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November 20, 2008

Thanksgiving on a Budget!

From the founders Lisa and Christine at PetitePalate, the makers of gourmet baby food, comes ten simple tips for a budget concious or friendly Turkey Day. And couldn't we all use a refresher no matter what the economic climate?

#1. Go potluck. Not only is this a huge cost-saver, it’s also a great opportunity to hold a pre-Thanksgiving gathering. Invite participating potluck-ers over to create an ultimate Thanksgiving menu, complete with everyone’s favorite dishes. Then, assign a dish to each person (because no one needs three portions of candied yams!).

If potluck just isn’t an option, try these tricks to keep the meal gourmet, natural, and cost-effective:

#2. Buy produce, including herbs, at a farmer's market. This allows you to cut out the middleman mark-up, plus you’ll be supporting local agriculture. Talk to the farmers and see how the food was grown. If you buy eggs, dairy or meat at the farmer's market, you can ask how the animals were raised and whether they were organically grown or grass fed. Extra Helpings: Hit the farmer’s market near the end of the day – the farmers will be eager to sell off their remaining inventory, putting you in a prime position to haggle for a better deal. The food will taste FRESH and delicious! Try a site like to find a farmer’s market near you.

#3. Focus on quality, not quantity. “Every Thanksgiving, my mother use to make enough food to feed an army,” notes Lisa. Leftovers are great, but going overboard often results in excess food being thrown away. If your family is small, try cooking just a turkey breast (with skin) on the bone instead of a whole bird. Or, if you are like Lisa, and LOVE dark meat, then try buying a half bird - you'll get one huge juicy breast and one thigh/leg.

#4. Get your bird from a local butcher. Butchers often carry high quality free-range or even wild turkey, and they’ll give you a fair price. They can also prepare the meat however you need it, allowing you to reduce waste. Christine: “I find that butchers have much better quality meat than grocery stores. They are closer to the source, meaning they have a better understanding of the meat that’s in their store – it sounds strange, but it’s true!” Extra Helpings: Start frequenting your local butcher on a regular basis. Once you develop a personal relationship, you can ask him/her to alert you early of good deals.

#5. Make a list. Avoid spending money on extra and unneeded supplies by planning your menu and creating a shopping list before you head to the grocery store. Check off the items as you put them in your cart to eliminate any mid-recipe drama (“I could have sworn I bought poultry seasoning!”). Extra Helpings: Try dividing your list into grocery store sections – produce, canned goods, dairy, etc. It saves loads of time and also reduces the chance that you’ll overlook something.

#6. Eat first, shop second. Never go to the grocery store on an empty stomach. Having something in your belly prevents impulse hunger buys that can bulk up your bill.

#7. Make your own stock. Don’t be intimidated by this one – it’s actually pretty simple, and significantly cheaper than the store-bought version. Use the scraps and bones from the bird and other chicken meals from earlier in the week, along with leftover vegetables and herbs that would otherwise be thrown away. Lisa: “I use homemade stock in just about everything: it tastes better than store-bought, and I can control the ingredient levels (less salt, no additives).” Extra Helpings: Cooking potatoes, yams or risotto in stock adds a delicious depth of flavor, and homemade stock, along with scraping from the roasting pan, yields the best gravy.

#8. Make it BYOB. Supplying alcohol for a crowd can get expensive, so don’t be bashful about asking guests to chip in by bringing a bottle of wine. Everyone appreciates the fact that you’re preparing dinner, and this way, they get to bring exactly what they like. (This is what in-laws are for!)

#9. Decorate with nature. There’s no need to purchase expensive centerpieces. Instead, look to your own backyard or a local park for colorful leaves and aromatic pinecones. Add in a few inexpensive gourds to create a one-of-a-kind seasonal display. Extra Helpings: A homemade centerpiece is a perfect project to keep the kids entertained while they’re waiting for dinner to be served. They’ll be proud of their creation and you’ll have one more holiday memory to treasure. (We're doing this at my house too. What kid doesn't want to help out?)

#10. Make the meal from scratch. If ever there is a time to roll up your sleeves and dig in, Thanksgiving is it. Throw on your favorite CD, open up your cookbook and hop to it! Forgoing the boxed stuffing, instant potatoes and canned gravy will cost less money and taste better, plus, you’ll be able to control the ingredients. Extra Helpings: Does cooking an entire Thanksgiving meal from scratch sound like a daunting task? Make it easier on yourself by enlisting help from family members. Little ones can set the table, while older kids and spouses/significant others can peel vegetables, measure spices and mash potatoes.

10. Keep it SIMPLE! We’ve saved the most important tip for last. Don’t go crazy preparing an endless array of complex, time-consuming recipes. Opt for one extra-special side that you know everyone loves, and then focus on a select number of straightforward dishes (baked sweet potatoes, simple bread stuffing, corn niblets) that are appealing to the eye and the palate.