Montana State University

Key ingredient to save money at Thanksgiving? Planning

November 24, 2008 -- By Carol Flaherty MSU News Service

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Of all the things you can do to create both joyful and economical holiday meals, the most important one is planning, says a Montana State University Extension nutrition educator.

"When I think of trying to make it all work for Thanksgiving and other holiday meals, the biggest financial benefit comes from planning ahead," said Coleen Kaiser, MSU Extension's coordinator of two federally funded nutrition education programs: the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program and the federal food stamp program's education arm under its new name of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP-Ed.

"Just like in everyday cooking, when you think of how to provide your family with nutritious meals, planning is very important," she said.

Planning two-to-three weeks ahead of time lets you take full advantage of coupons and advertised specials at local grocery stores. It also lets you look for bargains at area "dollar" or thrift stores, which sometimes stock pickles, brown sugar or other groceries. Though making a special trip to those stores to shop for a few groceries may not make sense with the current price of gasoline, knowing ahead of time what your needs are for Thanksgiving may let you take advantage of your stop there when you go to look for a fall table decoration or crayons for your child.

"And when you shop little by little, it's not such a big hit on the budget," Kaiser adds.

The number of offerings on the holiday table also provides an opportunity to save a bit on each dish -- and not by changing the recipe, either.

"If you decide to have all of the dishes, you may be able to make less of each one," suggests Kaiser. That can reduce the food bill by avoiding waste.

Traditionally, Thanksgiving is such an expanded meal that the table may not even be able to hold all of the family classic recipes that you prepare. That means that another useful part of planning is to ask the family which recipes are their favorites. Which recipes really make it a holiday? Does everyone love it when you prepare grandma's pecan and pumpkin pie, or is one the clear favorite? The same types of choices can be made on vegetable and other side dishes. Does your family want both green bean casserole and candied yams, or is one enough?

"Involving the family in the choices might simplify both shopping and the hours spent preparing for the dinner," Kaiser said.

Also consider stocking up for another holiday meal while shopping for Thanksgiving. Grocery stores often have coupons and special prices on canned goods like yams, pumpkin pie filling and condensed milk. If you stock up, you'll have them on-hand for the next holiday.

While Kaiser generally is a proponent of adapting traditional family recipes to be healthier and contain fewer calories, she says Thanksgiving may be one of those times when you want to enjoy grandma's full-flavored and full-calorie recipes.

"There may be about three holiday meals each year that have special significance, and it's okay to enjoy special foods at that time. Just pay attention to when you feel full," she said. "And on that topic, don't skip meals to leave room for Thanksgiving dinner. Feeling like you are starving is setting the stage for over-indulging."

You can take care of some of the extra calories and be good to yourself by putting on your coats after the meal and going for a walk or even a treasure hunt after the dinner.

"Take advantage of the fact that you are together with family and friends and have some fun together," Kaiser said.

If you have adult children or friends invited to dinner, be sure to invite them to bring their family favorite recipe. That spreads the cost, the work and the fun of the holidays.

Planning what to do with leftovers is a good way of decreasing the cost of the one big holiday meal. There are many recipes for leftover turkey and vegetables, some of which you can find on the MSU Extension Nutrition Education Program's recipe box at You can substitute turkey for any recipe that suggests chicken, including soup, tetrazzini, and stews.

Other helpful websites include the federal SNAP-Ed Connection with healthy recipes, food safety info and ideas for holiday foods and the University of Nebraska Extension flyer titled, "Turkey Anytime: A recipe for Turning Leftovers into Planned-Overs" at


Yield: 4 servings
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
˝ cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced or ˝ teaspoon garlic powder
1- 14 ounce can carrots and liquid
1- 14 ounce can chopped canned potatoes and liquid
1- 14 ounce can tomatoes and liquid
1- 29 ounce can cooked chicken or 3 cups leftover cooked turkey, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
--Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add onion and garlic; cook for 2 minutes over medium heat.
--Add carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and chicken or turkey and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper.
Per serving: calories 468, fat 17 g, protein 49 g, carbohydrate 28 g, fiber 5 g, a good source of vitamin a

Serving Size: 1/2 cup, Yield: 6 servings
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 can (16 ounce) drained, cut green beans
1. Spray a skillet with non-stick cooking spray.
2. Sauté onions, mushrooms, and garlic.
3. Add green beans and heat thoroughly.

Yield: 4 servings
4 cups fresh spinach
4 cups Romaine lettuce
2 cups chopped green pepper (or use red, yellow, or orange)
2 cups cherry tomatoes
1 cup chopped broccoli
1 cup chopped cauliflower
1 cup sliced yellow squash
2 cups sliced cucumber
2 cups chopped carrots
1 cup sliced zucchini

Wash all of the vegetables and mix them together in a large mixing bowl. Top this colorful meal with the nonfat or low-fat dressing of your choice.
Note: The dressing is not included in the nutritional analysis. Each serving = 5 cups of vegetables (Eight 5-A-Day servings). Adapted from: 5 A Day for Better Health Program, The Centers for Disease Control

Yield: 6 servings
5 cooked sweet potatoes
4 apples
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup margarine
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup hot water
2 Tablespoons honey

1. Boil 5 sweet potatoes in water until they are almost tender.
2. After the sweet potatoes cool, peel and slice them.
3. Peel the apples. Remove the cores, and slice the apples.
4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
5. Grease the casserole dish with butter or margarine.
6. Put a layer of sweet potatoes on the bottom of the dish.
7. Add a layer of apple slices.
8. Add some sugar, salt, and tiny pieces of margarine to the apple layer.
9. Repeat steps 6, 7, and 8 to make more layers of sweet potatoes, apples, and sugar/salt.
10. On the top layer of apples, sprinkle the rest of the brown sugar and margarine pieces.
11. Sprinkle the top layer with nutmeg.
12. Mix the hot water and honey together. Pour the mix over the top layer.
13. Bake for about 30 minutes until apples are tender.
Adapted from: Pennsylvania Nutrition Education Network Website Recipes, The Pennsylvania Nutrition Education Program

Contact: Coleen Kaiser (406) 994-6318