thanksgiving dinner ideas, cheap thanksgiving dinner, affordable thanksgiving dinner ideas

Once again, I have to ask myself what in the hell have I gotten myself into. I’m pretty sure that I have set myself up for a disaster waiting to happen (for those of you who may have somehow forgotten, I don’t know how to cook), and I’m already terrified of what this is going to all look like in the end. At this point, if I can come through with something edible while not burning the house down, I will consider it a success

I went to visit my sister and her kids this weekend which inevitably resulted in her asking how my list of the things I want to do this year is going. This, of course, lead to me once again bragging about how I succeeded in the eating well on $1 a day for 100 days challenge. Eventually this lead to the following conversation:

Sister: “Whatever…But could you prepare a meal for others spending so little?”

Me: “Sure – I had plenty of left over food after the hundred days. I could have made a group meal no problem.”

Sister: “No, not with what you had. What about a set menu?”

Me: “What are you talking about?”

Sister: “I bet you can’t make a full Thanksgiving meal for six people for $1”

Me: “$1 per person?”

Sister: “No, $1 for the entire meal.”

Me: “What?!?”

Sister: “You ate 3 meals on less than $1 a day. You should have no problem fixing one meal on $1”

Me: “It’s a bit different. Having a set menu rather than what becomes available makes it a lot more difficult. I think I can probably pull off a $5 Thanksgiving day meal.”

Sister: (looking at me like I am afraid to take the challenge) “I figured. You aren’t really up for a challenge.”

Me: “…”

Sister: (pushing the buttons that she knows will work) “Just admit it. You can’t do it. There is no shame in being a failure…”

Me: (desperately thinking if it might be possible) “Do I get to create the menu?”

Sister: “Yes, but it has to be a proper Thanksgiving meal.”

Me: “What does that mean?”

Sister: “Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, pumpkin pie, etc.”

Me: “All that for $1?”

Sister: “For six people.”

Me: “OK, I’ll give it a shot.”

This, of course, brought a surprised look to my sister’s face that I would actually take the challenge. That surprise only lasted a split second and immediately turned to a “you’re a total sucker” satisfied smile to my sister’s face — which I think was doubling pleasing to her because not only do I now have to try and create a $1 Thanksgiving meal, she managed to get herself out of cooking Thanksgiving dinner since I am now the one in charge of it. I am already beginning to regret taking on this challenge…

At this point, I desperately need all of your help. I need to come up with a complete Thanksgiving meal menu so that I can begin trying to make it all come together — plus good, easy recipes since I will undoubtedly be judged on the taste of the food as well. While I am not at all confident that I will be able to pull this off, it should make for an interesting challenge that will cause far more than a few surprises along the way. Any and all advice would be greatly appreciated…

Planned Thanksgiving Menu
Free Stuffing & Gravy
Free Pillsbury Biscuits
How I Plan To Get A Free Thanksgiving Turkey
Free Hot Chocolate
Time To Start To Panic?
Free Cranberry Sauce, Chicken Broth & Green Beans
The Secret Free Turkey Plan May Have Worked
Free Turkey!
Executive Decision – potatoes, canned pumpkin, evaporated milk
The $1 Thanksgiving Dinner

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  1. You can only spend $1 to prepare the meal but that doesn’t mean you can’t buy practice ingredients to get your cooking chops in order! I wish I had recipes to give you but I really can’t cook. You should try to win a turkey though. Some grocery stores give turkeys away for buying other food; ask around.

    Good Luck!

  2. Turkey, bread dressing, easy cranberry salad, rolls, mashed potatoes, green beans and a pie, like apple or pumpkin is what I would make.

  3. Pumpkin pie isn’t difficult to make from scratch and if you go to a pumpkin patch the day after Halloween they’ll usually give you an ugly pumpkin for free

  4. mashed potatoes are easy, if you put mayonaise, or milk, or sour cream in them it makes them fluffier.

    the spices might be expensive but they have a lot in the little bags in the ethnic or produce section at safeway that might make things bearable. You can substitute “pumpkin pie spice” with cinnamon, ginger, and cloves if they are more readily available, and some of the pumpkin in the cans already comes spiced. you might be able to get an actual pumpkin cheap too, and microwave pieces of it in a bowl of water to tenderize it so it will scoop out of the shell and you can blend to make your own pumpkin puree.

    you can use a TBSP of ground flax seed and 3 TBSP water to substitue one egg. you might be able to find flax cheaper than eggs, and ground them up yourself in a mortar and pestle.

