Nickel & Dine is a budget column by Rebecca Firkser, assigning editor at Food52. Rebecca usually shares an easy, flavor-packed recipe that feeds four for $10 or less—this is a special edition: a $30 Thanksgiving for six.
Do you hear “Thanksgiving dinner” and start to fret about your checking account balance? Because when I volunteer to host such a meal, I’m not worried about what anyone thinks of my mismatched plates or nervous about who won’t love what I’ve made (to these, I say “so what, who cares!”). But I do stress about money.
Calculating what the average American spends on Thanksgiving is a challenge, considering that no two families observe the holiday the same way. Just look at the surveys: A 2020 Lending Tree report discovered, after speaking with folks from numerous generations, that hosts planned to spend an average of $475 for a nine-person meal, shaking out to $52 per person. On the other hand, the American Farm Bureau found that in 2020, the average cost of Thanksgiving for 10 was about $49, or less than $5 per attendee (calculations made with the lowest possible price averages in the U.S.). I know that I myself typically end up spending over $100 for the food alone, regardless of the number of guests. For some, perhaps, this isn’t much, but for many, it’s simply out of the question, even on holidays.
Worse yet, the New York Times reports that 2021 might be the most expensive Thanksgiving on record. From the national food supply and supply chain to labor shortages and climate change, “nearly every component of the traditional American Thanksgiving dinner, from the disposable aluminum turkey roasting pan to the coffee and pie, will cost more this year, according to agricultural economists, farmers and grocery executives,” writes Kim Severson.
So what to do? I set out to find a solution. And, in an exciting turn of events, I discovered that you can make a great Thanksgiving dinner on a budget—for six people with $30, in fact.
This budget-friendly Thanksgiving menu was developed with current prices in mind, with ingredients purchased at real grocery stores in one of the U.S.’s most expensive cities. For context, Nickel & Dine isn’t about spending as little as possible; rather, sticking to a firm budget using money-saving tips to make meals that are deeply flavorful and exciting, not just cheap. Still, it felt only appropriate to shoot for about $5 per person here, exactly double the per person price of the usual four-serving, $10 Nickel & Dine meals—it is a holiday after all.
I know nothing says “Thanksgiving” like turkey, but turkeys, especially animal welfare-approved or certified humane birds, tend to cost upwards of $2 per pound, and more for Organic (plus, much of that weight counts for bones, and most turkeys available around Thanksgiving-time are at least 10 pounds). So, the question is, do we need a whole turkey, when chicken—tender, easy-to-prep chicken—is at the ready? Nope! Do we need multiple sides and multiple desserts when you could focus on one of each and, by the way, totally knock it out the park? We do not!
Behold, a budget-minded Thanksgiving menu that makes no apologies along the way. We’ve got a centerpiece-main (chicken, not turkey—don’t freak out!), a rich vegetable side (sweet potatoes and green beans make an appearance), and a dessert that’s so, so much easier than pie (and fills the cornbread-shaped hole in your heart).
Tender Chicken Legs With Schmaltzy Croutons
Chicken leg quarters (aka whole chicken legs) are one of the cheapest cuts of chicken per pound compared with the amount of meat on each bone (and speaking of bones, always save them after the meal in the freezer for stock). Roast the legs with lemon, onion, and garlic, then toss crusty bread in the rendered chicken fat until crisp and packed with flavor—all the holiday vibes of turkey and stuffing, with less cost, and less work too.
Blistered Green Beans & Sweet Potatoes With Tahini
For me, Thanksgiving is all about the sides, so I combined two classics—green beans and sweet potatoes—into a side dish anyone would welcome on their Thanksgiving table. While beans tend to be on the pricey side, sweet potatoes are cheap-cheap-cheap; a pound of each balances out each other, for a total of $5. The vegetables are charred, tossed in lemon and garlic, and served over a thick, creamy tahini sauce.
Apple-Cranberry Cornbread Biscuit Cobbler
I simply couldn’t decide between cornbread, apple pie, and cranberry sauce, so, why not all? Which led me to something special: a sweet, tangy cornbread biscuit cobbler. Significantly easier than a full-blown pie (who decided the most difficult dessert should be a thing on an already action-packed day?), this cobbler is just as good warm as it is room-temperature. You can bake it off first thing in the morning—and if you prefer, heat it up before serving when the oven’s free again.
As with every edition of Nickel & Dine, this meal was envisioned with a few assumed ingredients (olive oil, salt, pepper, and a couple other pantry staples). The price is also tailored to the amount of each ingredient you’ll need—for example, a 10-ounce jar of tahini may cost $6, but you only need ¼ cup in the recipe, so just about $1 goes into the budget breakdown. Still, everything you’ll need is included in the shopping list below. And if you’re curious, head to the individual recipes for the specific price breakdowns.
“What can I bring?” is a question a (good) guest will inevitably ask pre-Thanksgiving. Take them up on it! This meal doesn’t include drinks or appetizers, or other “extras.” Ask a guest to grab some seltzer cans—for drinking plain and cocktail-mixing; a few bottles of wine, beer, aperitifs, or digestifs; a bag of ice; some chips or crackers and a package of hummus; a plate of cut vegetables; post-meal tea or coffee. And I certainly wouldn’t be mad if anyone showed up at my door with a dish of homemade spinach-artichoke dip or a pumpkin pie. They’re extras, sure, but they’re never extra.
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