The Ultimate Thanksgiving Menu That Won't Break the Bank

ultimate thanksgiving

Whether you're hosting your first Thanksgiving, celebrating Friendsgiving or just want to take advantage of a fully preplanned menu, we've got you covered. With this low-stress, budget-friendly meal plan, you'll impress your friends and family and leave your Instagram followers drooling with envy. The whole menu comes in at less than $10 per serving ($9.42 to be exact), so you can go all out and celebrate, without breaking the bank. We've done the detailed planning already, so all that's left is to follow the step-by-step guide to make this the best Thanksgiving ever.

The Menu

Appetizers:

Pear-Pecan Cheese Ball (23¢ per serving)

 

Starter:

Simple Green Salad with Citronette ($1.07 per serving)

 

Main Dish:

Lemon-&-Fennel-Rubbed Turkey with Homemade Giblet Gravy ($1.80 per serving)

 

Side Dishes:

Rosemary Mashed Potatoes (63¢ per serving)
 

Desserts:

Nut & Honey Biscotti (54¢ per serving
 

This menu is meant to serve 6 people, with plenty of leftovers. Too much food? Recipes not your style? You can easily take away a dish or two and still have plenty to feed your guests. Maybe skip the starter and take away one of the sides. We do recommend having at least two other dishes in addition to the main dish to make a full meal. Take a look at our other healthy holiday recipes for different ideas and inspiration.

The Plan

We mapped out e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g in detail—just follow the directions and you'll be in good shape. Don't get overwhelmed. Breathe. You've got this.

3+ weeks before:

For your holiday turkey, we recommend using a natural, organic or heritage turkey. It won't contain the sodium solution that's added to most conventional options and will have a better taste and texture. If you choose to go with a specialty turkey like the one we call for in the Lemon-&-Fennel-Rubbed Turkey recipe, preorder from a local farm or grocery store several weeks in advance to be sure they don't sell out. Check to see if your grocery store's reward program has any special offers for turkey—once you reach a certain number of "points," you may get a discount on a bird.

1-2 weeks before:

Time to finalize your head count and confirm who will be coming. Check that you have enough plates, silverware and wineglasses and take inventory of what's in your kitchen. You can ask to borrow anything that's missing from friends or family. Next, make your shopping list. Take a look at what you already have in your pantry and go from there. If you start the grocery shopping early, you can save money by taking advantage of sale items (think shelf-stable ingredients like olive oil, nuts and flour). You could also ask guests to bring the wine and beer for the evening, or see if they'd like to prepare an appetizer or dessert, to help cut down on cost.

Make Ahead:

Nut & Honey Biscotti: You can make these crunchy Italian cookies up to 2 weeks in advance, saving some serious time in the days leading up to the dinner.
Apple-Cherry Strudel with Cider Whipped Cream: This recipe makes 2 strudels and serves 12, so you can save one of the strudels for a different time. Prepare through Step 4. Wrap the strudels in plastic then tightly in foil and freeze. Freeze the reserved cider for the topping separately.

4-5 days before:

Do one last grocery shop to pick up the fresh produce and any remaining ingredients. Start thawing your turkey. If you're using a 12- to 14-pound turkey (as called for in the Lemon-&-Fennel-Rubbed Turkey recipe), you'll need a good 4 days to thaw the bird fully. Because this recipe adds a dry brine to the turkey the day before it's cooked, you'll want to start thawing the bird 5 days in advance. The safe way to thaw a turkey is in the fridge—not on the countertop... or with a hair dryer... or by pouring hot water over it. Food poisoning is a sure way to guarantee you NEVER get to host a dinner party again.

Make Ahead:

Rosemary-Garlic Marinated Vegetables: You can make this dish 3 to 5 days before, to give the veggies plenty of time to soak up all the tastiness of the marinade.
• Make the dressing for the Simple Green Salad with Citronette: This quick salad comes together even more quickly when you make the salad dressing ahead of time. Store the dressing in the fridge for up to 3 days, and when ready to use, bring to room temperature, shake well and toss with the salad greens.

The day before:

Take the time today to get as much organized as possible. Pull out the dishes and silverware, and even set the table if you have time. Print out the recipes and double check that you have everything you need from the store.

