If you have the time, cooking these things from scratch can save you money and boost the flavor of your holiday meal.

Jessica Ball, M.S., R.D.
November 15, 2020
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Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you're like me, you have already been thinking about it for a month. I love Thanksgiving for nothing more than the fact that it is perfectly acceptable to drink wine at 11a.m., eat a decadent dinner in the middle of the afternoon, then go back for seconds in the evening. Oh yeah, and there's also pie. Who wouldn't love that?

I think we can all agree that our celebrations (or lack thereof) look a little different this year (here's how to host a safer Thanksgiving according to the CDC). Not all of us have extra time or motivation to cook a full Thanksgiving dinner for a smaller group, and that is totally OK. However, there are many of us who may be away from our families or are celebrating for the first time in our homes and want to try something new. With a little extra time and planning, cooking foods from scratch can save you money and make your meal even more delicious.

7 Thanksgiving Foods You Should Be Making, Not Buying

These turkey day favorites are way better if you have the time to make them from scratch. As an added bonus, you can save money and cut down on food waste too. Here are the seven things that you should be making, not buying this Thanksgiving.

1.Turkey

While most stores don't sell fully-cooked turkeys, they are for sale at restaurants, and they're not cheap. I may be in the small minority of people who actually really enjoys turkey on Thanksgiving. This may be because of the way I prepare it. I always spatchcock my turkey and choose a dry brine to help lock in flavor and ensure crispy, delicious skin. Plus, it actually fits in my fridge compared to something in a wet brine. This method may be a tall order for some, so it is totally fine to start with a chicken instead. Some may argue it's an even more flavorful bird and it's better for smaller meals. Whatever bird you end up roasting, keep an eye on the poundage. Not only will a large turkey take a really long time to thaw, but also it will create a potentially overwhelming amount of leftovers. To cut down on potential food waste, choose a turkey or chicken that fits the size of your household. For a micro celebration, opt for a turkey breast.

2. Stuffing

People have feelings when it comes to stuffing (or dressing, depending on where you are in the country). I don't blame them. Stuffing is a blank slate with endless possibilities. One thing is for certain: skip the store bought boxed stuffing mixes and make your own if you can. This way you can customize flavors, accommodate any dietary restrictions or preferences and also keep an eye on the sodium that is added. Keep it easy with our Simple Herb Stuffing, or spice it up with Chorizo, Chestnut, Brussels Sprout & Apple Stuffing. If you are not a purist, this riff is one of my all-time favorites.

3. Cranberry Sauce

There is an ongoing debate about whether store bought or homemade is better, but cranberry sauce is something I feel strongly about making myself. To me, homemade cranberry sauce with unique additions and spices is much more exciting than the jelly-like stuff that comes out of a can. You do you, but I will be making Red Wine Cranberry Sauce again this year. Or maybe Spiced Maple Cranberry Sauce. Canned cranberry sauce and fresh cranberries to make your own are both relatively inexpensive, so this just feels like a taste preference. However, if you are shopping on a tight budget, you can buy whole cranberries in bulk and freeze what you don't use for later.

4. Mashed Potatoes

Repeat after me: I will not use instant mashed potatoes this Thanksgiving. They're not as nutritious, texturally satisfying or flavorful as the homemade stuff. When you make your own potatoes, you can add herbs, cheese, butter or whatever you want. The world is your oyster. Opt for sweet, like our Chipotle Mashed Sweet Potatoes, or white, like Chive & Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes. Potatoes are super affordable, packed with potassium and other nutrients. Plus, they last a long time if stored properly.

5. Dinner Rolls

Allow me to take this time to rave about our Slow Cooker Dinner Rolls recipe. You don't bake? No room in the oven? Not a problem. These dinner rolls could not be easier. They take 25 minutes of active time, then set it and forget it while you move on to something else (but definitely set a timer so you don't actually forget, speaking from experience). Plus, they rely on pantry ingredients, like flour and yeast, to give you the flavor of fresh bakery bread at a fraction of the price. These rolls are an affordable game changer.

6. Pumpkin (or Pecan) Pie

Dessert is always a challenge in my book. I used to say I just "wasn't a baker", but with time and very little to do outside of my apartment, I am coming around. One way I take the pressure off of homemade desserts is by adding my own unique spin so that I am not mentally comparing it to the store bought traditional version. Apple galette? Add spices or pomegranate. Pumpkin pie? Throw some bourbon in there or swirl it with cream cheese and call it a cheesecake. Though it can be a little technical and time consuming, making dessert yourself saves you money and allows you to accommodate any dietary restrictions, like vegan or gluten-free.

7. Stock

I don't think I could count on one hand the amount of times that I have written about homemade stock, but trust me when I say it is essentially liquid gold. You get to repurpose the inedible parts of the turkey and veggie scraps into something delicious, versatile and healthy. Yay for cutting down on food waste! Plus, since the ingredients are mostly scraps and water, it is basically free. I even roast the backbone after it is removed in the spatchcocking process and throw it in the freezer until I am ready to make stock. You don't have to make the stock day of, since there is a lot going on. Any valuable scraps for stock can be frozen until you're ready to make it. Let stock simmer as long as you like, cool it down and store half in your fridge for more immediate use, like stuffing or gravy. Put the other half in the freezer for a rainy day when you will want to make soup.

Bottom Line

I'm starting to feel like my mission in life in November is to convince people that Thanksgiving does indeed rock and can be a blast, even if you are just celebrating with people in your own home. If you have a little extra time on your hands, like many of us to, try making these Thanksgiving classics from scratch. Cooking foods from scratch can save you money, boost the flavor and accommodate any restrictions or preferences of those around your table. This year has been a challenging one, so lets make something delicious and take a day to remember all we have to be grateful for. You'll thank me when you are enjoying your homemade pumpkin pie.