Reader Suggestions For A Deliciously Frugal Thanksgiving
You didn’t think I’d let a holiday sneak by without weighing in, did you?! Impossible! I am a known lover of holidays and above all, the trifecta of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. I live all year for these three. I moved to Vermont so that we could have picturesque fall leaves and snowy white Christmases.
I have a giant fir tree in my yard and, the other day, my older daughter looked out at it–covered in snow as it was–and exclaimed, “is that a Kimiss tree, mama?!” I’ve succeeded in parenting.
Since it’s not Kimiss season quite yet (not until this Friday, thank you very much, at which time I will most definitely be putting up our Christmas tree), let’s delve into the scrumptiousness of Thanksgiving!!!
Thanksgiving is in my top three holidays for the following reasons:
- There’s no gift giving! While I do love gifts (and giving them), it’s nice to have a holiday that’s not centered around any type of consumerism.
- The focus is on time spent with loved ones. It’s a chance to enjoy one another’s company and there’s no expectation of leaving your home (bonus!)
- It’s the one time of year when everyone cooks and everyone uses up their leftovers!!!! I realize “everyone” is a hyperbolic overstatement, but it is a holiday focused around a home cooked meal that you repurpose over the course of the next week.
- It’s all about gratitude. Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on our blessings, to appreciate everything we have, and to recognize how incredibly fortunate we are.
- Paper hand turkeys!!!!!! You may be surprised to hear this one because I’ve historically been anti-crafts. Vehemently anti-crafts. But I think I might be kind of, sort of, maybe warming up to them… Babywoods LOVES some good old crafting time (as does Littlewoods, who tries to eat construction paper… ) and so I’m kind of getting into it with her. And hey, it only took me A SOLID HOUR to make the hand turkey featured above, so I can only improve from here, right? We also painted some leaves (because we have ample supply of both leaves and paint), so now I have some painted leaves taped to the wall in our living room…
Welcome to my monthly Reader Suggestions feature! Every month I post a question to our Frugalwoods Facebook group and share the best responses here. The questions are topics I’ve received multiple queries on and my hope is that by leveraging the braintrust of Frugalwoods nation, you’ll find helpful advice and insight. Join the Frugalwoods Facebook group to participate in next month’s Reader Suggestions!
Fighting Food Waste and Loving The Leftover
Over the years, I’ve addressed Thanksgiving from a number of different angles, but my all-time favorite approach is to view Thanksgiving as an opportunity to enact the practices of: 1) cooking at home; 2) using up leftovers; 3) reducing food waste.
I tackled this topic in depth a few years ago in How I Fight Food Waste At Thanksgiving And Beyond, and it’s something I’m passionate about. Clearly, because I just realized I also wrote about it in Thanksgiving Is The Gateway Drug To A Leftover Loving Life.
And now you know the secret that I 100% forget what I’ve written and have to google myself and search my own website in order to remember… Thanks to this helpful searching, I learned that I’ve also written all of the following about Thanksgivings past:
- No Turkey, No Problem! How We Celebrate Thanksgiving Our Way
- Starting The Thanksgiving Season With Gratitude
- A Very DIY Thanksgiving
- Weekly Woot & Grumble: Certified Turkey Freak
Evidently, a lot about frugality + Thanksgiving has spouted from my keyboard!
Back to the food waste issue… I’m passionate about reducing food waste because it impacts us in a range of areas:
- It’s expensive. Throwing out food you bought is akin to throwing out dollar bills. It’s nothing more than a complete and utter waste of money. The Atlantic notes that, “For an American family of four, the average value of discarded produce is nearly $1,600 annually.” That’s not an insignificant amount of money, folks. And that’s for produce alone!!!
- It’s a waste of time. My time is almost as valuable as my money and grocery shopping eats up time. Again, tossing out the stuff you spent precious time purchasing at the store is like flushing minutes down the drain (not sure that analogy works, but you get the idea). This is doubly true if you have to grocery shop with an infant in tow… and/or a toddler… gah!
