How to cook Thanksgiving dinner on a budget with the high prices on staple foods

Many Americans are preparing for Thanksgiving dinner, but food prices are high on everything from turkey to staples like butter and flour. Stephanie Sy recently spent a day in the San Diego area following one food blogger making her holiday meal on a budget.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    This week, many Americans are preparing for Thanksgiving dinner, but food prices are high on everything from turkey to staples like butter and flour.

    That's led to a 20 percent increase in the cost of the average Thanksgiving dinner since last year.

    Stephanie Sy recently spent a day in the San Diego area following one food blogger making her holiday meal on a budget.

  • Jessica Fisher, Good Cheap Eats:

    If I want to use a lot of onions, I'm going to save more by buying the bag.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Just days before Thanksgiving, food blogger Jessica Fisher is hungry for deals.

  • Jessica Fisher:

    Even if you didn't use all of them, you could chop it and freeze what's left.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And knows how to find them.

  • Jessica Fisher:

    And $3 blueberries.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    It's her mission to help families enjoy delicious meals on a budget.

  • Jessica Fisher:

    The generic is always going to be cheaper, unless you find a really killer clearance sale. When you look at the cans, in many cases, they're packaged in the same manufacturer. They just put a different label on it.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    You're just paying a buck more for the label?

  • Jessica Fisher:

    Right. Right.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Stephanie Sy:

    She says, ahead of the holidays, shop generic brand items and seek out grocery stores with competitive prices.

  • Jessica Fisher:

    So, these are the perfect colors. And, for a $1.50, that's a pretty good deal.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Another tip? Check the clearance rack for hidden treasures like out-of-season sprinkles.

  • Jessica Fisher:

    Eden (ph), you go ahead and put the beaks on.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Are those the beaks? OK.

    Back home, the sprinkles work just fine for her signature cinnamon roll turkeys. Her daughters, Cana (ph) and Eden, help mom shape them using frozen dough.

    A lot of people do have those cinnamon rolls just sitting in their freezer.

  • Jessica Fisher:

    Right. Right. Well, and they go on sale this time of year. You can find coupons, and you can also just make a homemade dough for fairly cheap too.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Fisher says her money-saving system takes just a few simple steps and some planning ahead for Thanksgiving favorites like stuffing.

    Using cheaper dried herbs and staying on the lookout for deals throughout the year on items with a longer shelf life can save a fortune.

  • Jessica Fisher:

    I bought this after last Thanksgiving…

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Oh, wow.

  • Jessica Fisher:

    … for 50 cents, because they had too many, and I was sure to check the price.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Oh, that is good until 2023. This is the cheapest stuffing ever.

  • Jessica Fisher:

    Yes.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Overall grocery prices are up over 12 percent from last year. Poultry prices, including turkey, are up nearly fifteen percent. The cost of staples has grown dramatically. Butter has risen nearly 27 percent and flour nearly 25 percent.

    Fisher, a mother of six, started her Good Cheap Eats food blog in 2009 after paying off $18,000 of debt. She is now the author of three cash-saving cookbooks. She says cooking delicious meals doesn't have to be tough on your bottom line.

  • Jessica Fisher:

    Good Cheap Eats is all about realizing that you don't have to sacrifice really great flavors just because you don't have an unlimited budget.

    I can't control the mortgage, I can't control the price of gas, but I can control what goes in my grocery cart.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    It's a skill she thinks is as useful as ever, as inflation squeezes many families like hers. Fisher says rule number one is shop your kitchen before you shop the store.

  • Jessica Fisher:

    If I'm going to make a relish tray for Thanksgiving, I'm going to look, OK, what I could add. Artichoke hearts. I could do pickle, just lots of different things that you might want to just see, what do we already have before we go buy more?

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Right, because people forget what's stuffed in the back there.

  • Jessica Fisher:

    Right.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Everything she needs for this classic Midwestern appetizer she already had. That saves money. And Fisher says time is money too.

  • Jessica Fisher:

    I am so excited about this trick, because, when I realized I could do this, I was like, yes!

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Her top Turkey Day tip is preparing a stock box with the veggie scraps while preparing the main meal, so there's no excuse to waste a good turkey carcass after the guests have left.

  • Jessica Fisher:

    There's celery. There's parsley. There's bay leaf. There's even some peppercorns down in the bottom.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    What this really says to me is, you're not wasting anything. And that is a big part of budgeting.

    After throwing the turkey bones and stock box content in a slow cooker, she can forget about it for hours, but freezes the stock to use throughout the year.

    Planning for leftover meals is another Good Cheap Eats tactic.

    A lot of people have a lot of food left over after Thanksgiving. How do you make sure that doesn't go to waste?

  • Jessica Fisher:

    Per the USDA, prepped food is good when properly refrigerated for up to four days, maybe not having leftovers all that weekend. You can package TV dinners.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And you freeze it.

  • Jessica Fisher:

    And you can freeze it.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Fisher says, if you're really on a tight budget, keep your holiday meal simple and focus on family favorites. Years ago, she realized her family only really eats the white meat on a turkey.

    Now husband Bryan prepares only a turkey breast, instead of a whole bird. A Thanksgiving meal that's tasty and gobbles up less of your dollar, that's something to be thankful for.

    I like to always, like, put a little bit of cranberry on my turkey and then a little bit of stuffing. Mmm.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," with a full stomach, I'm Stephanie Sy in San Diego, California.

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