Thrifty Thanksgiving for Tough Times – Frugal (Real Food) Thanksgiving Dinner Recipes and Costs

These frugal Thanksgiving dinner recipes have been broken down to compare costs for homemade versus store bought dishes.
This series of articles is designed to help families put a frugal Thanksgiving meal on the table.
Start at the beginning: Frugal $50 Thanksgiving Meal

Thrifty Thanksgiving for Tough Times - Frugal (Real Food) Thanksgiving Dinner Recipes and Costs from The More With Less Mom

Frugal Thanksgiving Dinner Recipes and Costs

As far as costs go, I did not use my price list. I used the Hannaford and Wegmans sites for prices. I actually shop at Market Basket, which is cheaper. I did not use dollar store prices, since my premise is that you only have a gift card to a specific grocery store to spend. And I did not use sales flyer prices. So unless your food cost of living is really high you should be able to do even better than my shopping cart.

I looked up the usual, traditional Thanksgiving dishes, as well as the most popular ones. (I love food window shopping.) I tried to find recipes that were from scratch, with simple ingredients. Sometimes this meant a long search, and possibly a compromise on what ingredients to use. Feel free to use whatever recipe you like, just watch how different ingredients change your total. The good news is that these tried-and-true dishes are classics because they are sturdy recipes. They can stand the occasional ingredient substitution, they don’t cost a million bucks, and many can be made ahead.
Fortunately the sales flyers in November have some excellent deals in both baking supplies and Thanksgiving trimmings. Even if you don’t have time to match the sales to your pantry ingredients and meal plan (see my article about meal planning, you should try it) grab the flyer on your way in the door and take a minute to check it. As I write this I see parsley bunches $0.79 each, and russett potatoes $0.50/lb.

I did make some minimal assumptions on what you had in the house. I worked with the theory that you had water, salt, pepper, and spices. If you do not have salt, pepper, and spices, get salt and pepper and cinnamon from the dollar store (with change from the couch cushions?), and do the best you can spicing things. I assumed you would use dry spices in these recipes. I can’t calculate the cost for your water if you pay for it, but I know it’s more than me. I guessed that you had all the utensils and pans you needed. Also I assumed you did not have sales tax on food, like my fellow happy residents of NH. I did not calculate multiple pies or anything like that, if you are feeding a large family everyone will have to be content with a small helping of most dishes. You only NEED three bites, just a taste, to nourish your heart as well as your body.

One of the biggest flaws in comparisons like this is that I have to assume that the recipe will yield the same amount as the purchased product. A lot of these are coming out cheaper to purchase, but you won’t get as much food.

Math makes my head want to explode, especially food math. I must love you guys.

What is this term real food, you say? Don’t panic, it’s nothing weird. It’s just food cooked from scratch. It is how everyone used to cook, for thousands of years, before you could trot to the store and buy box-o-this and can-o-that. Canned tomatoes are ok, but can-o-condensed soup is not. You eliminate processed foods and ingredients. “Real food” isn’t as limiting as many diets, it just requires you to cook your own food. However if you have tried South Beach Diet or Weight Watchers Core you were almost eating real food, except real food is a change of lifestyle, not a diet.


Juicy Turkey Recipe

Rule of thumb for turkey: subtract 3 lb for bones, giblets, etc, then allow 1 lb per person. That does not include leftovers. I buy a 20 lb turkey, but I am feeding six and we love turkey. Actually I buy as many turkeys as I can afford to stick in my freezer. When was the last time you spent under $0.99/lb for meat? It’s such a good deal.

I bought my brand-name turkey for $0.59/lb (it was the same price as the generic). I saw a listing in my flyers for $0.49/lb if you spent $25 at that store on top of the turkey. But the cheapest price I see in the regular prices is $0.99/lb so that is what I’m using. Hopefully you can get a better price, since the turkey will be the largest percentage of your dollars available. You have to balance the other things you want to get with the amount of cheap meat you can get.

Frozen turkey is cheaper than fresh. However a 15 or 20 pound turkey will take 5-7 days to thaw in my fridge. Do not believe Google when it says 3 days. You will be thawing that sucker in a sink full of water and it won’t actually fit and it will be gross and suck. This means you have to shop at least a week in advance, or pay the price in turkey.

How To Roast a Turkey from Food for My Family

Turkey$0.99/lb 10 lb 7 servings= $9.90 (as low as $0.49/lb)


Mmm gravy. If you make stock ahead of time it is really easy to make a gravy ahead, or even make a separate gravy for your vegetarian guests. If the thought of gravy stresses you out you should try making it ahead and take your time with it.

Make ahead: Refrigerate or freeze, reheat on low.

