted Garlic Gravy

For many, Thanksgiving isn't complete without turkey as the main dish. However, let's face the reality: whole turkeys can be quite expensive. If you're searching for a more economical alternative, consider roasting whole turkey legs. They're meaty and flavorful, allowing you to serve a smaller quantity. Around 7 pounds of whole legs, or a mix of drumsticks and thighs, is sufficient for 8 people.

Braised turkey legs.

And if you're not a fan of dark meat, give this recipe a chance before passing judgment. Unlike whole-roasted turkeys, where the dark meat can sometimes turn out tough, this slow braise method results in incredibly tender meat that practically falls off the bone.

Start by dry-brining the legs overnight, a simple process involving rubbing them with a mixture of salt, pepper, and brown sugar. Then, achieve a delightful golden brown color by searing them on the stove. Deglaze the pan with water and vinegar to create a flavorful braising liquid, transfer everything to a roasting pan in the oven with garlic and onions, and let it braise slowly.

Once the turkey is done, use the roasted garlic and pan drippings to prepare a rich and mellow turkey gravy. After one taste, you might find yourself preferring this method over roasting a whole turkey.

Greens and Beans Casserole

Green bean casserole is undeniably a Thanksgiving staple. However, if you opt for fresh green beans (and let's face it, canned ones often lack the desired flavor and texture), you might find yourself spending a significant amount of money on a dish that doesn't offer much in terms of filling satisfaction.

Why not try a revamp that will not only cut costs but also cater to those with dietary restrictions and your vegan and gluten-free guests.

Homemade green bean casserole.

During the fall season, leafy and tender greens like Lacinato kale, Swiss chard, and collard greens are abundant and incredibly affordable – you can snag generous bunches weighing over a pound for less than $3.

Simply chop these greens and give them a quick sauté in a skillet, making sure to use the stems as they are entirely edible and should never go to waste.

Ditch the canned cream of mushroom soup and instead create a creamy, hearty casserole base using coconut milk infused with garlic and thyme, thickened with white beans.

As for the crispy onion topping, while you can buy pre-made french-fried onions, it's both easy and budget-friendly to whip up your own. Just be mindful not to devour them all before they grace the top of your casserole – the homemade version is that irresistible!

Apple Pecan Tart

Pecan pie holds a special place in Thanksgiving traditions, but there's no denying that pecans can put a dent in your budget. Even at more affordable stores, a pound of pecans can cost upwards of $15, and most pecan pie recipes call for at least 2 cups of nuts.

If you're looking to capture the warm, sweet essence of the classic pie without breaking the bank, consider trying my apple-pecan tart. This dessert not only exudes elegance without the hefty price tag, but it's also surprisingly easy to prepare.

Apple Pecan Tart

The crust, which you simply press into the pan, boasts a crumbly richness reminiscent of shortbread, making it far less complicated than traditional pie dough.

On top of this, spread a toasted nut filling that mirrors the flavors of frangipane, but with just 3/4 cup of pecans. Blended with brown sugar and a few other ingredients, the filling remarkably captures the essence of pecan pie.

Before baking the tart, arrange thinly sliced apples over the nut mixture, and for a touch of sparkle, brush on a glaze made with apple jelly.

Enjoy the delightful flavors of pecan pie in this elegant, budget-friendly, and straightforward apple-pecan tart.

Setting Your Thanksgiving table

When setting the table, simplicity is key.

Stick to a fun color scheme—such as navy, orange and gray—and don't be afraid to buy disposable dishware or cutlery and give some thought to using place cards. They're a great way to add a personalized touch to your Thanksgiving table.

Thanksgiving table set with place cards.

Guests can avoid the awkwardness of choosing where to sit and you can make sure your headcount is correct.

Remember, simple details like Pumpkin Place Cards and Fiesta Fringe Napkin Ring Holders can take a Thanksgiving dinner from mundane to marvelous! Don't be surprised if your party decor is the talk of Instagram!

 More Fun Thanksgiving ideas


Step up your party game by sending out beautiful invitations via email or text from Paperless Post or Punchbowl (no more setting up a Facebook event!) to those on the guest list. Not only will your friends feel special, but you can also personalize the note.


It's easy to forget how thankful we are for our friends and family. Set up a reminder with a gratitude board. All you need is a chalkboard and some chalk. As guests arrive, have them write down a few things that they're grateful for. After the party, take a photo of the board and send it out in a group text message to everyone.


Invite folks to prep with you. Have some people come over early to cook. It will make the preparations for the dinner so much more fun! Prepare some early treats for this group by plopping some bacon in the oven or even preparing a giant quiche ahead of time and opening some wine.


If you opt to serve your Thanksgiving dinner buffet style, it's a good idea to label all of the dishes. Old wine corks and card stock make for pretty labels (plus, you now have an excuse to drink more wine). To make the labels, simply cut a groove in the cork with a utility knife, write the dish name and any allergens on the card and secure in place.


Who says you can't have Thanksgiving cake and eat it too?! As much as we love a good pumpkin pie or tart, if you're feeling like a cake is in order for your dinner, then go for it! Just add a delightful little Happy Thanksgiving cake topper in the center.


The food is the main event at a Thanksgiving, but if you want to spice up the dining room table you can add a few pumpkins here and there. Lighting is also a super easy way to add decor without compromising precious space. Hang new lights around your home and use colorful bulbs to add a little fall-esque feel.


If you live somewhere that isn't miserably cold, have your Thanksgiving outside with a luxe picnic. Bring all the food and drinks you'd have indoors, and sprinkle in a few games on the itinerary, like touch football, cornhole or life-size Jenga.


 Reserve a bottle of sparkling wine or fun late-night snack for the cleanup crew. Break out the paper towels, turn up a workout playlist, and get scrubbing!

Now that you know how to host a lovely Thanksgiving for less, save even more when you apply for cell phone service with Life Wireless. Free phone. Free service. Apply in minutes!


Posted 6 months ago