Planning Your Thanksgiving Menu

For those of you in Canada, happy Thanksgiving! For those of you in the US, you’ve still got six weeks until the big day. However, it’s not too early to start planning your menu, especially if you’ll be baking or require a lot of ingredients. Once you have your menu planned, make an ingredients list and check it against the store flyers every week. Buy whatever you can ahead of time, because you can always freeze it.


One of my favorites are cheesy olive puffs, which are delicious and can be baked ahead of time. Then you just throw them in the oven to rewarm them. Cheese and crackers are also a good, simple choice that don’t require much prep. For a fancy twist, wrap brie in puff pastry and bake it. Serve with slices of baguette.

Main Course

The main course is the turkey, obviously. I know some people like to get creative with ham or goose, but make sure the rest of your family will accept a non-turkey main dish on the big day before you decide to go untraditional.

When it comes to turkey, you have a few choices: fresh, frozen, kosher, pre-brined, etc. You can usually get a free frozen turkey from the grocery store with a $25 purchase. These aren’t necessarily the best turkeys, but free is good if you’re on a tight budget. If you choose this option, then you should plan your $25 shopping trip for the Saturday before Thanksgiving to ensure that the bird has time to defrost in your fridge. If you don’t get a free one, expect to pay anywhere from 19 cents to 59 cents a pound.

Fresh turkeys are more expensive than frozen, but you can usually pre-order them at the grocery store and request that they be held until Tuesday or Wednesday to save more space in your fridge. If you choose fresh, expect to pay 99 cents to $1.59 a pound.

Kosher and pre-brined birds are also more expensive, and are usually fresh. I’ve seen them priced up to $1.99 a pound. Some people say they taste better, but you should be careful with the pre-brined turkeys if you have any food allergy sufferers coming to dinner because it can be difficult to know what was used to prepare the bird.

Before buying your turkey, I would also plan your leftovers menu. For example, I make turkey soup and turkey chili, so I need sufficient leftovers for that. I also need beans and other ingredients. Add those to your shopping list so you can watch for sales. The general rule of thumb is 1.5 to 2 pounds of turkey per person if you want leftovers, or you can use this calculator. For me, it says 12 pounds, but I’ll probably do 14 just to make sure we have enough for my soups and my guests.

Side Dishes

The classic side dishes are rolls, stuffing, green beans, salad, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce. This is where you can really get creative though, so drag out your cookbooks and magazines to find something new and unusual. If you want to buy the sale items, choose a few options for sides and put all the ingredients on your list, then buy those that come up on sale.


Pie, either apple or pumpkin, is the traditional dessert. Homemade pie is nearly always cheaper than a store-bought pie, so either add that to your list or assign it to a guest who’s a good baker.


Once we get past Halloween, there will be weekly promotions on the popular items, so carry your list with you at all times. The circulars usually come out on Tuesday or Wednesday. Check your mailbox and plan to shop Wednesday or Thursday night of each week to ensure you get the best deals on everything you need, even if you usually shop on the weekends. Last year I found that the really amazing deals were gone from the shelves by the time I got there.

My List

As an example, here’s my Thanksgiving menu:
gravy made with drippings
green beans sprinkled with pecans
cranberry pecan salad
mashed potatoes
pumpkin pie
cheesy olive puffs
cheese and crackers
fancy nuts
cornbread and sage stuffing

Leftovers menu:
turkey soup
turkey chili

Then I would get out the recipes and list everything I needed:
Potatoes – 2 pounds (from the farmer’s market)
Turkey – fresh, 14 pounds
Dried cranberries – 1 bag
Chopped pecans – 1 bag
Green beans – 2 pounds (from the farmer’s market)
Lettuce – 4 heads (from the farmer’s market)
Canned cranberry sauce – 2 cans
Fancy nuts – 1 can
Jarred olives – 1 jar
Water chestnuts – 1 jar

As each item came on sale, I’d buy it and either put it in the cupboard or freezer to keep until it was time to start cooking. If you plan properly, you should be able to save significantly on your Thanksgiving meal without sacrificing your traditional dishes or new experiments. Last year I spent $25 for dinner for two. This year I’ll have six and I’m aiming to keep the price tag under $50.

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