Including groceries, wine and flowers.

Jaime Milan
October 30, 2019

Many people think of their friends as chosen family, and one way to show your besties just how much you appreciate them is by hosting a Friendsgiving party. It's great in theory—you get your BFFs together, eat delicious holiday food and enjoy a drink or two. The only problem? It can be pretty dang expensive and time-consuming to throw a feast for your friends—especially if you're trying to create a cute, Insta-worthy experience!

Getty Images

So, I wanted to see if I could do it on a budget. I set out to Trader Joe's and bought all the things I'd need for a delicious meal, plus some wine, flowers and cute touches for the table. Here's the breakdown of how I threw a Trader Joe's Friendsgiving—including the good, the bad and the ugly. Warning: things are about to get real!

Before we get started, I have to get a few things off my chest. First, I did this Trader Joe's Friendsgiving haul in late October, so turkeys weren't even available yet (they're supposed to hit stores November 15, according to my local store's manager). So, I decided to roast a chicken instead. I know, it's not ~*traditional*~, but Friendsgiving should be whatever you want it to be!

Minus the roasted chicken (and pumpkin cheesecake instead of pumpkin pie), the menu I put together is all pretty standard fare for Turkey Day. My menu is just an outline—if you have dietary restrictions or food preferences, feel free to make this menu your own. If you want to slash your costs even more, skip the appetizers and wine and have your friends bring a bottle to share. Without the charcuterie plate and bottle of wine, you'd save about $30 and still get a great meal.

Also, as far as nutrition goes, I pretty much threw all caution to the wind. Here at EatingWell, we're firm believers in enjoying food with loved ones during the holidays. That said, there are plenty of veggies, lean protein and satiating fiber in this meal. But, please, it's Friendsgiving—take a break from counting calories and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Related: Try These Healthier Traditional Thanksgiving Recipes

My Trader Joe's Friendsgiving Grocery List

If you've ever been to Trader Joe's on a busy day, you *know* how overwhelming it can be. That's why it's important to arrive with a plan. Make sure to bookmark or print this Friendsgiving grocery list so you can stick to just what you need for your event. I took about an hour to browse the store, see what they offered and decide on my menu (it was kind of hard, but I managed!). Here's the breakdown of my expenses (for the purposes of this story, I'll assume you have the basics—butter, milk, olive oil, salt and pepper—at your house).

  • 1 bag of frozen riced cauliflower stuffing, $2.99
  • 2 bags of fresh green beans, $5.58
  • Shredded Swiss & Gruyère Cheese blend, $4.99
  • 1 Leafy Greens and Butternut Squash Salad Kit, $4.49
  • 1 pound of parsnips, $1.99
  • 1.5 pounds of carrots, $1.79
  • 1 (10-ounce) package of sliced baby bella mushrooms, $2.29
  • 1 box of Wheat Crisps, $2.29
  • 1 package of sliced prosciutto, $3.99
  • Spanish tapas cheese sampler, $4.49
  • Cranberry goat cheese log, $3.99
  • 1 bag candied pecans, $4.49
  • 1 bag dried apricots, $3.99
  • Whole chicken, $8.22
  • 1 can Cream of Portabella Mushroom Soup, $1.99
  • 1 large yellow onion, $0.99
  • 1 box of Italian breadsticks, $1.49
  • 1 container of clover honey, $3.99
  • 1 jar of Chili-Onion Crunch, $3.99
  • 1 bag of French rolls, $2.29
  • 1 bag of frozen mashed potatoes, $2.49
  • 1 bag of frozen mashed sweet potatoes, $4.99
  • 4 mini white pumpkins, $2.76
  • 1 box of frozen pumpkin cheesecake, $6.99
  • 1 bottle of petite syrah, $5.49
  • 1 jar of 21 Seasoning Salute spice blend, $1.99
  • Two bunches of mums and one bunch of fall filler, $10.97

Total: $106 (plus tax)

Friendsgiving Decor

To get the lowdown on floral arranging and fall tablescapes, I tapped the owner of Ever After Floral Design in Miami, Helen Rodriguez, for inspo. Rodriguez said, "A simple table runner in black-and-white plaid with an assortment of colored gourds and pumpkins can transform your table from everyday to fall-inspired." Taking notes, I picked up a plaid table runner from Target and some linen napkins. I opted for colorful textiles, since my serveware is all white. I also picked up some votive candles because ~ambiance~ is important, y'all.

As far as flowers go, Rodriguez recommends picking "hardy florals for long-term use, like sunflowers, mums and roses." Heeding her advice, I picked out two bunches of mums—one wine-colored and the other burnt orange to coordinate with my table runner—and a bouquet of "fall filler" from Trader Joe's. But if you want to save some money, Rodriguez says your backyard may be the best place to look for greenery. She cautions, "Make sure you clean anything you cut so you don't get creepy crawlers. Using simple mason jars for rustic flair or ceramic containers will enhance your backyard beauties."

I didn't have any mason jars lying around, so I grabbed a few copper-colored Moscow mule cups from my bar cart and got to arranging. I started with the filler, since it was the largest, and filled in my mums around it for a very organic, slightly messy look. Rodriguez says, "Whichever style you decide on, you can't go wrong as long as you give it your personal touch!"

Considering I spent less than $15 on flowers and little white pumpkins from Trader Joe's, I think it looks pretty cute!

