Recipes for a Frugal Thanksgiving from the Pantry


Many families are having a tough time economically this year.  For those who have suffered a job loss, a foreclosure, or have exorbitant looming bills, the holidays can be a time for stress instead of enjoyment. But contrary to what you may think, you don’t have to spend an entire month’s grocery budget to put together a memorable and delicious Thanksgiving dinner. You can make a lot of it right from your pantry!

If you’ve been building a stockpile, then the food in your pantry contains all sorts of basics for scratch cooking, purchased at the lowest prices available. Because of this, you can focus on purchasing only a few special items, like a turkey or a must-have goodie that is a tradition in your family, while you enjoy delicious yet thrifty treats for the rest of your Thanksgiving dinner.

Don’t feel obligated to invest in out-of-season delicacies like fresh berries and asparagus in November!  Focus on the produce that is in season, and supplement this with canned and frozen fruits and vegetables. Make the presentation lovely, with fancy toothpicks in the appetizers and your nicest china.

Break out the vintage cookbooks when looking for creative ways to use your pantry stockpile. My favorite cookbook is my old Fanny Farmer cookbook, which was written in 1896 and updated in the early 1900s. I like older cookbooks because the ingredients are simple and readily available.  With these types of recipes, you won’t be scurrying around looking for some of those crazy Martha Stewart-esque gourmet ingredients like the breath of a yellow garden snail, captured during the 2nd full moon of the year.

Following are some ideas for homemade goodies that will make your guests feel well-fed and pampered, without emptying your pockets. You’ll discover that many of the ingredients already reside in your pantry, or are standard groceries that will be in your fridge, like eggs and cheese. Links to the recipes are embedded – if the name of the item is underlined, just click the name and it will open up a new window with the recipe!

Appetizers and Party Food

Thanksgiving dinner recipes

Serve these alongside your turkey.  Also remember that with the addition of bacon or a topping of breadcrumbs and cheese, nearly any vegetable that you have canned or frozen becomes a little bit fancier! Don’t forget simple yet delicious foods like mashed potatoes and salads.


Also check out this full holiday menu HERE – many of these items can be adapted to use pantry-based ingredients.

The most important ingredient

If you can’t afford the fanciest of dinners this year, don’t despair.  Roast a chicken instead of a turkey, or make some homemade stuffing baked with drumsticks.  Things like stuffing (or dressing, depending on what part of the country you hail from) were originally created as a way to use up something that would ordinarily be thrown out – stale bread. Channel your Depression-era ancestors and make your goodies in the frugal, old-fashioned way. When we ate wheat products, I always kept a bag in the freezer for the “heels” of the loaves of bread, and used that as the basis for my stuffing. Now, I make a big pan of homemade cornbread the day before and break it up and let it get dry on the counter.If served with the proper flair – think candles, cloth napkins, and good china – any dinner seems just a little more festive.

Remember, Thanksgiving is a tradition based on gratitude for a good harvest.  We have so many things to be thankful for in this country, even when times are tough. The most important element of your Thanksgiving dinner isn’t on the table – it’s the ones sitting at your table.


by Daisy Luther

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