  5. How restrictive are the rules? For instance, does food you already have count? I ask because certain traditional Thanksgiving foods aren’t that expensive – sweet potatoes come to mind – but the stuff you use with (for instance, to make sweet potato casserole) are relatively common, but somewhat expensive.

    Food you have in the house as of the date of this challenge can be used in the meal, but does NOT count towards the $1 – seems fair. You’re cooking one,m complicated meal, for SIX people, after all. One meal for one person is a completely different story.

    Use what you’ve already learned from the original challenge – how to create money makers, buy stuff you don’t need to make other stuff free or extremely low-cost, etc. Stack coupons, stock up on loss-leaders, etc. Use every trick you’ve learned.

    In the meantime, practice some simple dishes to get more comfortable in the kitchen. Read a beginner’s cookbook, and try a few recipes. Thanksgiving foods are NOT that difficult to make indivudually, it’s the pressure of the holidays that make it so scary!

    Here are a couple of websites for ideas and help: (who said YOU have to cook it all???)

    One more tip – decide now what your menu is going to be, and carefully watch for sales and coupons for the component items. You CAN do this!!!

  6. @Nikki

    How restrictive are the rules?

    I’m afraid to ask, but if the eating well on $1 a day challenge is any indication (and knowing my sister), I assume they will be pretty strict (or they will become so if she sees me getting anywhere close to pulling this off). I think it is best to assume I am starting today with nothing and hope for the best…

  7. If you already have a hunting permit and a gun, I’d start by buying a couple bullets … for a deer or other game, not for your sister. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Would you be allowed to swap doing chores for little old ladies in your neighborhood in exchange for a pumpkin pie, a dozen rolls, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, etc? Most of the little old ladies I know have one recipe they are famous for when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, even if they are not normally good cooks.

  8. I agree with what others have said — most of thanksgiving dinner is from cheap ingredients, so if you plan to stock up now it shouldn’t be hard.

    Turkey is going to be the big expense, but a lot of stores have sales where if you buy a certain $$ of groceries you can get a turkey for free or nearly free. If you bought groceries that you *didn’t* use (or donated?) to get the free turkey, would that count? Or maybe you could hit that mark with some couponing wizardry…

    Also, I don’t recommend carving pumpkins for making pumpkin pie. They don’t make fantastic pie (though it *will* work) and you probably could get one for free. You can also use butternut squash which is just as good (some would argue better). You might not have a lot of options, though, I know that’s true.

    Definitely, though, I agree with advice to make your meal plan NOW — then figure your list of ingredients. Then you can figure a budget (and what can be made ahead and what can’t). To do it for $1 you’re going to have to get a lot of it for free.

    Good luck! Thanksgiving dinner is a challenge even for an experienced cook with a full budget, so I applaud your audacity and I really want to see you do it! You amazed me with the last challenge, so I believe in you! ๐Ÿ™‚

    ~Angela ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. In addition to the great advice already submitted, the one thing I’d REALLY encourage you to do between now and the big day is PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE. The worst part of cooking for a group of people is the timing. That’s why holiday meals are so scary and stressful for most people. It’s not that it’s difficult to roast a turkey or mash potatoes or whatever; the difficulty is getting everything done at the same time, so it’s all hot and tasty and ready to be eaten when people sit down at the table. Although you have an insanely tight budget, you do have plenty of time, so once you plan your menu I’d encourage you to take advantage of the time resources you do have and do several dry runs of the meal prep – your budget definitely won’t survive last minute menu substitutions, after all! Good luck – I can’t wait to see you make your sister eat crow (again)!!!! =0

  10. Good luck!
    Last year, Walmart had awesome promos and lowered the prices on Thanksgiving ingredients.. when i stacked with coupons, I got free or almost free stuffing, chicken broth, and almost free turkey (Butterball had some coupon out), A few Targets added expanded grocery sections to their stores. I haven’t had time to read your blog after u did your 100 day challenge, BUT, incase u don’t already know Target has a coupon section, and you can stack a Target coupon with a manufacture coupon which equals free deals.

