Thanksgiving on a Budget

Thanksgiving is a holiday that isn’t always as thankful as it should be — while Thanksgiving should be about things you are thankful for, and spending time with your family, you don’t always feel thankful. 🙂 After spending hours upon hours at the grocery store, and then spending all day cooking dinner for a few moments together at dinner, and then several more hours cleaning up the mess while members of your family watch football, it’s sometimes hard to find things to be thankful for and even more difficult to stay on budget.  While you’re losing your sanity trying to create the best possible Thanksgiving for your family, most of your guests won’t even notice, or care, if you’re doing everything on a budget.

You’ll need a few decorations to liven up the holiday spirit, and some food to make everyone feel at home.

Thanksgiving “Potluck”

One way to keep the budget lower and your sanity intact is to ask everyone to bring an item. While you’re baking turkey,  or whipping up mashed potatoes, someone else can bring the green bean casserole, apple or pumpkin pie, and yams, or whatever your family likes. If you don’t have to make everything yourself, you won’t be as tired at the end of the day, won’t have to spend as much money for ingredients, and you’ll have more time and energy to enjoy the family, and friends that are there to spend time with you.

So, let’s get started. Thanksgiving just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without turkey, so you’ll either need to find a way to obtain the turkey inexpensively (your local foodbank will provide you one if you go on their appointed days and times, for free), or, if you choose to purchase a turkey, you can often get a free, or very low priced turkey if you spend a certain amount. Another alternative would be to scrap the whole turkey and opt for turkey breast, or drumsticks instead. Since supply and demand dictates price, and the general population is demanding whole turkey, turkey breasts, and drumsticks are much less expensive.

Buying a 10-pound bag of potatoes is often less expensive than a 5-pound bag, but get what will work best for your family. In my local grocery store, it’s $1.68 for a 5lb. bag of potatoes, but for just $1.30 more, I can get a 10lb bag of potatoes — that’s an extra 5lbs of potatoes for only a small amount more. If the cost of the potatoes are too expensive, or you don’t feel you could use 5lbs or 10lbs of potatoes, opt for instant mashed potatoes (another item your local foodbank will provide for free if you go).

Making gravy is easy and inexpensive since you can often make it with pantry items you already have on hand. Just take the turkey drippings, add in 1/3-1/2 cup of flour, and enough broth, or bouillon to give it a spoonable consistency, cooking it on medium until it boils, and then reducing it to low while stirring often.

Rolls, or biscuits are often staples at a Thanksgiving meal. Make them yourself to save money, or pick up a pack for a couple of dollars. Thankfully, a package of rolls isn’t more than a couple of dollars, so you can grab some without sacrificing your budget, unless your family is like mine and you need a gluten-free alternative, as my husband is celiac (allergic to gluten). In that case, making rolls is your only alternative if you don’t want to spend much money — our go-to gluten-free roll recipe is: Gluten-Free Pull Apart Dinner Rolls.

Jello parfait is also a very inexpensive side dish at a Thanksgiving meal. Just mix up a package of instant Jello (following package directions), and then once it is completely set, cut the Jello up into small pieces, and then mix in a cup, or two of whipped cream.

Stuffing is likely going to be your most expensive Thanksgiving item. Using dried herbs rather than fresh, if you have them in your pantry, will save you money. Just remember that you generally use fewer dried herbs than you would fresh. Here is a recipe from Recipe4Living, and another one from Epicurious for traditional stuffing that uses items you likely have in your pantry (unless, of course, you opt for the fresh versions of the herbs that they ask you to use).

Finally, you must have a dessert, and what would Thanksgiving be without a traditional Pumpkin Pie recipe? Here is a pumpkin pie recipe that won’t break the bank, if you purchase the items while they are on sale in the few days (maybe even a week) before Thanksgiving. Here is a great recipe from


Now that you have the food under control, it’s time to think about decorations. One simple decoration, that serves dual purpose as a way to keep kids occupied, is to take Kraft paper and roll it across your table as a tablecloth. You can add your own drawings, or even trace around your place settings to add some dĂ©cor, but one of the best things about this brown paper tablecloth is that it entertains the kids of all ages who are waiting for dinner! Perhaps ask each person to write something they are thankful for — this will help them to remember their answers now, and then later, the tablecloth can be folded and kept as a memento, or can be cut apart and easily turned into scrapbook memorabilia.

