It’s almost Thanksgiving and if you’re hosting, I have a top 10 run down of what you should be doing RIGHT NOW to make it easy on you (and your guests) on the big day. I’m adding a tag called Frugal foodie because it seems apropos. One of my friends made an off hand comment about me knowing how to make something from nothing and I’ve realized that’s pretty true- my mom could always stretch to feed an extra person or two at the table, which amazes me to this day. I’m honing that skill. Part of it has to do with having staples ON HAND. More on that later.
OKAY! I’m going to focus today though on getting the most from your Thanksgiving budget-you can handle 10 easy steps, right?
1.Potluck if you’re having more than 2 guests or 2 generations.
Chances are if you’re going beyond that, you’ll need at least something extra for the table to keep expenses down. Just my side of the nuclear family has now stretched to.. 16? Wait.. 18? Let’s just round it up to 20. If we’re all around? Then you can bet that we’re doing potluck or taking dishes elsewhere, because it’s just too much for any one person to do in the current economy. It’s up to you if you want to assign certain things, ask what people want to bring, etc. Focus on the main dish and one standard side like potatoes and let everyone else fill in the rest. If it’s a small event, perhaps ask for people to fill in bread, vegetables, or dessert. Most of those things are easily enough purchased even if the person can’t cook! Send them a text a few days beforehand to make sure they have their idea nailed down and that you don’t need to be running out for pie at the last minute. If it’s a larger event (40+ people), then just assume that everyone can figure something out, don’t try and keep track. Super singles that don’t cook (confirmed bachelors, etc) are probably just as happy to pick up ice, etc. So think outside the box. Oh and if you KNOW someone is always late? Give them dessert. Then you can be sure that you’re not putting green bean casserole in to re-warm at 1 when everyone expected to eat at noon. Know what I mean?
2. Simplicity is best.
Fancy tablescapes are awesome if you have the time and money. Most people will be just as thrilled with a simple centerpiece, battery operated candles, or small doo-dads to play with in between courses. Tiny golf pencils and post-it notes could inspire any generation (think kick me signs, I’m thankful for, or labeling leftovers as MINE!) Nothing calms down a 6 year old like having a few crayons or the challenge of a wooden top to learn to spin, and I’ve yet to find someone that didn’t like a few candies strewn across the center of the table. You could use mints, or candy canes to herald the changing of the guard. Or do nothing. Really. The point of Thanksgiving is to pause and be grateful. It’s difficult to do so when you’re worried about people tipping over tall taper candles, painstakingly crocheting a table running for the whole night leading up to the party, etc. Keep it simple. Keep costs down.
3. Pare down your bird
Most kids (and a lot of adults) are looking for white meat turkey. Either that’s what they’re used to, or because of the calorie content. If you don’t have big dark meat eaters, consider getting only a large turkey breast (or 2) figuring 1/4-1/2 lb per person, 1 lb/person if you want a lot of leftovers. Turkey breasts are good, too, because they thaw faster, cook faster, and take up less room in your fridge. They’re great if you don’t have your bird bought yet, they’ll still thaw before the big day, but get them now! For every 4 lbs of frozen meat, it takes 1 day to thaw. That should always be done on the lowest shelf of the fridge, by the way, and in a container that will hold excess liquid.. you don’t want that running all over your fridge. Salmonella is not party friendly.
4. Shop for bonus buys
Now is the time to use your budget wisely. Sometimes, to save money, you have to spend money. You can often get a better price on your bird by spending a chunk of change at certain grocery outlets (some even give you a FREE turkey!), or choose from a variety of discounts on common holiday staple items. One thing I buy a LOT of at this time of year is broth. Oftentimes chicken broth in a can is 1/2 the normal price. Since I like to make noodles (cooked in broth) or chicken and rice soup, or chicken and noodle soup, I use a LOT of broth throughout the year. Getting it for half price now and having it on hand anytime someone gets a cold is worth the extra layout of cash for me. We rarely use boxed stuffing, but it was extremely inexpensive for the name brand this week if you bought 4 boxes. More on that later. You can do one of 2 things with these bonuses. Either you can keep them on your shelf/freezer for future meals (frugal!) or you can donate all or a portion of what you won’t use or have room for to a food pantry. It’s a win/win! If you’re only doing a turkey breast but are offered a turkey? Ask for a discount, substitution, or if nothing else, take the whole bird and donate. If you’re only spending what you would anyway, it’s not a big loss. If this would go way outside of your budget though? Buy only what you need and move on. Which leads to…
5. Shop from a list
No one wants to hit up the grocery store and be THAT person on the holiday. If you shop from a list, you will be less likely to need to make that last minute run. Oh yeah. Ice… don’t forget to keep those drinks cold! Whatever you plan on serving, go through the recipes and make sure you have enough of whatever it is you need on hand to make each dish, set the table, and decorate. Once you know exactly what you need, you can plan out your shopping trip to make it as fast as possible. It will keep you from overspending, as well.
6. Plan for leftovers
Most of what we’re buying this year is not for the holiday itself, since we tend to travel to visit family. So what we’re really looking at is normally for leftovers/big Sunday meals. We bought extra turkey breast at discounted price and put them in our freezer for later this winter, and of course with the kids being so small, a plumped up turkey breast will mean several meals for us. We will plan to use the boxed stuffing on top of a leftovers casserole (that’s why it was worth it to snag the extra boxes of the ‘good stuff’ on sale)– and since we bought a couple of the hunks of meat, a couple of boxes will suffice. We buy the chicken variety, so any extra we can always use on a chicken leftover meal as well. The same recipe we use tastes equally good with turkey or chicken, and since expiration dates on that sort of thing are at least a year out, we will do well through next fall with what we bought.