Homemade Gravy from All Things Frugal

4 Tbl of fat/shortening/butter 2 oz x $0.14/oz = $0.28
4 Tbl of flour 1.1 oz x $0.02/oz = $0.02
2 c of liquid/pan drippings/stock 16 oz x $0.05/oz = $0.80
Homemade total $1.10

Birds to get bones for tasty stock:
Whole chicken $1.39/lb avg 4 lb $5.56 $0.09/oz
Whole turkey (small) $0.99/lb avg 8 lb $7.92 $0.06/oz

Purchased turkey gravy 10.5 oz $0.79 x 2 = $1.58


Oh, man. For the love of stuffing. Stuffing is in the bird, dressing is not, that’s the only difference. But we still call it stuffing. I never cook stuffing in my bird, I’m afraid of germs. And have occasionally had a vegetarian guest who would not appreciate it. Homemade stuffing is easy, and there are a million ways to do it. You should use the kind of bread your family likes. Consider cornbread, or if you already have rice in the house you can use that. You can plan way ahead and make a loaf of bread just to make it stale for your stuffing.

Thanksgiving Stuffing from Cookie Monster Cooking

3 Tbl unsalted butter 1.5 oz x $0.14/oz = $0.21
1 small onion $0.96 x0.25 = $0.24
2 ribs celery $0.12 x 2 = $0.24
2 whole carrots $1.98 x 0.33 = $0.65
1 (1 pound) loaf firm country white bread $3.29
1 1/2 c low-sodium chicken broth 12 oz x $0.05/oz = $0.60
Homemade total $5.23

Purchased stuffing 12 oz $1.99
4 T butter 2 oz x $0.14/oz = $0.28
Assembled total $2.27

Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce is really easy to make. You add sugar and cook it. Basically. And it tastes so much better, it’s a whole different animal. The best part is spreading a tiny bit on your leftover sandwiches, it really punches up the flavor. Many recipes called for a whole orange for juice and zest, which will taste great, but is almost 1% of your budget for that orange. If you get a can of frozen orange juice concentrate your kids can drink the leftover juice, that’s why I picked this one.

Make ahead: Refrigerate up to 3 days (some people say 5)

Orange Cranberry Sauce from the Frugal Chef

1 c orange juice 8 oz x $0.04/oz = $0.32
1 c sugar 7 oz x $0.12/oz = $0.84
12 oz fresh cranberries = $2.49
1 tsp orange zest (skip, it will still taste good)
Homemade total $3.65

Purchased Orange $0.79/lb $0.40 each
Purchased OJ concentrate 12 oz makes 48 oz juice $1.79 $0.04/oz

Purchased cranberry sauce 14 oz $1.00

Mashed Potatoes

This is the one thing you should be able to make a vat of for Thanksgiving. Russett potatoes are really cheap. If you want to change up your potatoes to make them fancy add a couple sweet potatoes and cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.

Make ahead: There are mixed reviews on making potatoes ahead, but many recipes to try. I make my potatoes really early and leave them in the crock pot on warm. Many people have made their mashed potatoes the day before, refrigerated, and reheated.

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes from Frugal Families
How to Make the Best Mashed Potatoes from The Kitchn (tips)

3 lb potatoes/Russetts/Yukon Golds $0.56 x 3 = $1.68
1 1/2 c buttermilk (32 oz $1.79 $0.06/oz) 12 oz x $0.06 = $0.72
(OR 1 1/2 Tbl vinegar 0.75 oz x $0.04/oz = $0.03 +
Add milk to make 1 1/2 c, let sit 5 min 12 oz x $0.02/oz = $0.24) OR $0.27
1/4 c butter 2 oz x $0.14/oz = $0.28
Homemade total $2.23

Purchased instant mashed potato flakes 13.3 oz 20 servings $1.29 makes 10 c = $1.29
9 Tbl butter 4.5 oz x $0.14/oz = $0.63
3 c milk 24 oz x $0.02/oz = $0.48
Assembled total $2.40

Purchased 24 oz $3.79


There are so many recipes for rolls, and so many ways to do it. I love homemade bread, but I’m lazy, kneading hurts me, and I forget it in the oven. Even with all of these hurdles, there are recipes out there that are great. I picked one that is easy, there is no kneading and you just spoon it into muffin tins, no messing up the table with flour or rolling things out. I had to approximate how many ounces the finished rolls were for my menu comparison, and I’m guessing they are much bigger than my guess.

Make ahead: Rolls can absolutely be made ahead and refrigerated or frozen

Two more TNT (tried and true) roll recipes for you:
Lisa’s Dinner Rolls (ABM) (bread machine)
Buttery Bread Machine Rolls (bread machine)

Spoon Rolls from Frugal Antics of a Harried Homemaker

1 Tbl yeast $1.69 / 3 = $0.56
3 Tbl sugar 1.33 x 0.38 = $0.51
5 Tbl butter 2.5 oz x$0.14/oz = $0.34
3/4 c milk 6 oz $0.02/oz = $0.12
1 egg $0.13
4 c flour 17.64 oz x $0.02/oz = $0.35
Yield 18 rolls
Homemade total $2.01 $0.11/ct

Purchased brown and serve rolls 13 oz 12 ct $1.50 $0.13/ct


Free Stock Recipe

How to Make Chicken Stock from Simply Recipes

Homemade free(ish)

Purchased broth 32 oz $1.50 $0.05/oz

Brussels Sprouts

This is not on the list of traditional dishes, or most popular. But for two years in a row it was the tastiest thing I made, so I’m doing the breakdown for myself. The recipes with bacon are of course super tasty, but bacon is WAY over my $1/lb limit. Don’t be afraid to put these in your leftover sandwich, too.

Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Vinegar from One Hundred Dollars a Month

8 oz Brussels sprouts (totally not enough for my family) $1.99 x 0.5 = $1.00
1/2 sweet onion $0.96 x 0.25 = $0.24
1 Tbl unsalted butter 0.5 oz x $0.14/oz = $0.07
1 Tbl olive oil/vegetable oil 0.5 oz x $0.02/oz = $0.01
2 Tbl balsamic vinegar (can substitute apple cider vinegar)
(balsamic vinegar 1 oz x $0.21 = $0.21
apple cider vinegar 1 oz x $0.22)
Homemade total $1.54

Purchased frozen in butter sauce 10 oz $1.69

Green Bean Casserole

Green beans are not in season in November, which is why I went with frozen. You can easily make your own French fried onions. You can cheat on the bread crumbs by toasting 2 slices of bread and pulverizing it.

Simple Green Bean Casserole from Scratch from The Minimalist Cook

2 1-lb bags frozen green beans, regular cut $0.99 x 2 = $1.98
1 lb fresh mushrooms $2.69
1/2 lb onions $0.96 x 0.5 = $0.48
1/2 stick butter (4 Tbl) 2 oz x $0.14/oz = $0.28
1 minced garlic $0.08
2 Tbl flour 0.55 oz x $0.02/oz = $0.01
2 c milk 16 oz x $0.02/oz = $0.32
1 can French-fried onion rings 6 oz $2.49 OR
(2 Tbl additional butter 1 oz x $0.14/oz = $0.28
1/2 c additional sliced onions $0.96 x 0.125 = $0.12
1/2 c fine bread crumbs 4 oz x $0.09/oz = $0.36) OR $0.76
Homemade total $6.60

Purchased green beans with fried onions frozen 9 oz $1.49

Sweet Potato Casserole

This is a newer dish, and more on the popular list than the traditional. You can make your own marshmallows to make the topping, and it will be so good. But with littles in the house candy making is less safe, so we’re skipping that step this year. To compromise you can skip the marshmallow topping and make a streusel topping with flour, brown sugar and butter.

Make ahead: You can make your casserole the day before and refrigerate the sweet potato mixture and topping separately. Bring to room temperature before continuing.

Sweet Potato Casserole from Fabulessly Frugal

4 c sweet potato 6 lb $0.79/lb = $4.74
1/2 c white sugar 3.5 oz x $0.12/oz = $0.42
2 eggs $0.13/ct x 2 = $0.26
4 Tbl butter 2 oz x $0.14/oz = $0.28
1/2 c milk 4 oz x $0.02/oz = $0.08
1/2 tsp vanilla extract 0.8 oz x $0.37/oz = $0.30
2 c mini marshmallows 3.33 oz x $0.11/oz = $0.37
1/2 c packed brown sugar 3.53 oz x $0.05/oz = $0.18
1/3 c all-purpose flour 1.5 oz x $0.02/oz = $0.03
3 Tbl butter 1.5 oz x $0.14/oz = $0.21
1/2 c chopped pecans (skip, it’s tragic, unless your store has bulk bins and you can buy just 1/2 c)
Homemade total $6.87

Spinach Dip

Spinach artichoke dip is a popular recipe, but between the artichokes and the dairy, it isn’t cheap. I tried to find a recipe that minimized the cheeses.

Healthier Spinach Dip from Good Cheap Eats

1 c plain yogurt 8 oz x $0.06/oz = $0.48
8 ounces cream cheese 12 oz $2.49 x 0.67 = $1.61
2 cloves garlic, pressed = $0.08 x 2 = $0.16
1 pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry 10 oz $0.79
Homemade total $3.04

Purchased spinach artichoke dip 15 oz $2.69

Thrifty Thanksgiving for Tough Times Series:
Frugal $50 Thanksgiving Meal
From Scratch Thanksgiving Menu
From Scratch $50 Shopping Cart
Store Bought $50 Shopping Cart
Thanksgiving Blessing Bags
Quickie Thanksgiving Recipes
Frugal Dinner Recipes and Costs
Next: Frugal Dessert Recipes and Costs
Price List
Make Ahead Thanksgiving Timeline
Thanksgiving Links
Thanksgiving Leftover Recipe Links
Thrifty Thanksgiving Pinterest Boards

* Also see our Care Package for the Hard Times Kitchen series

We hope you enjoyed our Thrifty Thanksgiving for Tough Times – Frugal Thanksgiving Dinner Recipes and Costs post

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