By Sara Bristoll

Thanksgiving can be such a fun time, but to some, it’s synonymous to stress, chaos and spending too much money on food. For Sara, a member of our Marketing team, hosting Thanksgiving dinner is fun-filled and fabulous! Here’s how she keeps her costs down and her cool on this normally stressful day.

I absolutely love hosting get-togethers when food is involved. There’s something about cooking for others that brings me joy, especially when I’m experimenting with new recipes or making a favorite dish. Unfortunately, hosting can become very expensive and food costs can get out of hand quickly. Gatherings for holidays, like Thanksgiving, present a unique challenge to my spending plan when more than 20 family members say they’re stopping by for dinner. Over the years, I’ve learned how to keep my costs under budget, and my stress-levels under control, while presenting a delicious meal.

  • Limit Your Menu: Once I attended a Thanksgiving dinner with 20 different side dishes and only 10 guests. You wouldn’t believe how much food was left over! Decide on five must-have sides, maybe that includes your aunt’s green bean casserole or mom’s garlic mashed potatoes, and stick with those. Less food to cook means fewer expenses, and less of a headache trying to juggle cooking the day of your get-together.
  • Have Someone Bring Dessert: There always seems to be someone in the family that insists on bringing something, so indulge them. Ask them to bring a couple of pies, or split the chore up between a few family members assigning each one a different pie. If you’re the baker in the family, ask one or two people to bring side dishes instead.
  • Make A Shopping List: It may seem like common sense to go to the store with a shopping list for a big day, but it also seems that there is one or two things you forget to pick up and several things that end up in your cart for no reason. Pull out your recipes before you go shopping; make a list of everything you need and set aside the ingredients you already have. Then, when you’re at the store, strictly follow the list.
  • Take Advantage of Discounts: The weeks leading up to Thanksgiving are generally the best time to stock up on boxed and frozen goods. However, most of these items are filled with sodium and preservatives. You can make cranberry sauce with a bag of cranberries, water and sugar – usually for under $2. Buy what’s fresh and on sale. You’ll also notice several grocery stores in the Valley typically offer a free turkey with minimum purchase. Taking advantage of this can save you $20 or more on your Thanksgiving meal!
  • Stock Up to Donate: Thanksgiving is all about food, family, fun and giving thanks for what we have. When you’re at the store shopping for your Thanksgiving dinner this November, be sure to pick up an extra can or two and put it in the food donation box; there may be someone counting on that donation to feed their family on this day.
  • Buy or Borrow a Roaster – If you can afford an on-the-counter roaster, pick one up, or try to borrow one from a friend. They’re easy to use and don’t take up any oven space, freeing your oven for heating side dishes.
  • Prepare the Night Before – Not all dishes need to be prepared the same day. Macaroni and cheese, and mashed potatoes are great examples of dishes that can be made the night before and refrigerated in a casserole dish. Thanksgiving Day, pop them in the oven for at least an hour to warm them through.
  • Limit Who’s In the Kitchen – There’s nothing worse than trying to cook with people in the way. So give your guests something to do that keeps them out of the kitchen – and out of your hair! Some ideas include setting the table, putting appetizers and snacks in another room/outside or even giving them all a game to play until dinner is ready.

Put these holiday cooking rules to the test! Which ones did you find the most useful? What tricks do you use to keep you from having a meal-meltdown? Share with us!