This means that when we meal plan, we can put about 3 meals from each piece of already purchased meat for the upcoming months, plus get sandwiches out of it. For example, sliced turkey with potatoes one day, sandwiches for that night, casserole for the next day which can be pre-made since that evening would be an easy one with sandwiches, and if there’s enough left, then turkey and noodles another time. We can also boil the turkey frame and end up with soup out of it by adding veggies. It’s a great way to stretch a buck. Obviously, if you have a turkey and only a small family, you’re going to get a lot more stretch out of it. Just remember to freeze anything left after about 3 days (even the whole carcass) if you don’t get to it so the meat stays fresh.
Either way, use your savings/freebie to your advantage when it comes to quick cooking up something for a cold winter’s night!
7. Create a hosting timeline
Know what time you need to put everything in the oven, even several days in advance. Not everything cooks at the same temperature or will fit together in the oven. Give yourself enough time to let the turkey rest once it’s out of the oven, to make gravy, etc. So if you’re cooking a big bird and have a noon meal, you might be up at 4 a.m. to put it in- be aware, and work backwards from the designated meal time to decide what time you need to wake up. Ice in glasses at 11:55 for a noon meal, ice out of the freezer at 11:45, etc. Be sure to note both what time things go in the oven, but also what time things come out, so for instance take out the pumpkin pie and put in the green bean casserole. Cross off each item as you complete it! Speaking of which….
8. Work smarter, not harder
If you have items you can bake ahead of time (pies, brownies, casseroles) and then refrigerate or re-heat, do it. Same with items like homemade noodles, those could be made, dried, and in the freezer already. Pre-cube and dry bread for your dressing dish and keep it in ziplocs the day before, or take help from the store. Eggs can be hard boiled a week in advance for deviled eggs and kept shell intact until you put them together. Pie crust is easily made and frozen, rolls could be pre-baked and warmed in the microwave, just decide what needs done ahead of time and mark it off your checklist. Invite a friend over to help and indulge in a treat and chat while you’re getting things done. Easy enough for you to both make pie crusts together, right?
9. Do a dry run with your dishware
Know where you’ll place each item for serving. A buffet is great, there’s less passing to be done, so make room on a countertop or serve some items from the stove if needed. Mashed potatoes do better kept warm, so when you create your timeline, be sure to consider what needs to stay on those burners until time to fill plates! Set out platters with meat forks, find your meat thermometer, set out spoons for each vegetable. If you CAN leave them out, go ahead, but if not, tuck them away until time to start cooking! You’ll be assured that you have enough dishware to get everything ready for the big day.
10. Set the stage
Between shopping and cooking, you have a few days to really set the stage. Be sure that the bathroom everyone will use is full of necessities–you did remember extra tissues and toilet paper, didn’t you? Get rid of clutter and wipe down surfaces in the rooms everyone will be using. Decide where coats- and napping babies or diaper changes–will go. Don’t leave your great grandmother’s quilt out for people to change their babies on- seriously. Put out some towels (layered if possible) on a bed if you don’t have a changing table yourself, and leave a laundry basket, trash can, hand wipes, or hand sanitizer, anything you think will aid them in their time of need, and you in post-party clean up.
We use cloth so we never ‘leave anything behind’… BUT this will keep your second cousin from dragging a dirty disposable diaper into the kitchen to ask what to do with it. Quite the literal party pooper. Easy enough to say the minute a baby walks in where to drop coats and that you have a changing station available in a certain room and saying where the can is. This way when everyone’s gone, you can quickly take care of that– and not find it some time later stashed in an out of the way garbage can you’d never suspect to check.Toss the towels in the basket, empty the trash, and you’re good to go.
Putting a few toys near the changing station, and setting up a toy area with a few puzzles or easy to clean up toys and books in a box or orange crate would be much appreciated when dinner’s done and the adults want to talk. Even the youngest relatives can occupy a toddler with a few simple toys and ease the burden of traveling with kids. That’s right, I said it, traveling with kids sucks- so be nice to the parents of babies. Chances are, even if you were up at 4 a.m., you still got more sleep than they did.
Pick a room no one is allowed in to hide all your cluttery stuff. If it’s helpful, you could print out a sign for coats, bathroom, and changing (think baby) and tape it to the door(s) you’ll be using, and close anything else as a clear sign to ‘keep out.’ If you don’t have clutter–I’m sure you do have SOME things you don’t want bothered, sports memorabilia, knick knacks, etc. Hide them away. Do a last minute sweep, vacuum, etc. once most of your cooking is completed and then just spot clean as you go. If you have kids, enlist your spouse, a friend, or an understanding relative to show up a few minutes early to help with whatever the kids destroy in those last few hours-the Macy’s parade or a movie might keep them contained for a while, but they’re kids, it’s their house, too!
How’d you do? Easy enough? Great! This could really be adapted to every time someone comes to visit, not just holidays. Hopefully this will help you have a fruitful, and frugal, Thanksgiving.
Wait, wait, ready to have your mind completely blown? When looking for a post to link here, I discovered… a huge chunk of recipes and pantry posts in my archives from 2007. They are all now tagged with FRUGAL FOODIE. You are welcome! I may get a chance to go through and update them with pictures and such, but if not, take a look now and enjoy what’s there! My blog from then was bk (before kids) so sometimes I posted multiple times a day. Wow!