Napkin Rings.  These turkey napkin rings are easy, inexpensive, and adorable. You can use any kind of felt — you don’t have to use the felt recommended in the article. 🙂

Dual purpose decoration and dessert. These cute little Candy and Cookie Turkeys can serve as both decoration before dinner, and dessert after dinner. Everyone — young, and old — will love these adorable candy and cookie turkeys that can be made fairly inexpensively — especially if you remember they serve two purposes, and you likely won’t have them on the table long enough to need to clean them up after dinner! 🙂

Can of gold, copper, or orange spray paint and leaves, pinecones, and acorns. You can make anything look more expensive with a can of spray paint. Get leaves from your yard, or a local park, lay them out on a piece of cardboard and spray paint them with gold, copper, and orange, and you’ll have some gorgeous dĂ©cor to lay on your table.  Gather some pinecones, or acorns from under your tree, spray paint them and, after dried, place them in a bowl with some unused pillar candles from your local dollar store for a creative and decorative centerpiece. When painted in gold, copper, or silver, pinecones can be reused for a Christmas centerpiece at a later time.




Crisis Recipes

The following recipes, while not all fully-balanced, or completely healthy, will give you something to feed your family if you are on as tight a budget as we are. I try to use, or come up with recipes that will use items I already have in my pantry, or that will use items that we receive from the foodbank, or our local church’s food pantry.  At this time, I am only going to post a couple of recipes in each category, but as my list grows, or you all submit your own recipes, I’ll eventually add categories for them on this blog.


Omelets, chocolate chip pancakes, quiche, and German Pancakes are some of the items my family loves for inexpensive recipes, and so will be featured today. Add in some fruit (canned, or fresh), and you’ve got a meal.

Omelets and quiche are great ways to use up leftovers from your fridge. Use any leftover meat, cheese, or veggies, to spruce up omelettes, and quiche.


  • 1 Tbsp butter, or margarine
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp milk
  • Dash pepper
  • 1 cup grated cheese

For an omelette, melt butter in a skillet, and then beat together the eggs, salt, pepper, and milk, until fluffy. Then, pour the egg mixture into a skillet, and cook over medium heat.  When the eggs are done, but still glossy, add in whatever leftovers you wish to use, and the cheese. Omelettes and quiche are flexible this way, allowing you to add whatever you have on hand, using up leftovers, and still end up with a delicious product! Some things we have added to ours include: sausage, onions, green pepper, bacon, cheddar cheese, pepper jack cheese, mozzarella, and leftover roast.

Recipe Taken from: Where’s Mom Now that I Need Her? Surviving Away from Home, by: Betty Rae Frandsen, Kathryn J. Frandse, and Kent P. Frandsen

Chocolate Chip Pancakes

For chocolate chip pancakes, we generally use Bisquick, making the pancakes  as directed, but then add a little sugar and vanilla. For a serving of 20 pancakes, this would mean we would add 1/2 package of mini chocolate chips, 1/2 cup sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla to the recipe listed on the box, and cook them as recommended on the package. When they came off the griddle, we would add a dollop of whipped cream and a few (maybe 5 or 6 additional mini chocolate chips for garnish, on top of the whipped cream. Yum!


