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Category: Family, Fun & Holidays

Thanksgiving on a Budget: Sweet Potato Casserole and Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes

If you've never had this sweet potato casserole before, let me tell you,
you're in for a treat. Even if you don't normally like sweet potatoes,
you'll want to try this because I'm guessing this is one sweet potato
dish you will eat and like.

Best of all, it's simple and fairly economical–especially if you
can snag a deal on sweet potatoes. (By the way, Aldi has them on sale
this week at $0.99 for three pounds so you should go scoop some up
there if you have an Aldi store close by!)

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Our Sweet Potato Casserole

4 cups sweet potatoes, mashed
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoons vanilla
2/3 cups milk
6 Tablespoons butter, melted

Topping:
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup butter
chopped pecans, optional

Mix first six ingredients together and spread in a 9×13-inch dish. Mix topping ingredients together and sprinkle over sweet potato mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Makes approximately 10 servings. This can be made the day before Thanksgiving and kept in the refrigerator and baked on Thanksgiving morning.

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Our Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes

15 small to medium potatoes
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup sour cream (can use plain yogurt)
1 8 oz. block cream cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Cut and boil potatoes leaving the skins on (unless you prefer them skinless). Use mixer, Bosch, food processor, or KitchenAid to mash potatoes and add in the rest of the ingredients. Place potato mixer in a slightly greased 9×13-inch. Dot with butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Makes approximately 8 servings.

These potatoes can be made the day before Thanksgiving and kept in the refrigerator and baked on Thanksgiving morning. Or, if you're really brave, you might try Amy's method of freezing and reheating in the crock pot.

Up Next: $5 Dinner Mom's recipe for Orange Ginger Cranberry Sauce and her recipe for some easy green veggies for a healthful side.

Thanksgiving on a Budget: Turkey, Gravy, and Stuffing

While all of the other recipes we actually made ahead of time so we could share pictures along with the recipes, Erin and I decided against actually making a turkey ahead of time. However, we wanted to share some great links we found to help you in making your turkey and also some ideas and suggestions for getting a great deal on a turkey.

Buying a Turkey

Most stores are running sales on turkeys right now so it's a great time to buy turkey. The rule of thumb is to buy a bird that is as many pounds of meat as persons you are expecting to be at your Thanksgiving meal. So if you're planning to have 15 people at your Thanksgiving dinner, you'll want to buy a turkey that is somewhere around 15 pounds. I'm sure you could squeak by with a few pounds less, though, without anyone noticing.

Check around to all stores in your area before buying to see which store has the best deal. Many stores also offer a discount or even a free turkey if you spend a certain amount in one transaction the week of Thanksgiving or the week before Thanksgiving. These deals are great to take advantage of, provided you will actually already be spending that amount of money.

Cooking a Turkey

There's a great step-by-step photo tutorial from The Pioneer Woman here on roasting a turkey. And here's lots of helpful information on roasting a turkey from Butterball–and there's even an instructional video you can watch.

If you're having a smaller gathering for Thanksgiving and want to keep it simple, you might consider just doing turkey breasts in the crock pot. Click here for detailed instructions on how to do that.

Looking for something a little out of the ordinary to do with your turkey? You could consider deep-frying it or grilling it.

Making the Gravy

You can make gravy with the pan drippings (see recipe here) or with the giblets (see recipe here). If you've never made gravy before, check out The Pioneer Woman's photo-rich instructions here.

Stuffing: Do You Really Need It?

Okay folks, here's where my simplistic nature comes into play: I don't really think stuffing is a must. I mean sure, most folks serve it as a sort of obligatory part of the Thanksgiving dinner every year, but if you're trying to keep things easy, it is something you could skip.

Now I know some of you are probably thinking I'm nuts. If so and stuffing is something your Thanksgiving menu would not be complete without, then by all means go for it. I'd say to save yourself the trouble of actually stuffing your bird and to just make a pan of it on the side. Use your family's favorite recipe (if you have one), find the boxed mixes on sale and spruce them up a little, or try out The Pioneer Woman's recipe here (her recipe looks great but isn't very budget conscious).

I'd love to hear from you: What are your best ideas for buying an economical turkey? How do you usually cook your turkey? And do you consider stuffing an essential Thanksgiving menu item?

