Family seated at a table full of Thanksgiving foods.

How to Celebrate Thanksgiving with Budget-Friendly Meals

By Lindsey Schrant
Updated
Published

No doubt, it’s been a rough year. But there are many things to be thankful for, so I’m welcoming Thanksgiving with open arms. Yummy sides, pies, and of course turkey, are typically on a Thanksgiving dinner menu. In fact, 46 million turkeys are gobbled up each Thanksgiving.[1] But as 2020 has been a year of the unexpected, feel free to rock the boat a little with your meal preferences. Whether you celebrate your Thanksgiving dinner in traditional fashion or unconventional style, read on for some meal ideas to save you some cash.

Classic Thanksgiving

If you enjoy hosting a traditional type of Thanksgiving, roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, and pumpkin pies are most likely the staples you’ll crave. When you stick with “Turkey Day” basics as a safe bet, you’ll be more familiar with cooking and baking techniques and will hopefully run into less hiccups ranging from burning food to burning the house. Because you’re three times more likely to have a home cooking fire on Thanksgiving than a regular day.[2] So watch those pots!

  • Choose recipes with a short ingredient list to save money and time.
  • Make from scratch instead of buying costly dishes frozen, from a bakery, or deli.
  • Keep an eye on grocery store sale ads and coupons.
  • Shop best deals a week before the holiday which is early enough that wanted items won’t be sold out.

Potluck style Thanksgiving

We’re all still advised to social distance and be mindful of how we celebrate with family and friends this year. But if you’re gathering safely in small numbers, for a shorter period of time, and following the CDC’s guidelines regarding holiday celebrating during COVID-19, then a potluck Thanksgiving dinner could be an option. Health-conscious socializing while sharing the menu cost responsibilities can be both fun and lighten the stress load. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, a common Thanksgiving Day dinner costs less than $5.00 per person.[3] Doesn’t seem too bad! But if you can break down that price even more, why not?

  • Plan ahead and let people know expectations.
  • Divvy out recipes and responsibilities with time to get them done.
  • Keep allergies and dietary restrictions in mind.
  • Accept what others are able to contribute.
  • Ask for and take help as needed!

Anything goes Thanksgiving!

2020 might just be the year you want to break from traditions or just make new ones of your own! 43% of U.S. Americans are open to jazzing up their Thanksgiving meals with alternative dishes.[4] So celebrate this grateful holiday the best way it’ll bring you joy.

Instead of turkey, try:

  • Cornish game hens ($0.50/serving) – This bird offers just enough change from turkey to be enticing without scaring traditionalists away. Perfect for a small gathering.
  • Pork Tenderloin ($0.73/serving) – Flavorful pork tenderloin is a great alternative protein for Thanksgiving. Maybe add some rice and a roasted veg!
  • Brisket ($1.37/serving) – Serve up an oven-roasted or slow cooker brisket for dinner. Slice or shred this tasty main item to fill those hungry bellies.

Instead of traditional staples, try:

  • BBQ ribs ($3/serving) – Crisp fall air with the sweet aroma of BBQ! With this Thanksgiving dinner, you roast ribs in the oven and then finish them off on the outdoor grill. All the neighbors will be so jelly.
  • Tacos ($4/serving) – Get that Instant Pot warmed up for Thanksgiving chicken tacos. Feel free to complement with guac, beans, and rice to complete this yummy meal.
  • Pho – ($5/serving) – Cold weather and some pho noodle soup are beyond comforting! So share the warm vibes in a bowl for this special day.

Instead of pies, try:

  • Cream cheese bombs ($0.50/serving) – Rich and creamy cheese cake bites! Make them fancy with sprinkles or let the chocolate do all the talking.
  • Tres leches cake ($0.83/serving) – Buttery yellow cake drenched in delish milk. Add pizzazz with fresh fruit or a drizzle of chocolate or caramel sauce.
  • White bean blondies ($0.89/serving) – Surprise the fam with a healthy dessert, or don’t tell them it’s healthy and enjoy the compliments!

Give thanks!

With all the ups and downs this year has brought us, we certainly need some grace and joy. If that means we feast on turkey and the fixings, potluck with friends and family, or try out some alternative meals while safely visiting in person or connecting through technology, it should be a good time. And we’ll definitely remember that we are thankful for each and every loved one we get to celebrate with. Enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday!


  1. Staff. (2019, November 27). Turkey Facts for Thanksgiving. Retrieved from Southern Farm Network: http://sfntoday.com/turkey-facts-for-thanksgiving-day/ ↩︎

  2. Staff. (2018, November 13). Thanksgiving is by far the leading day for US home cooking fires. Retrieved from National Fire Protection Association: https://www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research/Publications-and-media/Press-Room/News-releases/2018/Thanksgiving-is-by-far-the-leading-day-for-US-home-cooking-fires ↩︎

  3. Staff. (2019, November 21). Farm Bureau Survey: Thanksgiving Dinner Cost Rises Only a Penny. Retrieved from Farm Bureau: https://www.fb.org/newsroom/farm-bureau-survey-thanksgiving-dinner-cost-rises-only-a-penny ↩︎

  4. SWNS. (2019, November 12). More Americans are looking for ‘alternative’ options for Thanksgiving dinner. Retrieved from New York Post: https://nypost.com/2019/11/12/more-americans-are-looking-for-alternative-options-for-thanksgiving-dinner/ ↩︎

About
Lindsey Schrant
Read more from Lindsey
Hello, there! I began saving money at a young age by cutting out coupons from the Sunday newspaper. In those days, the fruits of my thrifty handiwork went toward treats for my beloved pets! Today, I still find it incredibly satisfying when I find a great deal or discover fresh, new ways to live a frugally full life.

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