Thanksgiving Dinner: What to Make Homemade and What to Buy

Thanksgiving Dinner: What to Make Homemade and What to Buy

What's better than a warm Thanksgiving meal with homemade everything, from the stuffing to the cranberry sauce?

Prepackaged food.

No, seriously. The Thanksgiving season is upon us, and families everywhere are gearing up to cook amazing feasts ... but not every part of the meal deserves equal attention.

Think of this as the high-low approach to a Thanksgiving feast.

Instead of hand-making and splurging on every single item, we'll help you spend time and money where it really matters (when taste buds will notice)--and our recommendations even take into account things you'll have to prepare after your guests arrive, to help you maximize family time and minimize needless work.

Below, you'll find when going all-out is better, and when buying prepackaged is okay. Trust us ... no one will know the difference.


Go all-out

Sure, you can “win” a turkey at your grocery store, but free turkeys given out by supermarkets tend to be lower quality. Turkey will be the centerpiece of your meal, so splurge on a bird with better taste and texture. Commercially-raised turkeys are fed antibiotics and animal byproducts, so consider a "certified humane" bird. Contrary to belief, these deluxe turkeys aren't ridiculously expensive, either. You'll generally pay about $2.99 per pound.



Making stuffing from scratch is relatively inexpensive, but it is time-intensive because of all the chopping and cubing. Quick-prep alternatives can save time and cash without sacrificing flavor. (Premade stuffing from Pepperidge Farm is about $4, serves nine people ... and your guests will be just as happy as if you'd slaved.) If you feel like something’s missing from boxed stuffing, throw in some extra "custom" ingredients like onions and celery. But one note: If you go for instant stuffing, inspect the box carefully to make sure it doesn't have insanely high sodium levels.




Most homemade gravy is made using turkey drippings that are only available after the turkey has finished cooking, so going premade means you'll spend less time in the kitchen and more time with your guests. We think that family time is worth more than the dollar or so you'll spend on a jar of gravy, and unless people have come to expect your fabulous homemade recipe every year, going premade won't hurt the overall taste. If you can, opt for the jar variety, not packaged dry gravy mix, because the latter still requires you to pay attention to consistency. When choosing a jar, scrutinize the ingredients to look for real turkey stock instead of bouillon, which is basically flavored salt.

altMashed Potatoes

Go all-out

Hands down, homemade spuds triumph in the taste department, and they aren’t hard to make. It’ll take just 45 minutes and about $5.50 to go homemade on this holiday fave. Meanwhile, boxed potato "flakes" are quicker to make … but they taste, well, like the box.


Cranberry Sauce


It’s a snap to make cranberry sauce from scratch, but unless you’re feeding foodies, most people actually enjoy the taste of the canned product better—and the price of packaged and homemade is the same (roughly $2 for six servings).

How Do You Save on Thanksgiving?

Do you have any tips or tricks that save you time or money on Thanksgiving dinner? We'd love to hear them.


Go all-out

Fresh vegetables always taste better than frozen or canned ones, and late November still boasts a plethora of options that are quick and easy to prepare. Simple, speedy dishes like roasted cauliflower or carrots and parsnips take minutes. Similarly, brussels sprouts and squash don't require much experience to produce memorable results. Plus, fresh tends to be significantly cheaper: A pound of fresh green beans will run you about $1.50, whereas the frozen "steam-fresh" variety is about $4 for the same amount. The only perk of frozen vegetables is that, if you want to plan early, you can buy in advance and save for later.

altSalad Greens

Go all-out

While bagged greens look quick and easy, you should still rinse them before use to make sure they’re clean (even if the package says “triple washed”). And, prepackaged lettuce can easily be more than double the cost of a regular head of romaine. Given that, you might as well save some “green” by getting loose heads of lettuce and chopping them yourself.



There are some tasty frozen pies on the market, but they can be costly. A great compromise, if time allows, would be to buy a frozen piecrust and fill it with canned pumpkin or fresh apples to make your "own" pie. Bonus: you'll probably even find a good pie recipe right on the can.

altBaked Goods


Making cakes and cookies from scratch is a serious undertaking. Plus, they only cost a bit less than boxed or pre-made doughs, which most people love. While fully premade baked goods (like stuff made at the grocery store, or, say, a premade Entenmann’s cake) tend to taste artificial, a boxed brownie or cake mix is a guaranteed hit. And compare the cost: Betty Crocker cake mix is only $3.25, whereas a premade Entenmann's crumb cake can cost almost triple that amount. Besides, you can make these ahead of time and freeze. Then on Thanksgiving morning, defrost and ice them with frosting—and enjoy the time you just saved.

More on Thanksgiving

The average Thanksgiving dinner is going to cost about 13% more this year than last. Find out why.
Black Friday could affect your Turkey Day this year. Here's how.
Learn a few more ways to save on your Thanksgiving meal.


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