If you choose to eat organic, you probably do so with the best of intentions. Maybe you do it for your own health, or for the sake of the environment (research shows organic farming provides greater sustainability, promotes soil health, and reduces pollution when compared to conventional methods of farming).
Whatever your reasons for keeping it organic, when the holidays roll around each year those good intentions can go right up the chimney. Whole, natural, organic foods don’t come cheap, and when extended family members start landing in town, they can wreak havoc on your holiday food budget. But that’s no reason to give up the good fight, and surrender yourself to a conventional(ly grown) Thanksgiving.
Even if you can’t get your organic turkey anywhere but an organically-minded grocery store (and, for the most part, you probably can’t), you can buy most other things on your list elsewhere and at cheaper prices. So, if you want to attempt an entirely organic Thanksgiving (or Christmas!), here are a few ways to keep your holiday food costs down without sacrificing your favorite recipes or how liberally your family can nosh.
- 1. Watch the sales.
- 2. Buy non-perishables online.
- 3. Go to Costco. Or ALDI. Or a big box retailer.
- 4. Shop local and cut out the middleman.
- 5. Don’t buy more turkey than you need.
- 6. Buy WAY MORE turkey than you need.
- 7. Stick to the basics.
- 8. Potluck. Or, let others help.
- And a Few More Ideas…
1. Watch the sales.
I know, I know, it’s not exactly insider information to suggest watching sales ads for better prices on your organic Thanksgiving foodstuffs, but it IS one of the few steps you can take to try to save money on organic eating at any time of year. Buying some (or many) of your ingredients in advance while they’re on sale can add up to a huge financial savings, assuming the items won’t perish before the big day. Think frozen veggies, drinks, and anything that comes in a can.
Keep in mind, though, that many stores put their Thanksgiving ingredients and food items on sale in the weeks right before Thanksgiving, meaning you might actually score the best deals by waiting and getting out with the elbow-throwing crowds the week of the holiday.
Start paying attention to when stores put their holiday goods on sale each year. It may not help you this time around, but sales dates tend to be consistent across chains, so you’ll know when to look for the best savings in the future.
And don’t be afraid to ask. If the store clerks or managers know when the upcoming sales are, most won’t hesitate to tell you.
2. Buy non-perishables online.
The days of having to shop at a physical store are long past, even when it comes to food. Plenty of websites sell groceries these days, and since they don’t have the upkeep of a brick and mortar storefront their prices are generally cheaper, sometimes just a fraction of the prices found on supermarket shelves.
Many of these online stores also offer free shipping if you spend a qualifying amount of money (like over $50 or $75), and there is no better time to hit that spending threshold than during the holiday season.
3. Go to Costco. Or ALDI. Or a big box retailer.
The growing demand for organics over the last few years has made finding organic foods considerably easier, much to the delight of those who were going organic before going organic was mainstream. It seems like everyone offers some organic options now, from Walmart to the neighborhood bodega, and this competition for the organic market gives you a serious financial advantage. Of all the stores now selling organic products across the U.S., these are some of the most powerful competitors.
Depending on who you ask, there are two or three main warehouse chains in the U.S., but since BJ’s has stores in only a third of the states as the others, we’ll stick to the big two – Costco and Sam’s Club. Of those two big chains, Costco reigns supreme as the supplier of bulk organics. They have more organic options in both their own store brand and overall.
If you don’t have a large immediate family, the holidays may be the only time of year when it makes good financial sense to buy in bulk. You won’t have to worry about perishables going to waste, and you can save a lot of money over buying at traditional grocery stores.
You will have to pay for a membership, of course ($60 + tax at Costco for 2018), so if you don’t think you’ll get enough use out of that membership throughout the year (or in your holiday shopping), you’ll have to factor in that membership cost, which means it may not end up being the cheapest option.
Walmart and Target
Perhaps nothing changed the organic food market more than the entrance of big box retailers like Walmart and Target. Both chains carry numerous organic food staples, including meat and produce, and some of those items come at a substantial discount compared to a regular grocery store. But not all of them. Don’t just assume things are cheaper because of the store you’re in. Meat, for instance, is typically right on par with the prices at traditional grocers and Trader Joe’s.
Where Walmart and Target can come in really beneficial is on those holiday snack foods. Presumably, not every meal you’ll consume while your family’s in town will be the big Thanksgiving meal. Walmart and Target (and regional competitors like Meijer, if you’re in the Midwest) are great places to stock up on snack foods and drinks.
And, while we’re on the subject of snacks, don’t forget to check stores like Home Goods and Big Lots. You can find organic olive oil, jams, teas, coffee, candy, and all sorts of tasty treats your family members are likely to consume in excess.
Once just a store with super cheap prices and no bags, ALDI has reinvented itself as a true powerhouse in discount organic foods over the past few years. Come holiday season, they bring in a purposeful selection that includes many of your Thanksgiving staples. Some stores even get organic turkeys, which is more than can be said for just about anyplace else on this list.
ALDI depends on local farms for its organic food supply, so one slight downside is that the produce and meat options can change dramatically from one visit to the next. It also means, however, that the food is fresher and you’re keeping your money in your community.
4. Shop local and cut out the middleman.
If ALDI relies on local farmers, why shouldn’t you? You might purchase their products at the farmer’s market, or a roadside stand, or join a community supported agriculture group (CSA) to get regular deliveries. Most states have organic CSAs.
Organic farming is a practice, not a label, so just because a local farmer isn’t certified organic (a process that is long and expensive) doesn’t mean that farmer doesn’t grow their produce or feed their livestock organically. However, no label also means taking the farmer at his or her word. So, do your due diligence.
