A Thanksgiving dinner fit for a king (on a pauper's budget)

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

I think Thanksgiving dinner is the most economical holiday dinner to make. That is, if you make most of your recipes from scratch. It may take you more time but it will be worth it.

First let's start with the turkey. The meat entre is usually what drives the cost of a holiday dinner through the roof. Not so with turkey. It's one of the most economical meats to prepare and feed to a hungry crowd. Last November, we saw the price per pound of a whole turkey drop to 29 cents. I would expect the same (or close to it) this year as well.

From now all the way through Thanksgiving, I will be tracking the price of turkeys. It's my goal to point you in the right direction for getting the most for your money. Whether the turkey is fresh or frozen, Butterball, Honeysuckle White or store brand, I will keep my eyes open for the deals. Each week I'll update the deals on my Turkey Tracker blog posted Monday mornings on www.TheBAG.com.

After the turkey, plan your side dishes. Bread stuffing is a must at the Thanksgiving feast. You can get a loaf of white bread for under a dollar at most stores. One 16 oz. loaf yields about 9 to 10 cups of bread cubes. I usually prepare four loaves, which is about 4 lbs. of bread cubes. Pepperidge Farms 16 oz. bag of bread and cornbread stuffing mix costs $2.88. Stores' house brands average around $2. If you use Stove Top Stuffing it will cost around $1.29 for only a 5- to 6-oz. box. Too pricey to prepare for a large crowd. The Jiffy corn bread muffin mix costs about 39 cents on sale. Prepare a few boxes to cube for cornbread stuffing.

Now, let's move on to the mashed potatoes. I have found a 10 lb. bag of Russet potatoes for as little as $1.99. If you're feeding a crowd, use the whole bag. I like to add a few cloves of garlic to the water when boiling. After draining, beat in the milk and butter and you have a very inexpensive side dish. I average one large-size potato per person.

Yams also are a good side dish to prepare. This is the time when fresh yams are on sale for 39 - 49 cents per lb. Just bake them whole or cube and boil. Mash them with a little butter and they are ready to serve. I priced Bruce's Cut Yam's 2 lb. 8 oz. can for $2.50. Either way, yams are a great side dish that won't break your budget.

It wouldn't be a Thanks-giving dinner without cranberries. The best prices on fresh cranberries that I have found are at Sam's Club and Costco. The average cost of fresh cranberries is around $2 for a 12 oz. bag at the grocery chains. I prepare mine from scratch. All you do is add water and sugar to make whole cranberry sauce. I also like to add half a box of red raspberry gelatin to each single recipe of cranberry sauce. This is one side dish in which you can use the prepared canned cranberry sauce or jelly for around the same amount of money.

Yet another economical side dish is canned green beans. You'll be doing so much prep work on Thanksgiving Day that you'll need an easy vegetable to put on the table. Sam's Club has a 6 lb. can of cut green beans for $2.97. If you are expecting a large crowd, this will serve everyone. Heat and serve the beans or saut garlic in butter or olive oil and mix with the green beans to jazz them up.

For those who must have the traditional green bean casserole, Sam's Club has a 24 oz. bag of French's French Fried Onions for $5.82. If you have choosy eaters, divide the beans and prepare some in the casserole and keep the rest plain. That way everyone will be happy.

No Thanksgiving dinner would be complete without pumpkin pie. Canned pumpkin and evaporated milk will be on sale for about $1 during the course of the month in most chains. If you don't have time to bake, November is the month that frozen pies from Sara Lee, Mrs. Smith's and Marie Callander will be on sale for about half the normal price.

You can use coupons to make the price even lower. In the past, I have been able to purchase pies for my feast for around $1 to $2. My sister makes pumpkin pie from scratch and I buy a frozen apple and key lime pie. At half price it's not worth the effort to make one. Don't forget the whipped topping!

The finishing touch to the holiday meal is the dinner rolls. Brown and serve rolls are essential at my house. I'm keeping my eyes on the sales. Usually there will be a week or two when they are marked as low as 2 for $1. That's the time to stock up!

  • Pick up a jar or packet of turkey gravy just in case you need more or have a gravy disaster. Keep a few cans of chicken broth on hand to moisten the stuffing. Watch for my produce deals blog posted on Sunday mornings at www.TheBAG.com to see where you can get the celery, onions, cranberries, yams and potatoes for the best price.
  • Pick up a bottle of "Three Buck Chuck" wine from Trader Joe's, or have your guests bring a bottle of wine.
  • I use margarine in my stuffing to keep the cost down. I save the butter for the potatoes and rolls.

Now, this certainly is not the most economical route to go. For those who can't bear the thought of slaving all day in the kitchen, it's a viable option.

Some of the central Ohio chains offering complete dinners are Kroger, Giant Eagle, Meijer, Carnival Foods, Buehler's Fresh Foods and Carfagna's. Prices start at $29.99 and go up to $79.99. The average price I've seen so far is $69.99 for a complete dinner. Specialty shops such as Honey Baked Ham and Heavenly Ham offer dinners as well.

Jo-Ann Fabrics, Michael's Crafts, Hobby Lobby and Big Lots have a wonderful selection of inexpensive items you can use to make a centerpiece. A festive tablecloth and candles add to the holiday dinner theme as well. If you have a plain tablecloth, buy a piece of festive fabric and make a table runner for a fraction of the cost of a new tablecloth. You truly can set a table fit for a king on a pauper's budget.

For now, happy shopping!

Laurie Dixon is central Ohio's original BAG Lady! Read her blog EVERY DAY on TheBAG.com. Get savings tips on everything from food to fun. Learn to shop smart and save money!