    Some ideas that could go towards Thanksgiving meal that require minimal cooking skills. Pilisbury breads/rolls go on sale and have stacked coupons often. Canned corn, frozen/ canned green beans and condensed cream of mushroom (for green bean casserole), boxed potatoes, canned yams and bagged marshmellows (for sweet potato casserole).

    Look for Halloween clearanced items such as marshmellows, graham crackers, pretzels and gold fish,.. save chocolates and free pumpkin (u can take it and freeze it) for dessert recipe!

  11. If you have a local Salvation Army (or other soup kitchen) you can eat there for free just by showing up on Thanksgiving Day. You could also donate your Thanksgiving Day itself and serve others in one of these or other Christian charities (they will feed YOU too). You could also go to a local food bank or shelter and I am sure they would give you any ingredients you needed–especially if one of your 6 was a local homeless person or two. Maybe something we should all do: A homeless man I speak to as often as I see him recently asked if he could have Thanksgiving with my family this year…not so much for the food, but for the fotball on TV! Enjoy!

  12. One of the most difficult things about cooking Thanksgiving dinner is the timing. Many side dishes can be made the day before. Whatever you do do not stuff the turkey before cooking, unless you want to give everyone food poisoning. Keep it simple. Limit your self to 4 side dishes plus turkey and dessert. Use canned or packaged products. I am a big fan of making things from scratch but if you don’t like to cook Thanksgiving dinner is not the place to start. As you probably already know many items needed for Thanksgiving dinner go sale in the weeks before the holiday. Here is a link to cooking for engineers,they use lots of photos in their recipes.

  13. I am just going to read your blog and learn. I followed your eating on $1.00 a day challenge and it helped me to lower my grocery bill by 20%. I have complete faith that you will suceed at this challenge as well.

  14. Here is a thought. I know that you prefer to donate excess foods and items that you get through your couponing to a food bank. In this instance, though, perhaps using some of that excess food as trade goods could get you some of the items you need that might be more expensive than can be gotten for the dollar. If you happen to know any people that would be willing to trade in such a manner you could give them a good deal and help yourself stay in your budget.


  15. You may already know about this, but Idahoan potatoes has a page on Facebook…if you “like” them you can download a coupon (or 2) for $1 off a 4 oz package of their instant potatoes. I’ve found these at Walmart for $0.98, making them free (possibly with a bit of overage depending on your store).

  16. EASY WAY TO ROAST A TURKEY get the Reynolds Oven Bag (or equivalent) which comes 2 to a box in the ‘turkey size.’ Allow plenty of time to thaw turkey, all that mass thaws slow and the giblets are in a bag inside that MUST be removed, which is difficult if still frozen – lol! You can use giblets (heart, liver, gizzard) as flavorings in your dressing if you like. My mom just threw them all in a pan with some water and boiled them before she made dressing. Otherwise toss them in fridge and forget them.
    You must have a big roasting pan (borrow from sister). Open the bag, toss in 1 tablespoon of flour, hold bag closed and shake it around. Wipe turkey sort of dry with paper towels and then rub with either butter or olive oil. This is so the skin does not stick to the bag. Easier to lift the slippery turkey into bag if someone else holds bag (don’t hesitate to line up help with cooking!!) but one person can do it, slowly and carefully. Set bag with turkey in it in the roasting pan.
    Peel one or two onions and quarter, toss pieces around sides of turkey. Clean some stalks of celery and toss in also, can cut in half if you like.
    Gather the bag end together (it will self-inflate in the oven from the heat) and use the nylon tie to close it tightly. Use a paring knife to stab the top 6 times, just small 1/2″ slits to allow steam to escape. Wow, was that hard or what? You preheated the oven and moved the middle rack to the bottom (leave lots of room for that bag to inflate – at least 4 or 5 inches). All these steps are on the flyer that comes with the bags. Bake 12-16# turkey for 2 – 2 1/2 hours (I err on the side of well-done) etc.
    Nothing is easier, the turkey is fall-off-the-bones done and quite moist. You can use the drippings in the bag to make gravy. The only really hard part is getting the turkey out of the bag in one piece, it really wants to fall apart. Because of that it is better to plan to use a big platter and put legs, wings and slices of breast on the platter instead of carving it at the table.
    The onion and celery are edible but overcooked, you are best off straining the bag juices and throwing away the celery, onions and odd bits of turkey that are left behind. I strongly recommend that immediately after dinner you bone all the turkey. You can pull the meat off the bones with your fingers once it cools a bit. Perfect turkey every time, I must have roasted about 8 turkeys this way. So watch for deals on Reynolds Oven Bags or look for a cheapie alternative brand. Do NOT try to use saran wrap or something like that … eewwww. Happy Turkey Day!