- It’s atrocious for the environment. According to The Atlantic, “Wasted food is… the single biggest occupant in American landfills.” That’s disturbing and depressing. The grand total of food wasted each year in the US alone, according to Bloomberg.com, is 130 billion pounds. Beyond being a personal inconvenience, food waste on this scale is detrimental to our planet. Bloomberg again: “… food that ends up in landfills contributes to the release of methane, a major contributor to global warming.” And unlike many other factors of global warming, food waste is something that we as individuals have the ability to decrease.
Given all this, it’s a personal mission of mine to decrease my own food waste and encourage others to do the same. My top tips for reducing food waste:
- Buy only what you truly need–and will eat–at the grocery store. Shop from a list and be honest about what you’ll cook and consume. Do not overbuy. Do not impulse shop.
- Eat everything you bought at the store. Do not succumb to take-out when you have perfectly good food in your refrigerator.
- Compost. I know this isn’t possible for everyone, but with any sort of outdoor space, you can compost in a handy dandy compost container! If you don’t garden yourself, you are sure to find a friend or neighbor who’ll be thrilled to take your compost for their garden. We compost in a pile and it’s incredible how little we throw out thanks to composting. Additionally, some cities in the US are piloting compost pick-up programs whereby the city will pick-up your compost along with your trash and recycling. A fabulous idea!!! It’s as easy to compost as it is to throw stuff into the trash, so take a moment to integrate this into your daily life. We have this compost container on our countertop and, thanks to the filter in the top, it doesn’t smell at all (even when I had super sensitive pregnancy nose powers, I couldn’t smell it).
- Eat yon leftovers. Similar to #2, this entails eating everything you cook. Alternately, freeze anything you’re not going to eat in time. I’ve successfully frozen everything from salsa to loaves of homemade bread to milk (both breastmilk and cow’s milk) to homemade Chana Masala to baby food. You can seriously freeze just about anything and then defrost it for consumption later–just don’t forget what’s in your freezer!
- Re-feed your kids. If Babywoods doesn’t finish a meal, I pop it into a tupperware in the fridge and bring it out for a future meal. The only exception is when she’s sick and I don’t want to re-infect her via germy food. Also, I don’t give her food to anyone else–she alone gets her leftovers (if you’ve ever seen a toddler eat, you know why… ).
Toddlers + Food = Waste
Despite these attempts, the most challenging aspect of striving for zero food waste is our children. Pre-kids, we had zero food waste. I felt like a food waste superhero. Post-kids, the struggle is real. Babies don’t waste food–at least my two babies didn’t. Babies happily gobble up whatever you give them. Toddlers on the other hand? Oh lord help me.
One day, Babywoods (who is almost three years old) will gleefully eat an entire chicken breast, a salad, and yogurt for lunch. The very next day? She’ll take one nibble of her avocado sandwich (on homemade bread to add insult to injury… ) and eat nothing else. So I’ll scoot the avocado sandwich into the fridge and try again the next day. The fluctuations in a toddler’s appetite are entirely normal and entirely expected, but it makes it tough to meal plan for her.
We don’t enforce ‘cleaning your plate’ or rationing or eating if you’re not hungry, so we let her self-direct how much food she wants. Only she knows if she’s hungry or not and forcing a full child to eat can instill unhealthy longterm eating habits. In addition to her wildly varying appetite, Babywoods has an incredible knack–as do all toddlers–to LOVE a food one day and HATE it the next.
I’ve never seen such bipolar feelings on sweet potatoes, for example. I roast sweet potatoes and she gobbles them up on Tuesday, declaring them her favorite food ever, and then refuses to be in the same room with them on Wednesday. I’m not a short order cook and so what’s on her plate is her meal (I won’t get her anything different), but she’ll flat out refuse to eat some things on some days. I try to minimize the trash by having her eat leftovers and serving her small amounts at a time.