Pear-Pecan Cheese Ball: Prepare up through Step 2, then wrap the cheese ball completely in plastic and refrigerate. Just before guests arrive, complete the final step. If you plan to serve the cheese ball with an array of crudites, prep those veggies (like carrots and celery) and store in an airtight container with some water to keep them from drying out.
• Dry-brine the Lemon-&-Fennel-Rubbed Turkey and make the stock for the Homemade Giblet Gravy: Follow the directions for dry-brining, then wrap the turkey tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours. Make the gravy stock using the giblets, veggies, herbs and spices, and hold in the refrigerator until you're ready to make the gravy. If you're not using a 12- to 14-pound turkey, like what is called for in the Lemon-&-Fennel-Rubbed Turkey recipe, you'll want adjust the cooking time line below to match your needs. A good rule of thumb is to allow 10-15 minutes per pound in a 350°F oven.
• You can do some additional prep work to save time on the remaining three dishes. Trim the green beans for the Green Beans with Parmesan-Garlic Breadcrumbs and store in the refrigerator. For the Brussels Sprouts & Bacon Stuffing, cook the bacon and toast the bread in the oven. Crumble the bacon and store in the refrigerator and keep the bread uncovered at room temperature. To save even more time the day of, you can prechop the onions and Brussels sprouts for the stuffing and peel and chop the potatoes for the Rosemary Mashed Potatoes. Store the precut vegetables in the refrigerator in airtight containers.
• Take the reserved apple cider for the Apple-Cherry Strudel out of the freezer and defrost in the refrigerator. Don't defrost the strudel—it is baked from frozen.

Thanksgiving Day:

The best way to organize your time today is to work backwards. If you're planning to serve dinner at 6:30 p.m., follow the guide below or adjust accordingly. Remember to clean as you go, so you don't have a pile of dishes in the sink when guests arrive. Take the morning to exercise, relax, shower or get last-minute things set up in the house.

1:30 p.m.: Preheat oven to 350°F (it will need a good 20 minutes to get up to temperature). Get out the slow cooker and get the Slow-Cooker Hot Cider with Brandy going—this needs at least 2 hours to get hot and aromatic.

1:50 p.m.: Follow the directions for the Brussels Sprouts & Bacon Stuffing—since you've already cooked the bacon, toasted the bread and chopped the onion and Brussels sprouts, this dish will come together quickly.

2:30 p.m.: Uncover the stuffing and continue to bake for another 20 minutes or so. Finish prepping the turkey while the stuffing bakes. Once the stuffing is done, transfer to a heatproof serving dish (don't worry about washing the skillet—you can wipe out any remaining food and use the same skillet for the green beans). Cover with foil to keep warm.

2:45 p.m.: Crank up the oven temp to 425°F for the turkey. Finish the last step for the Pear-Pecan Cheese Ball and arrange on a plate with the crudites. Put the Rosemary-Garlic Marinated Vegetables in a nice serving dish and prep the greens for the Simple Green Salad with Citronette. Hold these in the fridge until your guests arrive.

3:00 p.m.: Put the turkey in the oven.

3:30 p.m.: Reduce the oven temp to 350°F and continue to roast the turkey for another hour.

3:45 p.m.: Make the Green Beans with Parmesan-Garlic Breadcrumbs as directed. Transfer to a heatproof serving dish and cover with foil to keep warm.

4:30 p.m.: Don't forget to turn the turkey! Continue roasting until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh without touching bone registers 165°F, 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours more.

4:45 p.m.: Make the Rosemary Mashed Potatoes as directed. Put in a heatproof serving dish and cover with foil to keep warm. Take the salad dressing out of the fridge so it can come to room temperature.

5:00 p.m.: Open wine. Drink wine. Get freshened up and relax.

5:15 p.m.: Check on turkey. Take the appetizers out of the refrigerator and arrange on the table.

5:30 p.m.: Guests are likely starting to arrive at this point.

6:00 p.m.: Check the turkey—if it's done, take it out of the oven, tent with foil and let it rest for 20 minutes before serving. Prepare the Homemade Giblet Gravy. Put the other dishes back in the oven to heat up.

6:20 p.m.: Dress the salad with the citronette and arrange the dishes nicely on the table. Now's the time to take that winning picture for Instagram.

6:30 p.m.: Eat!

Whenever you're ready, turn the oven on to 375°F to bake the Apple-Cherry Strudel with Cider Whipped Cream. It will take 40-50 minutes to bake fully, so plan accordingly. Finally, make the whipped cream for the strudel, get out the Nut & Honey Biscotti, turn on the coffee pot and whip out the aperitifs.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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