Eating for Less at Thanksgiving

leeannrubsam.com

I laugh when I see those yearly articles in the newspaper announcing that the price of Thanksgiving dinner is getting beyond what Americans can afford.  This year they are trying  to convince us that the cost per head will run about $4.50 each. I think I can do it for half that or less. No doubt the problem is all the prepackaged this, that, and the other thing.  We don’t do that at our house unless it is cheaper to do so — which is probably one of the reasons I hate cooking Thanksgiving dinner.  Hidden in the following advice for a cheap Thanksgiving, you will find some other reasons as well.

Here is Lee Ann’s sage list for how to do an economical Thanksgiving dinner that tastes good:

Save on water bills by serving all cooked components of the meal right in the pots they were heated in.  It will conserve on dishwater, which translates into $$$ you keep in your pocket.  And you won’t labor over washing so many dishes, either.  This is only a bonus if you are the only dishwashing appliance your house contains (which is my sad condition).

I actually tried serving a la pot for Thanksgiving the first year we were married.  It is the way I normally serve dinner at our house 364 days a year, when we don’t have guests looking on.  I am not one with an appetite for elegance.  However, my mother does hunger for elegance – at least when she eats at my house.  Ever since the first year, I have opted for paying the extra dishwater money.  It saves on disapproving mother-lectures.

Skip the real potatoes and go for the instant mashers.  Buy them cheap at Aldi or Sav-a-Lot.  For that matter, buy everything cheap at one of those two outlets.

My mother, the Thanksgiving connoisseur by which all things must be measured, informed me all through my growing-up years that instant mashed potatoes were “pig slop.”  Well, no, she didn’t really say that, but it was implied.  She never went back a second time to any restaurant that served instant potatoes.

I am the adventurous and sometimes lazy type, though, and thought, “What could be so bad about potatoes that look like bleached wood chips, only cost $.99, and cook up in five minutes?”

The secret to good instant mashers that your kids and your persnickety mother will love is using twice the amount of milk called for, instead of all that water.  Use more flakes, too.  If the potatoes are so runny that they drip off your spoon, Mom will know!  They need to be thick.

The first year I dared to serve them for Thanksgiving, my mother could not tell she was getting instants.  She oohed and aahed over those potatoes.  I confessed their true nature, and the second year she asked, in the days leading up to the big event, if we could have those lovely instant spuds again.

Don’t buy Stove-Top Stuffing.  Make your own.  If you like the stove-top taste and convenience, you will need to have a kid or husband who will not eat the heels of the bread loaf.  Do not throw the heels out for the squirrels.  Peanuts are much more healthful for the little varmints.  Dry those bread heels, break them up into cubes and stick them in air-tight containers until you are ready to use them (unless you enjoy the added protein and flavor of weevils).

If you need a recipe for the proper amount of water and seasonings to make this one turn out right, I’m sure someone listed in Google can help you out.  If not, I’ve got a great recipe.  Call me for blow-by-blow coaching at 1-900-STUFFIN before 5:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.  After 5:00 we will be in the midst of eating, and it will cost you twice the price.

In truth, I only do the homemade stove-top stuff when it’s just my immediate family.  When extended relatives are with us, we do real stuffing in the oven.  My mom does not agree that I do real stuffing, since I refuse to stick it in the turkey’s insides.  I suppose she is right.  If it isn’t stuffing something, technically it isn’t “stuffing” (although if the meal turns out right, some of the relatives will certainly be stuffed when it’s over).  Oh, let’s just call it dressing, then, to keep the peace.

I don’t stuff the turkey’s former intestinal cavity because the idea is repulsive to me.  Think what was in there before!  Besides, if you put the dressing in there, it absorbs blood and fat, all of which I can skim off before using the juice in the dressing I cook in a casserole dish.  Stuffing bird is also a lot more work.  Scraping it out is a lot of work, too.

My mom says my dressing is not as good as hers because I do not stick it in the intestinal cavity.  Perhaps she likes the taste of bone marrow and blood and fat in her dressing.  She has also expressed a loathing for the bits of celery I add in.  I have learned to compromise with her by chopping the celery in large pieces so that she can pick them out before slopping the gravy over the top.

Make your own low-fat gravy.  That runny stuff out of the can is expensive, and it has no substance to it.  When you make your own, make sure it has a few stick-to-your-ribs lumps in it, so that everyone knows it did not come from a can.  Seriously, I don’t have too much trouble with lumps.  If you go to my web site, I’ll give you some tips on perfectly lumpless gravy that will wow even your in-laws — http://www.look-ma-no-lumps.com.

Sara Lee makes pies cheaper than you can — but only at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I used to do pies from scratch.  The mess is deplorable.  Sometimes, so is the result.  I don’t know who Mrs. Smith or Sara Lee are, but they do a bang-up job on pie.  I can only hope their pie ingredients do not come from China.  Melamine or chicken doo-doo in my pie crust does not sound like my idea of a good time.

Volunteer your mom to make the fresh cranberry sauce.  I don’t care too much if my cranberries come out of an Ocean Spray can, but the extended relatives do.  I can’t make the fresh sauce right.  You see, I follow the instructions on the bag, and when I use only the cup of sugar the recipe calls for, it puckers the elderly relatives’ mouths.  My mom is not afraid to put three cups of sugar in, and when she does that, she is happy with the way they taste.  I should do it her way, but it grosses me out, throwing all that sugar in.  So I let her do it and try not to think about all the sugar beets that died for me while eating it.

That, my friends, is how I save money and family relationships at Thanksgiving. 

leeannrubsam.com  

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