And yet… I end up with 17 tupperware containers of leftover bites and bits in my refrigerator. I am marginally successful at using these up, but we throw away SO MUCH MORE food with our toddler in tow. If you have any ideas on how to reduce food waste with a mercurial toddler, let me know. ASAP.
How We Celebrate Thanksgiving
Amazing that I managed to write 19 paragraphs without getting around to telling you how we actually celebrate Thanksgiving. I have a real knack for digression… in life and in writing. So, for Thanksgiving, we are the happy hosts of my husband’s family (this year it’ll be my mother-in-law, my father-in-law, and my sister-in-law staying with us). This will be our sixth year hosting Thanksgiving with my in-laws and we are thrilled!
I LOVE LOVE LOVE having them for Thanksgiving since it’s such a cozy, loving experience and Mr. FW is an excellent cook. My mother-in-law is an EVEN BETTER cook (sorry, Mr. FW… ) and she’s going to regale us with a few of her favorite recipe. All in all, these are the people you want in your home during a food-related holiday :).
Speaking of food, we’ve adapted our Thanksgiving menu over the years to suit the tastes and preferences of our family. We see no reason to make the “traditional” dishes if no one likes them. This year, Mr. FW plans to smoke a pork butt (using apple wood pruned from our apple trees) and make pulled pork sandwiches instead of turkey. None of us likes turkey very much, but we all go mad for pulled pork (it’s Mr. FW’s deep North Carolina roots). Mr. FW also makes a cranberry sauce using fresh cranberries, grated orange and lemon peels, and a splash of Bourbon, which is divine. He uses this stuffing recipe (with some modifications), which employs sausage and sage among other deletables. And then there’s his shredded Brussels sprouts salad! I’d say his cooking style for Thanksgiving is “modern Southern” and beyond delicious.
I’m in charge of desserts and, a few years ago, we realized no one particularly likes traditional pumpkin pie, so I bake a hybrid set of desserts: Shoo Fly pie (an old family recipe of my in-laws), pecan pie (loved by Mr. FW and my father-in-law), and a pumpkin cake-thing (recipe courtesy of my mom). I shared the Shoo Fly pie recipe here a few years ago.
All that to say, there’s no need to make the traditional array of Thanksgiving dishes if you don’t enjoy cooking them and no one enjoys eating them. Make what your family loves! Even if it’s spaghetti and meatballs and chocolate cake! Who cares? You’re the only ones eating it–you might as well love what you eat and eat what you love (the calories aren’t worth it otherwise).
And with that, let’s see how Frugalwoods readers do Thanksgiving!!
How Frugalwoods Readers Celebrate Thanksgiving Frugally and Festively
Sarah shared, “Turkeys this time of year are CHEAP and when you compare price per pound to lunchmeat they’re practically free!! I buy 4 turkeys and cook a 5th one and keep them in deep freeze. With left overs we plan on making 5 or 6 meals from that turkey that all taste very different, anything that calls for shredded chicken can be subbed with turkey. We make enchiladas, soup, creamy turkey noodles (with the left over peas), all kinds of stuff! When we make the turkey we also make meat stuffing if you look up French Canadian meat pie, it’s basically the meat filling to that pie. We serve the meat stuffing on the side and make lots extra, then we make pies with the leftovers and freeze them for later. We also grow our own butternut squash and potatoes so those are uber frugal too! Check local farms, there’s a few close to us who run deals where you can purchase 50lbs of squash and 50lbs of potatoes for $20 each- we did this one bad gardening year and split it with my parents.”
Sarah wrote that her favorite leftover creation is, “Pot pie and recently found a recipe to stuff leftovers into eggroll wrappers and turn cranberry sauce into a sweet and sour dipping sauce 👌.”
Jessica shared that, “Turkey enchiladas are a great way to use leftovers and taste so good!!”
Jill explained, “I only make recipes that can be frozen in individual meal servings the next day. This year we are all meeting at the KOA Campground in Visalia, CA (near Sequoia National Park) where the camp host (owners) cook the turkey and ham. The campers bring a side dish or dessert if desired. Since we are pescetarian, I plan on bringing a tuna casserole. There is electricity at the KOA, so I can fire up the crockpot. Then we will all visit the giant trees.”
