Families are ready to get back together after more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, but rising prices could cloud Thanksgiving plans.
Grocery prices have risen some 13 percent, according to government reports, and bird flu has made turkey prices soar. But there are ways to curb your spending without curbing your appetite for a hearty Thanksgiving meal.
Food economists suggest sticking to just four or five dishes and letting them shine. Spread out the pain with a potluck and make use of your time and your freezer by cooking ahead and stocking up on sales.
Here are five ways to save on the Thanksgiving meal this year.
Buy whole foods
Doing the labor yourself saves big when it comes to food preparation.
Get a bunch of carrots and peel them yourself rather than those little bags of pre-cut baby carrots. Diced pancetta may be convenient, but you have to pay more. Chopping bacon only takes a few swipes with a sharp knife.
A whole butternut squash can typically feed five to six people, whereas pre-cubed butternut squash is more expensive per pound. If you end up with way more squash or carrots than you expected, blanch or roast any extra. They can then be frozen and used for a future soup or salad.
Make it yourself
Remember when everyone was learning to bake bread during the pandemic? Making your own bread products is much cheaper than buying them at the store.
For example, a pack of dinner rolls can cost upwards of $3. With simple pantry ingredients such as flour, yeast and salt, you can make twice as many rolls for a fraction of the price per roll. Did you know you can freeze rolls ahead of time, too? They thaw nicely and can be reheated in the oven.
Stuffing can be made with stale bread that you can sock away in the freezer for weeks until it’s time to make it.
Prices for frozen and refrigerated bakery products like pies, tarts and turnovers are up 20.4%, according to federal reports, which makes a homemade version even more appealing.
Homemade cranberry sauce looks impressive to guests. They don’t need to know how ridiculously easy it is make — the equivalent of boiling water. Just pour fresh cranberries in a pan, add some orange juice and ginger or cinnamon and let it come to a boil. It will thicken as it simmers. This can be made weeks in advance as well.
16 ounces fresh cranberries, picked over and rinsed
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2 cups granulated sugar
½ cup water
½ cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
Finely grated zest from 1 orange
Combine all of the ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the berries pop open, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Skim foam off the surface with a metal spoon and discard. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate, covered, for up to 3 months.
Save on turkey
According to Butterball’s Thanksgiving Outlook Report, 85 percent of those hosting the holiday in 2022 are planning on serving the bird. But it still tends to be one of the — if not the most — expensive parts of a Thanksgiving meal, and prices are on the rise.
Frozen turkey is cheaper than fresh. Frozen birds are typically processed at the beginning of the year, before the bird flu impacted 2022 production.
Turkey parts such as legs and sometimes turkey breast can be less per pound. Consider a smaller turkey this year and focus on the sides. Or consider an alternative meat, like roasted chicken.
One of the best ways to fit turkey into your budget is to use it as the main ingredient in meals after Thanksgiving. Turn leftovers into dishes like soup (save those bones for this), and you can freeze it for easy meals in the future.
The Florida Department of Agriculture puts out a monthly guide of what is in season that you can use to help spot sales. The Thanksgiving favorites of squash, corn and snap beans are in season. And the salad-friendly crops to look for include avocado, bell pepper, cucumber, mushrooms and tomatoes.
The Fresh From Florida website has a recipe for seasonally available eggplant and roasted vegetables that would make a lovely side dish.
1 Florida eggplant, large dice
1 zucchini, large dice
1 yellow squash, large dice
1 pint cherry tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 to 6 leaves basil, torn
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prep all ingredients as stated above. In a baking pan, add the cherry tomatoes, 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper; mix to coat and set aside. In a separate baking pan, add all the remaining ingredients, 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper. Do not add the basil at this point. Place both pans in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until desired tenderness. Remove the pans and combine ingredients into one bowl. Add torn basil leaves.
Make it a potluck
Instead of taking on all the responsibility for the celebration, opt for a potluck and have guests bring a side like a salad or mashed potatoes or dessert.
This takes the onus of cost off the host, and helps focus on giving thanks for friends and family gathering together again.