  17. Yes, practice the cooking. Turkeys always go on sale and stack those coupons and start looking now for the BOGO sales–of course for the $1 you will be using the free item not the one you paid for as you practiced cooking with it! ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Mashed potatoes. After boiling drain the water into a jug. Use a food mixer – the old fashioned type with ‘beaters’ to mash the well cooked potatoes. Use the potato cooking water, gradually, to form a creamy mash.

    By doing this you don’t need to add milk or butter. Give it a try, works a treat!

  19. If you can pull this off, I want to know exactly how you did it… but start now.

    It’s apple season. You might be able to gather up enough apples to make a pie if you live within traveling distance from an orchard. They store well if stored properly.

    You might also be able to talk someone out of their Halloween pumpkin on November 1.

    Ask friends, co-workers, etc. to save bread heels for you to make stuffing. Most people don’t eat them anyway.

    Sweet potatoes are inexpensive and plentiful this time of year.

    Stacking coupons and stockpiling freebies, and finding very simple recipes on the net now so you can practice on “boughten” food are your best chances at success.

    Good luck!

  20. I didn’t read all the previous comments, so others may have suggested this already, but…:

    1. Just because it is Thanksgiving, it doesn’t mean you have to cook a WHOLE turkey. You could pair a sale and coupons with deli turkey breast (not the lunch meat kind, but actual turkey) and get free or almost free portions for 6 people. Or, some stores offer a free rotisserie chicken if you purchase certain items (it’s not TURKEY, but it would suffice). I don’t know if your sister will count the items you purchase to get free turkey/chicken as part of the challenge, but if not, this could work well.

    2. If you get deals on items now, you may be able to cook the dish, and freeze it until Thanksgiving. For instance, if you can scavenge free apples, you could make a pie filling now, and freeze it until Thanksgiving. Also, remember you don’t have use pie crust to make a pie (sure, it won’t be the same, but it will stick with the “traditional” theme). You could create a pie out of apple filling and Pillsbury dough (which can often be found for free) such as the biscuits or crescents.

    Think outside the box, and you can totally pull this off!

  21. Instead of making a pumpkin pie with a homemade crust, you could try an “Impossibly Easy Pumpkin Pie” made with Bisquick:

    It’s economical enough that you could make it once or twice to practice it, but it’s also so easy that you really don’t need to practice it. You basically dump everything into a bowl, stir it, then put into a pie pan and bake it. I haven’t made it in a few years, but I never had any leftovers when I did make it. One year, I didn’t have any pumpkin pie spice, so I used Chinese five spice instead. Everyone loved it!

    If you do start experimenting, I hope you posts your results. I’ve always enjoyed your writing and I can’t wait to see how you tackle this challenge.

  22. Your sister’s antics are literally beginning to make reading your blog not fun anymore. ๐Ÿ™ While I would love to read about this challenge (or a slightly easier one) done on your own terms, I’m really starting to feel like your sister’s only purpose in life is to stress you out and make you feel like a failure, and it makes me sad to read about the way she bullies you. You’ve grown a lot since you started your food challenges, and I don’t feel like you have anything to prove to her anymore. You’re a good cook and a smart person – stick up for yourself! Unless your next challenge in on YOUR terms, not hers, I don’t think I’ll be reading it.