Kristi said, “We will use leftovers for turkey sandwiches and some type of turkey soup later. My husband also does this awesome thing with leftover mashed potatoes. He freezes it for later and then we fry them up using a round cookie cutter for breakfast. I’m sure we will have lots of them.”
Jessica wrote, “We don’t meal plan for 3 days after Thanksgiving to ensure we’re eating up all the leftovers. We make only our most-loved dishes so we are never sick of eating the food and we include foods our kids love. We keep the menu simple, too.”
Danielle said, “We keep it simple: turkey, mashed potatoes, yams, sweet carrots, and guests bring a variety of appetizers and desserts. We make latkes with the leftover mashed potatoes. Also, I make sure to pick up a few frozen turkeys when they are discounted (next week 39cents per pound!), Store them in our deep freezer, and use them for meals through the winter – turkey dinner, soup, Tetrazzini, pot pie, etc.”
Mary Grace said, “We boil the carcass for soup, I like to save a cup of mashed potatoes before any seasoning is added and use it to make a soft bread dough for cinnamon rolls, and my husband loves it when I make a pan of enchiladas from some of the leftover turkey. Chopping and freezing sandwich bags of meat makes it convenient to make a pot pie or sandwich filling later.”
Emma shared, “As for leftovers, once we’re tired of turkey sandwiches and leftover turkey dinner I chop up all the remaining meat and make turkey curry and freeze it for future meal. I make turkey stock with the carcass.”
Kel loves to make, “Carrot soufflé!! It’s a lovely and unique side dish. It tastes quite a bit like carrot cake, has a fun texture, and is served room temperature. And bakes at the same temperature as the turkey so it can be in there at the same time. Everyone loves it. This recipe is almost correct— just use real butter instead of margarine, cut the sugar in half, and add a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg. I use baby carrots to cut down on prep work.”
Cindy said, “Well I make a very fast and frugal stuffing…. Just cook up two boxes of stovetop cornbread stuffing, stir in a handful of walnuts and dried cranberries, cover for a few minutes more. When I was a teen, and throughout college, I used to be the one who made thanksgiving dinner. I’m a fan of precooked turkeys like those available at whole foods. So basically I’d brown the turkey in the oven, make the stuffing, warm up rolls, and make mashed potatoes and a pumpkin pie ahead of time. Not bad considering it was a thanksgiving meal made entirely by an 18 year old.”
Emily shared, “My 7-layer salad is always a hit. I also make an incredibly rich Mac and cheese from a basic rue, green bean casserole, and sweet potatoes with a pecan praline topping 😁 nothing is more frugal than a potluck with leftovers!!!”
Gabby wrote, “I make wild rice and cranberry pilaf, and make it with half white rice to stretch it… You still get the look and taste of lovely wild rice, but twice as much for just a few extra cents basically.”
Jessica said, “I make stuffing loosely based on a Rachel Ray recipe. Apples, onions, garlic, bay leaf, butter, celery in a pot. Sauté until fragrant. Add in 6-8 crumbled Dunkin Donut pumpkin muffins and a little broth. Warm in oven. Omg. Awesome!!”
Torrie Lynn wrote, “This is the fifth consecutive year we’ll be pulling off a Friendsgiving, and hands down, my favorite recipe (mostly just because of how much stress it saves us) is my mother-in-law’s technique for slow roasting a turkey overnight. Doing it this way frees up so much time the day of the event, since the turkey is ready to go in the morning and just needs to be popped back in to reheat for an hour just before. If anyone’s curious, I’ve included the link on our method.”
Joanna shared, “Dressing has got to be my favorite. I use this recipe from the 1950-60s Betty Crocker New Picture Cookbook. Changes I make are tearing the bread into pieces instead of cutting into cubes, adding an egg per pound of bread, and enough chicken broth to turn the bread into an almost sodden mass. Frugally we celebrate by buying groceries needed for TGiving months ahead of time as they go on very good sales. We have no problem eating the leftovers, some years there aren’t enough!”
