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Published September 21, 2023
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8 Tips for a Plentiful Thanksgiving Dinner on a Budget

Let’s talk turkey: food is expensive right now. Here's how to keep sky-high prices from ruining your holiday.

Edited By

Turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, pumpkin pie — as fall rolls in, many families across the country are looking forward to a traditional Thanksgiving meal. But with food prices still elevated year-over-year as of August[1], Canadians may be concerned they’ll need to sacrifice their holiday favourites. 

Fortunately, with some strategic planning, it’s possible to enjoy one of the most anticipated meals of the year at a reasonable price. 

1. Set a spending limit

Start your Thanksgiving prep by deciding how much you can spend comfortably on dinner. Remember this is one night of the year, and you still need to eat the other 364! So try to make sure your budget is reasonable and you can stick to it. 

Nerdy tip

If you plan to use a credit card for your purchases, aim to pay off the balance by the end of the billing period to avoid any interest.

    2. Research budget-friendly recipes

    A quick Google search for “Thanksgiving dinner on a budget” yields numerous pages of cost-effective, delicious recipes from outlets like the Food Network and The New York Times. There are also great substitution ideas if your normal favourites are no longer within your means, such as serving roast chicken in place of turkey. 

    3. Make a shopping list

    Shopping without a grocery list is a little like shopping hungry — you’re likely to get swept up in all the strategically placed foods and spend more than you intend. 

    Write down everything you need for your holiday meal, including all the ingredients that go into each dish. Put the estimated price next to each line item. If you’re not sure what, say, cloves are going for these days, you can look online at store prices to get a better idea. Then, add up the total cost. 

    If your list puts you over budget, consider cutting out some of the bigger ticket items or rethinking what you plan to serve. Note, also, ingredients that can be used in multiple dishes will get you more bang for your buck. 

    4. Shop in-season foods

    Shopping for in-season produce can help you save money on groceries. Generally, in-season foods are more affordable, since they don’t have to be imported.

    In-season fruits and vegetables that are readily available to Canadians in October include apples, cranberries, oranges, pears, cauliflower, cabbage, beets, broccoli, artichokes and of course, pumpkins. Many of these foods are part of traditional Thanksgiving dishes, and you really can’t go wrong with the classics.

    Buying in-season produce has a couple added benefits, too. You’re supporting local farmers, which is especially apt during October, Canada’s Small Business Month. Plus, you’re being more environmentally friendly. Your food doesn’t have to travel very far and neither do you, thereby cutting down on pollution.  

    5. Spread out your spending

    While you can’t buy perishable ingredients too far in advance, you can always stock up on wine and other beverages, as well as boxed and canned goods ahead of the big day. Vegetables like potatoes and onions have a longer shelf life than most other produce and can be purchased a couple of weeks before the holiday. Decorations and supplies, such as napkins, can also be purchased at any time. Be on the lookout for sales and coupons both online and in-stores.

    Spreading out your spending also makes it easier to fit the extra costs into your budget than if you had to buy everything at once during Thanksgiving weekend. It might be less stressful, too.

    6. Dial down the décor

    Social media platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram and TikTok might have you convinced that not only should your holiday meals taste amazing, but they should also be presented on beautiful dishes surrounded by themed decorations. That’s a lot of added pressure — and expenses. Sure, the photos are beautiful, but let’s be honest: your guests are there for the food, not the ornamental pumpkins. 

    That being said, if you enjoy decorating the table for Thanksgiving, then by all means, do so. One way to decorate on a budget is to stick with decorations you already have. You don’t need to buy all new items for one holiday meal. If you’re crafty, you can make DIY decorations with things you have easy access to or already have around the house. For example, you could decorate your table with flowers from your garden, acorns, apples, candles, or even printable signs. Also, don’t overlook discount stores like Dollar Tree for festive touches.

    7. Make it a potluck

    If you’re feeling the financial strain of hosting a Thanksgiving meal, ask your guests to contribute. It’s no secret that food costs have skyrocketed, and your friends and family will likely be more than happy to bring a dish or two. Plus, if everyone is responsible for bringing an item, you should be able to avoid complaints that you forgot something or left out someone’s favourite side dish.

    If you decide to do a potluck Thanksgiving dinner, you might want to create the menu in advance and either have people sign up for each dish or assign everyone a specific part of the meal. That way, you won’t overlook any essentials or end up with three pumpkin pies and no mashed potatoes. Keep it simple, though; if you want a very specific dish, plan to make it yourself. 

    8. Make the most of any leftovers

    Thanksgiving is a huge meal for many Canadians, and it often results in tons of leftovers. Unfortunately, that means it can also result in a lot of food waste, which is also a big waste of your hard-earned money. Instead of letting leftovers sit in the fridge until they end up in the compost or trash, plan ahead for ways to use your Turkey Day leftovers. 

    For instance, cranberries and other fruits can be baked into muffins, scones and breads. Mashed potatoes can be transformed into potato pancakes, shepherd’s pie or pierogies. Turkey is great for chilis, soups, casseroles and sandwiches. Get creative with spices and herbs to give your food new life! 

    The cost of a Thanksgiving dinner also won’t seem quite as high if you know you can turn your leftovers into several more meals.

    Article Sources

    Works Cited
    1. Statistics Canada, “Consumer Price Index, August 2023,” accessed September 20, 2023.


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