  • 3 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 cup grated cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder, or 1/2 cup chopped onions
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup Biscuit baking mix
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Dash of pepper

Grease a pie plate, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle bacon, cheese and onions over the bottom of the pan. Beat eggs and milk together, and add remaining ingredients, and whisk until well mixed. Pour into the pie plate, on top of the bacon and cheese mixture. Add just a little more cheese onto the top (maybe ÂĽ cup, if desired). Bake at 350 for 50-55 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

Recipe taken from: Where’s Mom Now that I Need Her? Surviving Away from Home, by:
Betty Rae Frandsen, Kathryn J. Frandsen, and Kent P. Frandsen

German Pancakes

  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Put 2 Tbsp butter, or margarine into each of two pie pans, and put into cold oven. While oven preheats to 400, combine eggs, salt, flour, and milk in mixing bowl and mix well on medium, stopping to scrape sides and bottom once, or twice to ensure it’s fully mixed (be sure to check on pans in oven frequently, and pull out once the butter has fully melted. Using a silicone brush, or a spatula, spread butter around pan to get on all sides. Pour half the batter into each pie pan, and place back in oven. Bake at 450 for 15-20 min or until pancakes have puffed up and are golden brown speckled on top. Immediately invert onto plate, and sprinkle with approx. ¼ cup of powdered sugar on each. Makes 2 German pancakes. Cut with pizza cutter, and serve with syrup, warm jam, or warm fruit.


Tuna Salad

  • 2 cans of tuna
  • 3/4 cup mayo
  • Lemon Pepper to taste

Drain tuna.  In a large bowl, mix together drained tuna, and mayo. Add lemon pepper to taste. Chill for two hours. Enjoy!

Egg Salad

  • 6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
  • 1/4-1/2 cup mayo
  • 1/2 tsp dijon mustard, or yellow mustard
  • 1/4 tsp paprika, or more to taste

In a large bowl, mash up eggs. Add in all remaining ingredients. Stir well. Chill for two hours.


Corn Dog Muffins

  • 1 box cornbread mix
  • 1 package of hot dogs, chopped into very small pieces
  • Cupcake liners

Put liners in muffin tin, or grease muffin cups with butter, or shortening. Mix cornbread according to package instructions, but while cornbread mixture is still in the mixing bowl, add chopped hot dogs.  Stir well. Fill each muffin tin 3/4 full and bake according to cornbread box instructions. They’re done when the corndog muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. We eat our cornbread muffins with mustard and ketchup. Yum! Serve with green beans and applesauce, if desired.

Seven Can Chicken Tortilla Soup

  • 14 oz can chicken (do not drain)
  • 14 oz can corn (do not drain)
  • 2 cans (14.5 oz) chicken broth
  • 10 oz can mild enchilada sauce
  • 10 oz can diced tomatoes with green chilies
  • 10 oz can black beans (drained and rinsed)

After simmering has been completed, you’ll add:

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • Tortilla chips

Dump all canned ingredients into a large pot and bring to a boil, draining and rinsing only the black beans. Let simmer on low for 30 min, stirring occasionally, then add the sour cream, and cheddar cheese. Continue to simmer and stir occasionally until cheese is melted. Serve with crushed tortilla chips.  This is one of our family’s favorite recipes, and it’s so inexpensive and easy! Unserved soup can be frozen and reheated.

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

This is my kids favorite meal — even my pickiest eater loves this recipe!

  • 1 lb. mild Italian sausage
  • 2 (15 oz) jars, or cans, of spaghetti sauce
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 package of spaghetti noodles, cooked and drained

Brown sausage in pan on stovetop. Add in spaghetti sauce, and italian seasoning. Let simmer for 30 minutes. Add in cooked noodles and stir, or pour over noodles to serve restaurant style. If it makes more sauce than you wish, freeze half the sauce for a future meal. Makes 6-8 servings.


Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies were my husband’s grandfather’s favorite recipe. Each time we brought them, made with Splenda, he’d be so happy. I hope you enjoy them as much as he did.

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies

  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup sugar, or original Splenda
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. In a microwave safe bowl, mix together peanut butter, and sugar. Cook for 30 seconds on medium high. Stir. Cook for an additional minute, or two, stirring every 3 seconds until peanut butter mixture is runny. Add in beaten egg, and vanilla. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheet. Bake 5-7 minutes, or until tops just start to crack.

Peppermint Meringue Cookies

A co-worker used to make these. They are amazing, inexpensive and easy. What more can you ask for?

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tarter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 peppermint candy canes, crushed

Preheat oven to 225. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a large glass or metal mixing bowl, beat egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar to soft peaks. Gradually add sugar, continuing to beat until whites form stiff peaks. Drop by spoonfuls 1 inch apart on the prepared cookie sheets. Sprinkle crushed peppermint candy over the cookies.