Kelly wrote, “Since we typically cook for just the two of us, we roast a chicken instead of a turkey because it is cheaper and we don’t have a ridiculous amount of leftovers to deal with. Thanksgiving is all about the sides in my opinion anyways! We’ve found that we don’t miss turkey if we have green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, and pumpkin pie.”
Pauline said, “We stick with the traditional 1960s American Thanksgiving: roast turkey and stuffing – my sister makes it most years – mashed potatoes & gravy, sweet potatoes -no marshmallow goop on top, thank you-green bean casserole (yes it’s bad for you), split top brown and serve rolls, cranberry sauce from the can, a super sized fresh veggie tray, black olives, pickle tray, and homemade pies (pumpkin and chocolate chip pecan) – my niece makes the best pie crust in the world! We always make turkey noodle soup the next day using the carcass to make the broth. With anywhere from 10-20 people in attendance there are few leftovers – and we want leftovers, but you never can tell if there will be any 🙂 The family pitches in every year to make the meal – this year I think we will have 6 or 7 cooks so it’s not stressful for anyone :).”
Robin shared, “I make this [turkey pot pie] every year with the leftover turkey – it freezes so well!”
Emma wrote, “I love this butternut squash recipe— it’s especially frugal if you have your own veggie and herb garden to grow some ingredients, make your own stock (it calls for chicken stock but I’ve used turkey and vegetable stock instead if I have those in my freezer), and if you can make your own maple syrup!!”
Yvonne shared, “This year at the age of sixty and sixty-five, Don and I are going to be eating mainly vegan. Forgoing the massive amounts of food. Veggies are cheaper and can be frozen or leftovers used the following days. Either in soup, as sides, snacks, or reheated in the microwave. We also use cranberry sauce as a preserve on toast and buns. It doubles up nicely. Sometimes with a dollop of cream on top. Leftovers soup is ALWAYS tasty add a few leeks and oregano. Drop some tiny meatballs into it if you eat meat. Feeds a large visiting family. Also home baked bread warms the cockles of the heart and seduces the nose when the huge pot of soup and bread hit the table. Stuffed squash go a long way, and there are so many variables of vegetable dishes. A smorgasbord something for everyone. Potatoes are cheap, rice and beans are also cheaper dishes and can fill most bellies on a budget. GREEN beans with parmesan cheese, mushrooms soaked in a red wine reduction, potato croquettes, backed and roast potatoes, rye bread, home baked braided wheat sheath as a center piece. Cottage loaf and rolls of garlic. Filling on a budget. Buttered honey carrots. Baked apples with sultanas. None of these cost very much money and could feed an army. Also can be frozen or travel to friends houses as a pot luck.”
Stock Options (I’m hilarious)
Heidi shared, “I always make broth with the turkey carcass. The day after Thanksgiving I make a big pot of turkey noodle soup with homemade egg noodles. Some in my family like to put their soup leftover mashed potatoes.”
Sarah wrote,”…making stock in the crockpot is life changing! Throw the turkey carcass and some carrots and onions in (no need to peel) and fill with water- cook on low for 8-10 hours and you end up with 4 quarts (ish) of the best stock ever.”
Allison said, “I like to use up my scraps! Keep all the peels from making Thanksgiving: carrot tops, celery bits, onion peels, etc and use that for stock along with the carcass. Yum!”
Danielle wrote, “We also cook the leftover bones overnight with water in the Crock-Pot for homemade broth throughout the year.”
Kel addressed, “The leftover turkey: the carcass is picked clean of meat. Everything sliceable is sliced for sandwiches. Everything shredded size is saved to go in soup. The bones (including the neck and other bits that came with the turkey) get covered with cold water in a stock pot, add a big pinch of salt and some bay leaves, and simmer overnight to make wonderful broth as the base for soup. Leftover cranberry sauce is spread on homemade roll sandwiches with mustard and sliced turkey. Leftover stuffing freezes well, as do leftover mashed potatoes.”
