Holiday meals are such a wonderful time to spend time with friends and loved ones, and to enjoy the beautiful world of food while giving thanks. But sometimes holiday meals can be a stress on our budget.

And if you can fit in a 20-pound pastured turkey into your budget without strain, I might just envy you a teeny-tiny bit. But a holiday meal doesn't have to leave you in debt! Here are some ideas.

Share the burden

Guests are usually glad to bring a favorite dish with them to the celebration. And if they aren't into cooking or baking, they are often glad to bring along a beverage. Don't be afraid of sharing the burden with others.

Consider the leftovers

Make good use of the leftovers. Sure, it can be really expensive to buy that turkey, but you can generally make a huge pot of turkey stock out of the carcass, leading to many frugal and nourishing meals ahead. When you factor in how many meals you get out of mostly leftovers, the financial cost evens out a lot.

Save before the meal

Eating simple meals using the basics before a celebration is a great way to save some extra cash for a special meal. Perhaps forgo that fresh seafood, or the fancy coffees, or switch out a few typical meat-based meals for the week. If you use more expensive cuts of meat on a weekly basic, use inexpensive chicken drumsticks and ground beef for the week or two before the holiday.

Consider the cost

The average cost last year for a Thanksgiving meal for 10 people was $50. A year or two ago a local high-end market showed a shopping list for the basics for Thanksgiving using their nicer (and often organic) ingredients, and it priced about the same for a feast for six (Note: our area isn’t the cheapest place to buy food, and food costs vary by area in the U.S.). I looked through their suggested shopping list and noticed a couple of things that are helpful when considering your budget.

Many items were not expensive: First, I noticed that many “holiday food” items are pretty low priced normally. For example potatoes and sweet potatoes are not expensive (I buy mine in bulk bags for a better deal for organic).

It is just one meal. If you need to buy cheaper butter for pie crusts, mashed potatoes and your caramelized sweet potato dish, your health will survive it (though, yes, it’s always better tasting with the best butter!). If your budget doesn’t allow, not being a purist for a day is okay. You can still feed your family and friends a lovely meal using whole foods. For me, I buy a local, though not organic butter as my "compromise" butter. It's fairly yellow as the cows are pastured part of the time, but they are given non-organic feed too. It's a good compromise for me when I can't buy the best of the best for a large crowd.

Buy a turkey breast: You could consider just buying a turkey breast or two instead of a whole turkey. This works well when making a meal for a smaller family or gathering. If you don’t want to miss out on the stock, use the bones from the turkey breast with a couple pounds of turkey pieces (wings, legs, necks, etc) bought separately. If you are concerned that you won’t be able to make good use of the leftover, this is a great option. ( has a lot of great methods for cooking turkey breast). (Or you can just go vegetarian!)

Keep the meal simple but delicious

Pick your favorite dishes. Often we can get really carried away on Thanksgiving trying to get every single favorite dish in. But that is sometimes not really feasible for the workload required and for your budgeting. For example, our family favorite pie is apple, so I just make sure there I make that one. Pumpkin is my personal favorite, but I can make that some other day to enjoy.

Your meal could look something like this:

  • Roasted Turkey Breast with Gravy
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Candied Yams
  • Green Beans
  • Cranberry Salad
  • Apple Pie with Whipped Cream.

That’s quite the feast — even without rolls, stuffing, three kinds of pies, and a green salad! Sometimes it serves everyone, not just the cook, to keep the menu simple, so that you can concentrate on making everything well.

What else have I missed? Share your thoughts below!

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Related posts on MNN:

How to make a holiday meal on a budget
Overwhelmed by the price of that turkey? Here are some thoughts on helping your budget survive a holiday feast.