The good news is, unlike at a traditional grocery store, the farmers are right there. You can get to know them, ask questions, and learn about their growing processes. Then, you can decide whether you want to buy their produce or not.
5. Don’t buy more turkey than you need.
People love a giant turkey. There it sits, glistening in the center of the table, perfectly basted and succulent inside. It looks immaculate. It looks like Thanksgiving. And if it is so hulking it will be impossible to eat all the meat on its bones by the New Year, it’s a big ole lump of wasted money. Especially if you’re doing Thanksgiving on a budget.
When you’re looking for ways to cut costs, nothing in your meal gives you more savings opportunity than your turkey. Downsizing by half means paying half the price, so buying just the amount of turkey you need can put a lot of cash back into your budget.
So, how much turkey do you need? One to two pounds per person is the common recommendation by retailers and farmers, but most people aren’t going to eat a pound of turkey, so one pound per person should be plenty. You can probably get away with less if you’re not too worried about it.
And if you worry Thanksgiving just isn’t complete without a giant bird in the center of the table, try one of those funny turkey centerpieces instead.
6. Buy WAY MORE turkey than you need.
Sound like conflicting advice? It doesn’t have to. It all depends on how you want to use your turkey once everyone has left the table and most of the family’s gone home. If you don’t hate the idea of a week of leftover turkey (or if you come from a family of serious carnivores), buying an extra large bird can prove a wise financial decision. You will end up with so much extra meat it could feed your family for days, so you can absorb your Thanksgiving food budget into your normal food costs.
7. Stick to the basics.
Your Thanksgiving meal isn’t just about turkey. It’s also about sides. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, fresh bread, these plate-fillers are almost as famous as the bird itself. Luckily, these famed side dishes are also some of the easiest items on your budget.
Serving enough low-cost sides is one way to reduce your family’s reliance on meat and other more expensive foodstuff, and one way to make cheaper sides like potatoes and stuffing even more appealing than they already are is to serve them in greater variety.
Instead of turning all your potatoes into mash, mash half and scallop the other. Instead of one kind of stuffing, try two or three different recipes. Instead of two loaves of the same bread, bake up (or buy up) a variety of breads and rolls. If people want to try a little of everything, you’ll need a lot less of each dish, including the expensive ones.
And remember, you don’t have to serve all foods in equal quantity. It’s okay to provide smaller amounts of more costly dishes. Those filling, popular side dishes will still allow your family to indulge in seconds or thirds and revel in all their gluttonous glory.
8. Potluck. Or, let others help.
Still stressing about how much a full-on, completely organic Thanksgiving dinner is going to set you back? And right before the holiday shopping season too?
When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was our big extended family holiday, and we had a BIG extended family. That meant a lot of mouths to feed, and a lot of food on the table. But it also meant only one or two dishes per household when done potluck style. One person brings the green bean casserole, one person the pumpkin pie, Grandma brings the noodles.
Sure, it can be a little more difficult to ensure your organic Thanksgiving is totally organic if you let other people bring food, but it’s always an option to share both the financial load and the workload. And, if anyone offers you monetary help you need, don’t be proud. Just be grateful, and give thanks.
And a Few More Ideas…
Mac and Cheese! Mac and Cheese!
If you’re a Thanksgiving noodle family, you already know noodles are another cheap side dish that go a long way toward filling up the family. So, why not serve them in more than one form?
Mac and cheese adds a favorite American dish, and a hearty one at that, to the dinner table – a surefire winner, especially if there are lots of kids in your family.
And if you are not a family that typically serves noodles with your Thanksgiving meal, this is the year to start.
Green Bean Casserole
What even is Thanksgiving without a full pan of green bean casserole, am I right? That warm, creamy goodness. That satisfying crunch.
Unfortunately, when you’re talking organic, that crunch comes none too cheap.
Pre-made items, like crispy onions, are some of the most expensive additions to your Thanksgiving meal, and they’re not even essential. Oh, the horror! Can you even imagine those creamy beanies without them, though?
Even if you can find organic crispy onions at your local store (questionable), they are going to ding your budget. So, instead of buying pre-fried onions, fry up your own in a pan or deep fryer. Not only will you get a lot more fried onions for a lot less money, but frying your own onions lets you choose your preferred oil and season them however you choose.
Corn and Other Veggies
On the cob. Creamed. Corn isn’t a super expensive vegetable, but it can get expensive when you’re serving it to a lot of people.
One way to cut down on Thanksgiving produce costs is to serve your veggies in unique ways. Instead of serving cobs or half-cobs of corn, incorporate your corn into the bread category of your meal. Simple corn cakes let you stretch your corn with flour and cornmeal, adding up to truly scrumptious savings.
And just about any vegetable makes a good fritter.
There’s a reason pumpkin is such a star of both Halloween and Thanksgiving. It’s in season, and it looks really pretty sitting on a front stoop. But while consumers are mad embracers of sweet pumpkin dishes this time of year from their cookies to their lattes (at least in the United States), they have been less embracing of pumpkin mains and side dishes on their holiday tables. And even less receptive to pumpkins’ close squash relatives.
Squash is inexpensive, though, especially come fall, and it comes in all sorts of quirky varieties. Baked up and dished out without a lot of extra ingredients, whipped up as a pre-dinner bisque, or patted into those above-mentioned fritters, squash dishes can prove one of the cheapest, most colorful sides on your Thanksgiving table.