Prepackaged or Homemade: The Least Expensive Ways to Fill Your Thanksgiving Table

The barren tress, colder weather, and dwindling Halloween candy can only mean one thing for your young family — Thanksgiving is almost here. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, families spent an average of $41 for a 10-person Thanksgiving feast in 2011. This will probably be a bit more in 2013 due to rise in items such as poultry and prepackaged boxes of stuffing or potatoes. However, you may not have to spend this much depending on how you prepare your meal.

Some families swear on boxed mac & cheese and cans of jellied cranberry sauce while others make everything from scratch. The question is, what saves more money as well as gives you tasty side dishes? Here are few comparisons to determine if you should make your items or buy them premade at the store.

Stuffing. During the holidays, brands like Stove Stop Stuffing cost as little as a $1.25. There are some stores that sell a twin pack for $2. Quick to prepare, cooks can add items like apples and additional seasoning to make it to their liking. Making a homemade stuffing may cost a bit more. For example, day-old bread, onions, garlic, and apples can cost upward of $5, plus the man hours needed ahead of time to chop everything up. In this situation, boxed stuffing looks like a winner.

Mashed Potatoes. All potato varieties are pretty inexpensive throughout the year. Stores like Sprouts tend to sell them for 90 cents a pound while places like Wal-Mart allow you to buy 10 pound bags for $4 or less. There’s probably no need to purchase the other ingredients for homemade mashed potatoes — butter, milk, seasoning — because you already have them in your refrigerator or pantry. And prep time is minimal to cut the potatoes, boil them, and mash them up. Yes, a large box of mash potato flakes cost around $3.50, but you end up with more potatoes burned in the pot than on the plate. Go with the homemade mashed potatoes.

Cranberry Sauce. This one is a toss-up. Many people, young and old, enjoy the consistency of the cranberry sauce that comes from the can, and at Thanksgiving it can be purchased for a dollar or less at most stores. Yet, there’s something about preparing homemade cranberry sauce that’s appealing. Not only can you find 12 oz. bags of cranberries for under $2 in most places, but preparation is very simple and the end result can be quite tasty and last for several meals afterward. Recommendations: try both this Thanksgiving and see what you want to do next year.

Gravy. Again, this is a flavor preference because the costs are so low. A jar of turkey gravy costs under $1.50 in most stores and prepares in minutes. For those looking to make homemade gravy, all that’s needed is the drippings from the turkey pan and some flour for a thickening agent. With flour being a staple around most houses, the cost for homemade gravy is practically nothing.

Pumpkin Pie. A pre-made pumpkin pie can cost anywhere from $3 at a supermarket to $6 or $7 at a farmer’s market or store like Whole Foods. Sometimes the bigger price means a better pie, other times it doesn’t. You can certainly make your own pie with $2 pie crusts and a $2 can of pumpkin puree, but the results may not be outstanding. Use your best judgment on this one.


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