Is it possible to throw a full Thanksgiving dinner for a big crowd when you're on a tight budget? Absolutely! In fact, we believe that the traditional Thanksgiving meal is one of the easiest ways to share a generous, bountiful meal while also watching your pennies.
Here's how to host Thanksgiving for 10 without breaking your budget, but without compromising on generosity and deliciousness all around the table.
Why a $100 Thanksgiving Budget?
When you're on a budget (and who among us isn't?) it's easy to throw Thanksgiving for just a few people. Buy a turkey breast and some potatoes and call it a day.
What's more challenging is throwing a full-on feast for our nearest and dearest with a laden table and all the trimmings. The costs for this bountiful meal can mount up quickly.
But, you say, what about potluck? Indeed, in my opinion, Thanksgiving is the ultimate potluck meal, and if you're hosting and coordinating, it's likely that you're making just one or two dishes and spreading the table, with others contributing everything from green beans to pumpkin pie.
However, this is not always the situation. Perhaps you're hosting Friendsgiving for a group of friends whose idea of a stellar potluck contribution is a six-pack of IPA. Or you have family visiting from far away, without the ability to bring food.
None of us like to feel limited by our budget or our circumstances, and this menu and plan are designed to put tools in your hands for doing more with less.
And why $100? That may be a lot of money to you! But as a budget for 10 people it's quite good, and it will even extend — as you'll see below — to a fun drink and decor for the table.
The point isn't necessarily to recreate this wholesale, but we hope that it gives you ideas for keeping your Thanksgiving simple and healthy in every way — for you, for your budget, for your family. Thanksgiving shouldn't leave you reeling.
The $100 Thanksgiving Menu: What to Make
Fortunately for the budget-conscious, Thanksgiving is a traditional meal that can be actually quite inexpensive. You don't need fancy ingredients or that $25/pound cheese to have a superb holiday meal. Here is our take on the absolute essentials, with recipes to guide you.
Turkey & Gravy
- Get the Recipes: How To Cook a Turkey & How To Make Turkey Gravy
- Staying on Budget: For 10 people, a smaller turkey is fine. Stick with a 12- to 14-pound turkey. Don't go overboard. You may eat every last scrap of meat, but you probably won't (unless you have serious turkey-lovers). For the gravy, broth is inexpensive at $2/box, but if you have homemade vegetable or chicken broth in your freezer, so much the better!
Classic Sage & Onion Stuffing
- Get the Recipe: Classic Sage & Onion Bread Dressing (Stuffing)
- Staying on Budget: Buy day-old bread at your grocery store bakery; I found bread for just $1 a loaf.
- Get the Recipe: Make-Ahead Mashed Potato Casserole
- Staying on Budget: We're recommending this dairy-heavy make-ahead mashed potato casserole for this menu just to keep your cooking easier on Thanksgiving itself. It does cost a little more since there is extra dairy, but I think it's worth it. If you want a plainer mashed potato recipe and have more time on Thanksgiving itself, then use this one: How To Make Perfect Mashed Potatoes for Thanksgiving.
Sweet Potato Gratin
- Get the Recipe: Sweet Potato Gratin with Smoky Breadcrumbs (Doubled)
- Staying on Budget: This is a simple yet luxurious sweet potato gratin you can assemble the night before. We suggest leaving the Parmesan out of the breadcrumb topping to save money on ingredients; it really doesn't need it.
Homemade Cranberry Sauce
- Get the Recipe: Very Basic Cranberry Sauce (Doubled)
- Staying on Budget: Basic cranberry sauce is inexpensive to make, and you can make it well ahead of the meal. We offer our very basic recipe here and suggest fancying it up with a few slices of fresh ginger for a spicy sauce.
- Get the Recipe: Classic Pumpkin Pie (Doubled)
- Staying on Budget: Surprisingly, it's actually often cheaper to buy pie dough than to make it from scratch, once you've factored in the costs of butter and flour. If pie dough is on sale, snatch it up and save yourself the trouble of making it.
Super Budget Sangria
- Get the Recipe: Super Budget Thanksgiving Sangria (Doubled)
- Staying on Budget: Yes, this budget can fit in wine! A nontraditional update to the classic red sangria, light and bubbly, is completely within this budget.
The $100 Thanksgiving Menu: What Guests Can Bring
Here are a few things that are always welcome at Thanksgiving, but won't necessarily be missed if no one can bring them. But if someone asks, "What can I bring?" direct them here.
- Green Salad or Side Dish
- Rolls or Bread, with Butter
- Extra Desserts
The $100 Thanksgiving: Shop & Plan
I shopped this whole menu at my local Kroger and came out spending about $90, including a bunch of flowers for the table. This still left room for a little more money to spend on the table, or some inexpensive napkins, if you need them.
More Tips for Budget Thanksgiving: 6 Ways to Host Thanksgiving When You're on a Budget
I didn't shop at Walmart or Aldi or another very budget-focused grocery store; I didn't use coupons, and nothing was particularly on sale. So there are ways this budget could still be compressed a little more.
Look for more Thanksgiving shopping tips and the full shopping list this Wednesday, and a cooking plan on Friday.
The $100 Thanksgiving: The Table
Now that the food is handled, what about all the other costs? After all, feeding 10 people often gets costly in other ways. What about the plates? The silverware? The pots and pans?
Look for a post on how to set a lovely table on a serious budget this coming Thursday.
The operative word here is borrow. Do you really need a roasting pan? Maybe not, but does your neighbor or coworker have one you can borrow? Get creative, too; you don't necessarily need a roasting rack or a huge platter.
When it comes to pots, pans, platters, and other needs, check out our lists and tips and see if you can borrow.
- What To Do If You Don't Have a Roasting Rack on Thanksgiving
- No Roasting Pan? 5 Alternatives Already In Your Kitchen
- What Cookware Do I Need to Make Thanksgiving Dinner? - Great comments here!
The Beauty of a Budget Thanksgiving
The budget Thanksgiving is not one of minimalism or scant resources. When I cooked through this menu last week I was reminded that the classic American Thanksgiving dishes are simple, hearty food — made from frugal ingredients like dried bread, broth, and seasonal vegetables like potatoes. These can be beautiful and incredibly delicious, when transformed with love and care into the dishes we all know and anticipate at the holidays.
Resisting the lure of that expensive cheese or one more box of butter not only keeps your budget healthy, but it also contributes restraint to a meal that is bountiful all on its own, in its traditions and its flavors.
Are you watching your budget this Thanksgiving? Tell us your best tips and advice for smart shopping and cooking, and stay tuned the next couple days as we fill out this menu with advice on budget drinks, a beautiful table, and more.