General Frugality While Holiday-ing
Allison said, “I follow my usual frugal habits. Like using up what I already have. For example, I have a package of hot dog buns in the freezer left over from a summer bbq – that will go in the stuffing. Or, I adjust recipes based on what I already have. Last year I had a giant bag of walnuts to get through… Walnut pie is just as good and seasonal as pecan pie! I usually use orange juice in my cranberry sauce but we have apple cider in the fridge, so I’m going to use that instead of buying OJ just for this (and sometimes this leads to me discovering a new favorite technique or recipe!).”
Glenna wrote, “Frugal Post: Only fix what your family will eat. If no one likes stuffing then don’t make stuffing.”
Laronda said, “Thanksgiving tends to be one of our most frugal holidays. Turkey hits its lowest price all year, sweet potatoes are in season, and baking ingredients are all on sale. Our favorite recipes are for sweet potato casserole and pumpkin swirl cheesecake (not frugal at all for wallet or diet, but so worth it). And once we’re tired of turkey sandwiches, turkey pot pie, etc., we like to make Southwest Chicken Skillet–with turkey, of course–as a change-up. Reheats beautifully, so it’s great for a week’s worth of lunches, and it’s quite affordable since it’s full of beans and rice. We also tend to have our Thanksgiving dinner on Friday and spend the holiday itself at the uncrowded zoo. So our usual Thanksgiving Day fare is a picnic lunch. :)”
Sarah wrote, “This year our frugal tactic is to have a baby: we might be eating turkey in the hospital! :)”
Kristi said, “I buy the sugar pumpkins when they are on a massive sale (3 for $5). I make several batches of pumpkin purée and freeze it for whatever later. I make homemade pumpkin pies and my husband makes the crust from flour we already have. We are going to try to use foods that we already have to make side dishes and we do not make a salad. The premise is that everyone is gorging themselves with the turkey day food and often forget the salad. So, that’s a waste of money. We also have other family members bring sides and drinks so we aren’t fronting the whole bill. Inevitably, we will have two cranberry sauces: normal way and the way my stepdad makes it that no one truly likes, but we have gotten used to it. We will also have two types of potatoes, because my English husband likes roast potatoes as customary for English Christmas dinners and I like mashed, which is customary for Thanksgiving. Fights ensue. We cook both. Our biggest spend will be the fresh turkey from the butcher, because once you do that, you can’t go back to butterball frozen turkeys. And it’s always expensive here I’m Houston, which my husband can’t believe how much it costs compared to England. Oh well.”
Rachel shared, “One thing we used to do, and something I find really important, is to remember all our blessing and to share with others less fortunate by volunteering. Either on Thanksgiving Day itself, or in the days preceding or afterwards. But volunteering to make a Thanksgiving dinner for a family in need, or a soup kitchen, or a nursing home, or a foster children home to help celebrate are really great ways to celebrate Thanksgiving that don’t involve spending money (or at least much money) on yourself.”
Well now I’m starving. Thank you to everyone who contributed tips, recipes, and inventive ideas to this year’s Thanksgiving bonanza! There’s an assumption that being frugal means you don’t celebrate holidays in style and I’m delighted to again prove you can enjoy the season without overspending. Here’s a quick rundown of the main points shared by readers today:
- Buy Thanksgiving ingredients (such as turkeys) in bulk since they’re inexpensive at this time of year. Freeze them for future use.
- Only cook things you know your family will eat!
- Make broth from your turkey carcass. You can then freeze this broth for future use (we have some in our deep freeze still!)
- Repurpose leftovers in creative ways to ensure you use up the entire feast.
- Above all else, practice gratitude.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone!
What are your hot-n-frugal Thanksgiving tips? What recipes do you love? How DO you use up all those leftovers?
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