The ultimate guide to a budget-friendly Thanksgiving dinner

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The ultimate guide to a budget-friendly Thanksgiving dinner

Does Thanksgiving make your mouth water, dreaming of your favorite pumpkin or sweet potato pie recipes? Are you ready to pull out your crowd-pleasing stuffing recipe or are you a cautious cook easing into the kitchen for the first time? 

No matter what your culinary skill level, it's easy to make a delicious Thanksgiving meal on a budget. Just follow these simple tips to make these delicious dishes, all without breaking the bank.

Here are seven ways you can trim the Turkey Day budget, yet still enjoy all that Thanksgiving has to offer:

Load your plate with protein and stay away from starchy vegetables. (I'm looking at you, mashed potatoes.) These are among the tips for avoiding that stuffed feeling on Thanksgiving. Photo: The Food Network HANDOUT

The Turkey

Shop around for the best deal on turkey, as many grocery stores will be offering steep discounts on the bird to entice people in the door. For smaller dinners, consider getting a couple of game hens - they'll be just as yummy and won't leave you grumbling over leftover turkey sandwiches for weeks. For larger gatherings, plan on getting a turkey large enough to feed each guest about one to one and half pounds of meat. The folks over at The Kitchen have assembled this excellent guide for first-time turkey buyers.

Appetizers

As your holiday guests arrive, you can offer up some cheap but scintillating appetizers with a few basic ingredients and a little pizzazz. The frugal living blog Fun, Cheap, or Free offers up these yummy ideas for appetizers you can whip up in no time that will still impress even the pickiest mother-in-law. 

Baked brie with jam, cranberry salsa, or baked jalapeno poppers are all guaranteed to keep your guests happy while you put the finishing touches on your holiday meal. 

From left: White Lion, Coast of Dufresne and Swizzle FranÁais cocktails, all of which use allspice dram. Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post. Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post

Drinks

If you're really making this meal on a shoestring budget, consider asking a trusted guest to pick up a few bottles of wine. Southern Living has compiled a great list of non-alcoholic drinks, including some interesting twists on classic sweet tea. Pop Sugar has a perfect seasonal recipe for Cranberry Champagne Cocktails to offer the adults. And don't forget that presentation makes even a store-bought beverage look fantastic. Head to your local thrift store for mason jars or other decorative containers to serve your drinks in. And don't forget that lemon wedge!

Sides

Classic Thanksgiving sides are already pretty cheap - potatoes, corn, bread, and green beans will get you pretty far. Over at the Prudent Penny Pincher, they've compiled over 200 sides that are budget friendly. And with recipes like cheesy crock pot mashed potatoes, scalloped corn, butternut squash gratin, and cranberry pecan stuffing, you are sure to find cheap, easy recipes that will make even the pickiest guest happy. 

Desserts

Desserts are the real reason everyone has gathered for this Thanksgiving meal, so stick to two or three desserts that really shine. Pie crusts are incredibly easy to make and freeze in advance, bringing a little homemade touch to your dessert selection. And, after you've had your first taste of homemade whipped cream, you'll never buy the stuff in the can again. Real Simple offers some easy Thanksgiving desserts - like chocolate bread pudding - for anyone who wants to venture beyond pumpkin pie this holiday.

Kids

This holiday offers plenty of fun options, even for picky eaters. Check out this fantastic list from Parenting, for great, kid-friendly holiday foods like "ice cream" mashed potatoes and carrot and pumpkin turkey snacks. 

Leftovers

Don't forget to use those leftovers smartly. Country Living has scrumptious leftover ideas like sweet potato kale frittatas, slow cooker turkey chili, harvest pumpkin soup and cranberry turnovers. Use leftovers in creative ways so you and your family don't burn out on them, and make sure to freeze anything you won't use in a timely manner. 

Whatever delicious recipes you choose, be sure to make a list and stick to it. Do you homework in advance, scoping out the best deals at your local grocery stores. Shopping with a list (and not when you're hungry) is a tried and true strategy for sticking to your budget. With these tips, you are sure to pull off a spectacular holiday meal. 

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