How to Stay Sane and Save Money This Thanksgiving

As much as I love the holidays, being in charge of cooking the iconic Thanksgiving turkey and all the trimmings can leave me feeling overwhelmed and frazzled. In addition, forking over a wing and a leg for all that food can carve a bigger dent than the apple pie in my bank account. Here are some tips I have discovered along the way that help make Thanksgiving dinner less stressful, while also saving some money for all that holiday shopping this season.

Plan out the menu well in advance. Decide what you will be serving from appetizers, drinks and side dishes to desserts. If you can, delegate some dishes to guests to stave off some of the stress and expense of preparing everything yourself. Once you have the menu planned, make a list of everything you will need to buy. That includes spices, paper goods, trash bags, condiments and bags of ice for drinks.

Browse the grocery ads. Now that you've made your list, keep an eye out for when any of those items go on sale. This will save you money on your grocery bill, and make the task of shopping for the holiday seem less daunting. Stock up on non-perishable items such as canned goods, frozen items and hardy vegetables. Set these aside so you know they will be used for the holiday meal. Wait to buy fresh herbs and vegetables that do not have a long shelf life.

Starting the week of Thanksgiving, plan a cooking schedule. This is so you will know what needs to go in the oven and when. Since the turkey is the star and usually takes the longest to cook, plan everything else around it.

Purchase perishable and any last-minute items you might have forgotten. Read through recipes to be sure you didn't forget any ingredients and have a better understanding of how to prepare them beforehand. Make sure you have enough serving dishes, plates, silverware, cups and chairs.

The day before, prepare side dishes such as cranberry sauce, stuffing and desserts so that they will just need to be reheated. Chop vegetables and store in the refrigerator for the next day.

The day of, cook the turkey using this rule of thumb: 13 minutes/lb. Prepare vegetables and side dishes while the turkey is cooking. Warm appetizers and set out dishes for the meal. Once the turkey is cooked (internal temperature = 165 degrees F), let it rest 10 minutes before slicing. Warm side dishes that were prepared the night before.

Finally, set out the food, slice the turkey, give thanks and enjoy.

Some additional tips for a less stressful holiday:

  • Keep it simple: Go with dishes that are easy to prepare and don't require a lot of ingredients. This will save on time and money while still enjoying holiday classics such as mashed potatoes, steamed corn and a green salad.
  • Freeze fresh veggies: If you see vegetables on sale but are afraid they will go bad before the big day, freeze them. Blanching fresh veggies such as green beans or broccoli and freezing in an airtight container allows you to enjoy the bounty of the season for a better deal.
  • Take a walk: After the meal, encourage friends and family to take a walk outside. It will help you de-stress, digest and sneak in a bit of exercise at the same time.
  • Be thankful: Remember what the holiday is really about — getting together with family and friends and enjoying each other's company. I'm sure everyone will still love you even if you burn the crescent rolls or forget the whipped cream.
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Emily Cooper, RD, LD
Emily Cooper, RD, LD, is a New Hampshire-based dietitian. She maintains a health and wellness blog, Sinful Nutrition to share recipes, fitness, and all things health related. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.