Trader Joe's Friendsgiving Food

With the groceries I picked up, I whipped up a roasted chicken, a leafy green butternut squash salad, riced cauliflower stuffing, roasted carrots and parsnips with honey-chile glaze, a fresh green bean and mushroom casserole, mashed sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, French rolls and a pumpkin cheesecake. I also laid out a charcuterie board with some wine for people to munch on while I finished dinner (Rule #1 of hosting a party: you can never have enough food!)

From start to finish, the entire meal took about 3.5 hours (which is really not bad for a Thanksgiving-style meal!). Here's how I cooked everything.

The night before Friendsgiving: I assembled my green bean casserole. I totally cheated and followed the recipe on the side of Trader Joe's mushroom soup. The only substitutions I made were that I used a mixture of Swiss and Gruyère shreds instead of just Swiss, omitted the fried onions (more on that later) and used half of an onion instead of just a quarter. I assembled everything and let it hang out in the fridge overnight. Then, right before my guests came over, I baked it in the oven for 20 minutes.

For the chicken, I pretty much followed these basic whole roast chicken cooking instructions, but used just butter, salt and Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute (which is salt-free). To keep the chicken propped up and add a bit more flavor, I used the remaining half of my onion and placed it under my chicken while it cooked.

While the chicken cooked, I mixed together a few tablespoons of honey, about a tablespoon of the chili-onion crunch and a tablespoon of olive oil in a bowl (if you're making this, taste it as you go since the chili-onion crunch is pretty spicy). I then coated cut carrots and parsnips in the spicy-sweet glaze and cooked them in the same oven as the chicken for about 45 minutes.

The sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, salad, rolls and cauliflower rice stuffing were all assembly or heat-and-eat sides. This isn't usually my style on Thanksgiving, but I was pressed for time and the ingredients lists were actually really impressive! For example, the only ingredients in the microwaveable sweet potatoes were sweet potatoes, butter, pecans, maple syrup, cinnamon and black pepper—all items I'd use if I were making them from scratch.

The pumpkin cheesecake was a hit too. Though I would miss the pecan pie on Thanksgiving, this was a really inexpensive and delicious dessert. The only thing that would've made it better was some homemade whipped cream!

Related: The Ultimate Thanksgiving Menu That Won't Break the Bank

The Verdict

I asked my friends and husband to be brutally honest about everything. After all, it wasn't like I was making my grandma's heirloom green bean casserole recipe and could get offended. I should also mention that we live in Alabama, and my friends take their carbs and casseroles *very* seriously.

Everyone said the chicken and veggies were great, which is awesome since a few people at the table had never had parsnips (I get a weird sense of pride after introducing people to new vegetables they like.) The chicken's skin was crispy, and the meat was succulent. All around, a win-win situation.

The green bean casserole, however, was kind of a fail. But, it was my own fault (yep, even EatingWell editors have food fails!). I tried to get too crazy and used fresh green beans. I had par-cooked them in the microwave, but they had remained tender-crisp in the casserole, which is pretty much a cardinal sin to Southerners. "Green bean casserole should be mushy, creamy and topped with fried onions," one of my friends said. Well, I was one for three. The flavor and creamy texture of Trader Joe's soup mix was on point, but I should have used canned green beans for this crowd. Lesson learned: don't mess with a good thing.

Related: 4 Mistakes That Ruin Green Bean Casserole (and How to Fix Them)

The potatoes (sweet and mashed) were both surprisingly good, especially considering they both came in heat-and-eat packages. The mashed potatoes, in particular, didn't look very promising when I dumped them into a pot to cook. They came in tiny, formed circles and "melted" when I added some milk and a pat of butter. I know I'm not really selling it, but they were pretty tasty!

The sweet potatoes, however, reigned supreme. They were simple, but the candied pecan topping was clutch. We skipped marshmallows, but if that's your style you could definitely add them as a topper and broil it in the oven for a minute or two before serving.

The Leafy Greens with Butternut Squash Salad Kit was a great palate cleanser among otherwise-heavy sides ... but I also have a funny story about our salad. One of my friends came over a little early to help me get everything on the table (she's a gem!) and I tasked her with assembling the salad kit. She dumped everything in a bowl and tossed it with the dressing. When we served dinner my husband asked what was in the salad. I told him it had mixed lettuce, butternut squash, feta and almonds. He said it didn't have any butternut squash, so I went over to inspect. Well, it *did* have butternut squash, but it was sitting in a plastic bag at the bottom of the mixing bowl! My friend forgot to mix it into the salad, and we all had a good laugh at her expense. (Did I mention we're very mean?)

The biggest disappointment of the evening to my comfort-food-loving friends was the cauliflower rice "stuffing." I personally think it's tasty (we even covered it when Trader Joe's introduced cauliflower rice stuffing), but my friends said it "just can't compare to the real deal," it was "too sweet" and "needed more flavoring." So if you're a stuffing purist, stick to the real deal. If you're looking for a low-carb side or cauliflower recipe, give a bag of this a try (just don't call it stuffing, or you'll elicit some VERY strong feelings!)

Hosting Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving can be expensive and time-consuming, but I found I saved quite a bit of money and effort when sticking to Trader Joe's. While packaged foods may not be what you want to use on Turkey Day, I was impressed by TJ's clean ingredient labels and above-average taste. My two major takeaways? Skip the cauli stuffing and use canned green beans in your casserole if your friends are traditionalists—your guests will thank you!

Advertisement