Bake for 1 1/2 hours in preheated oven. Meringues should be completely dry on the inside. Do not allow them to brown. Turn off oven. Keep oven door ajar, and let meringues sit in the oven until completely cool. Loosen from foil with metal spatula. Store loosely covered in cool dry place for up to 2 months.

Taken from Peppermint Meringue Cookies




Inexpensive and Fun Halloween Food

Spiderweb Brownies

These spooky brownies are super-easy to make! I learned about them from Delish – Cobweb Brownies You basically just make up any boxed brownie recipe or use your favorite brownie recipe, then melt marshmallows in a small pan, stirring constantly. Warning! Don’t put marshmallows in the microwave – they enlarge and enlarge and then they explode!  These brownies are boo-tiful, and the kids absolutely love how the marshmallows are thin, gooey, and stretchy.

Stove-top Buttered Popcorn

Whether it’s Halloween, or just a night when you want to curl up with a great big bowl of popcorn to watch your favorite movie, this popcorn is to die for! My family absolutely loves it when I make stove-top buttered popcorn. The secret to making it is to clarify your butter first. Clarifying butter is a fast process, and is well-worth the small amount of effort it takes. Put an entire stick of butter in a microwave-safe bowl and melt the butter on high 30 seconds at a time until it is completely melted. Let the butter sit for 5 minutes to congeal a bit, allowing the “fat” to rise to the top. Then, scrape the fat off the top and wait another 5 min. Keep letting the butter cool and then scrape off the fat until the butter is all clear. Now, you’re ready to make your popcorn. Put 1 Tbsp. oil in the bottom of a pan and turn the stove top on to medium. When a tiny bit of water dances on the oil, then the oil is ready for the popcorn. Add 1 cup of popcorn to the oil in the pan, and put the lid on the pan. Once the popcorn starts popping, you can turn the heat off the stove and continue allowing it to pop until the popping slows. Then, remove the popcorn from the burner, pour your clarified butter over the top, and add salt to your liking. I generally need to make 2 or 3 batches of this to feed my family of five because they love this so much!

Octopus and Seaweed

Octopus and seaweed is a fun, inexpensive meal to make anytime. It is made from Ramen noodles, green food coloring and hotdogs, and mustard. Make Ramen noodles according to package directions and then remove the noodles from the broth and drain them. Add green food coloring to the noodles until it is a dark enough green for it to represent seaweed. To make the octopus, just cut the bottom half of a hotdog lengthwise in half, and then cut each of those halves in half the same way.  One more time, cut each half into half until you have 8 very thin legs. Very carefully, dot mustard on to the hotdog to create a face. Two mustard dots for the eyes, and a mustard line for the mouth. Then carefully, set the octopus on top of the seaweed.

Boogers on a Stick

Want a fun Halloween appetizer that completely grosses out your guests? I found this on Pumpkinnook and believe it is a great idea if you want to truly gross someone out. My kids thought it was a gross idea, and were unsure about whether they would want to try it, or not, but ultimately decided they wanted me to make it. I guess gross is still something fun!

Eyeball Taco Salad

This is a fun, main meal dish that can be whipped up quickly with just a few ingredients. Found at Kraft Recipes, this recipe is PERFECT for entertaining. It’s just spooky enough to get people talking, while filling enough to keep them from leaving hungry.  


Monster Faced Salami

This is SUPER EASY and such a blast! Just take a beef salami log cut into very thin pieces and then use mustard to dot on eyes and a scary face.

Spider Mac N Cheese

My kids absolutely LOVE macaroni and cheese. This recipe is a great way to fill the tummies of the people you care about while having fun at the same time. Check it out at Kraft!

I hope you have a great time at your Halloween party! Leave a comment if you have more inexpensive Halloween food ideas, or if you have a suggestion for a future article. As for me and my family, we will be enjoying all of these recipes on Halloween night! If you decide to try them, too, I hope you will have a spooktacular event! 🙂