    And I’d like to echo others’ sentiments to practice as much as you can before the big day… especially try making gravy a few times, because I feel like that can be tricky. A good tutorial is at:

  23. Humph. Your sister should allow –>$6<– for your meal for six people; after all, your $1 a day challenge was for feeding *you*, not "you and your family".

    All I can say is: Locate apple trees in the neighborhood. Stock up on sugar (you'll need it for pies and for cranberry sauce and for sweet potato casserole, no matter what recipe you use). Spices will be expensive–find a way to get some ahead of time! You'll need nutmeg, ground ginger, cinnamon, and…? If you have a grocery store with a Mexican foods section, look there for many of your spices; it's *much* cheaper.

    I've heard a lot of good things about brining the turkey the night before cooking; you might google "brine turkey".

    And, of course, you could always depend on the kindness of strangers (aka your readers! ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) to provide some of the basics.

  24. Print 2 $1 off Idahoan potatoes coupons ( You can get 2 instant potato packages of 4 servings each, and they will be free from Walmart (usual cost 94 cents) and a 6 cent money maker. That should help with part of the dinner!

  25. Target deals, where you can score free stuff for Thanksgiving. I hope you have a Target that added a grocery section near you. Here are some printable coupons from the Target site that might help.

    FREE Marshmallows
    10- to 10.5-oz. Market Pantryยฎ or Kraft marshmallows with purchase of two select Kellogg’s cereals (if you got Kellogs coupons remember that you can stack Manufacturer coupon on top of Target coupon)

    Free $1 Produce
    Produce item $1 or more

    There is Stouffer stuffing deal that makes it .25 at Target, but that’s a quarter of your budget.

    There should be some Pillsbury or Betty Crocker Halloween cupcakes/ brownie stuff and marshmallows on clearance, there are some coupons that you could probably stack to get those free.

    You know there are a free dozen eggs when you sign up for Safeway’s new program, not sure when it’s the last day to get them, but might be something you can hold off on and use for your meal.

    Once again, good luck and hope this is helpful.

  26. Watch as much Alton Brown Good Eats shows (and clips off of YouTube) as you can about the recipes that you want to make. He makes it easy to cook anything. =)

  27. I just got my first ad for Baywood foods and it’s boasting of a free Jennie-O turkey with a $50 purchase. This is the first ad I’ve gotten that has mentioned a free turkey, so at least they’re starting up finally. I personally don’t have to worry much about the turkey because I don’t have the room to host a holiday at my house, so I’m probably not going to go for it myself, but just know that the deals are starting.

    Best of luck! Looking forward to your success in this challenge.

  28. I think you are doing terrific so far. Looks like turkey will be 29 cents a pound for us locally.

    I was at my local CVS the other day picking up some medicine and noticed that their grocery isles have been expanded and now are double to triple what they were just a week or two ago. Hope that means some great deals there combined with extra bucks! thanks for helping me to see that it is a viable place to get grocery items (but only when they are on sale).

  29. Does this combination work in your challenge? There is a coupon in this week’s Target flyer for $10 gift card with the purchase of a new or transferred prescription. There is also a $4 off coupon (from the Sunday coupons in the last few weeks) for purchasing a Butterball turkey and four purchasas from Stove Top Stuffing ($.50), Pillsbury Crescent rolls, or Heinz Homestyle Gravy ($.79). Butterball turkeys are $.88/lb. At Target this week. Combining this should give you a turkey and some “fixins” free. AND, with another coupon (Sunday), you can send in your turkey receipt and receive five $1 coupons for future purchases of Butterball products.

  30. @Sandra

    Yep, something like that would work and I like the creativity — fortunatley (I guess unfortunately in this case) I am not taking any prescription drugs that I could transfer to make this work.

  31. Do you belong to any online rewards or survey programs? They often have gift cards you can redeem for. Mycokerewards has had KMart. Swagbucks has Amazon.

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