Up next: Our Sweet Potato casserole and Make-Ahead mashed potatoes

Thanksgiving on a Budget: Introduction

Remember I told you that Erin from 5DollarDinners and I had a special treat for you this week? Well, welcome to our week-long series, Thanksgiving on a Budget.

There is great temptation to feel like you have to prepare a ten-course gourmet feast for your loved ones for Thanksgiving. It seems almost everywhere you go right now, you are bombarded with images of elaborate spreads of gorgeous stuffed turkeys lined with rosemary and oranges surrounded by all the trimmings.

While these images might be beautiful, more often than not they can make you feel that unless you recreate such an extravagant affair for your Thanksgiving feast, it just won't be good enough. The reality, though, is that most of us do not have the time or the money to pull off a magazine-like Thanksgiving spread.

And we're here to tell you that that is perfectly okay. In fact, we'd like to encourage you to make your Thanksgiving celebrations simple and economical this year. Erin from 5DollarDinners and I will be teaming up to share some of our favorite frugal Thanksgiving recipes. Whether you're an experienced cook or a novice in the kitchen, we hope that our recipes, tips, and photo tutorials will inspire you to pull off your own "Thanksgiving on a Budget".

We've also solicited the help of Monica from TheHomespunHeart for some inexpensive Thanksgiving decoration ideas which you'll not want to miss. And after we've shared our favorite recipes, we're going to be enlisting your help on Friday.

We'll open up the floor here with a Mr. Linky and encourage you to post your favorite frugal Thanksgiving recipes or ideas on your blog and then come back here to share your link with everyone else. We look forward to reading all your frugal recipes, tips and ideas for
making this Thanksgiving both frugal and festive! 

It is our desire that this series will help relieve some of the "pressure" that is placed on you to create
the perfect meal on Thanksgiving Day. And we hope you are able to instead focus more on what Thanksgiving is really all about–taking time to give thanks for all of the blessings we have been given!

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Note from Crystal: By the way, if you are not a regular reader of Erin's blog, 5DollarDinners, may I encourage you to head over there right now and add her feed to your reader?

Erin feeds her family of four every night for, you guessed it, $5! And her recipes are not only simple and delicious, they are also quite healthful. Her menus serve to clearly dispel the myth that you can't feed your family healthfully on a budget. Read more here about Erin and how she feeds her family for $5 every night.

Ask the Readers: Food ideas for a road trip?

Cherilyn emailed and asked:

We are planning a 16+ hour road trip in December with three
adults, two kids, and two dogs – yikes! The decreasing gas prices are a
blessing but we would like to save even more by taking most of our own
food. We don't want to have to stop for every meal. Can you give me
some ideas for inexpensive ideas for eating on the road? Ideas beyond
bottled water, beef jerky, and muffins are appreciated since that is
all I can come up with. Thank you! -Cherilyn

I know many of you will probably be doing some traveling to visit family and friends over the next two months so I'd love to hear any and all ideas for road-tripping on the cheap–especially when it comes to food. What are some of your favorite frugal foods to pack and eat on the road? What ideas do you have for keeping food fresh and tasty while traveling? I'm anxious to hear!

Guest Post: Family Fun Night

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photo by Ella’s Dad

Guest Post by Katie from Cincinnati Cents

After a busy week of school, work, and extra-curricular activities, it’s sometimes difficult to imagine cramming another activity into an already-packed schedule. However, taking the time to purposefully plan a block of family time together is worth more than every quiet moment we could ever possess.

Picking one evening every week (or every other week, as your life may dictate at the time) as a “family fun night” allows families the ability to reconnect on a weekly basis, ensuring no one is lost in the shuffle of the daily routines of our lives. The night chosen is immaterial, as is the exact amount of time allotted to the event. It is crucial, however, that the activity chosen is enjoyable for all, and that every member of the family feels included. The focus should be on the family unit as a whole, and not on one particular individual.   

There are always a few more popular choices around our house for a family evening together. In the winter, and during inclement weather, our children love having a picnic in the living room. We spread blankets out over the entire floor (which not only creates a “picnic” atmosphere, but protects the carpet as well!), and enjoy our picnic dinner together. We often put on our family movies, recapturing the kids’ younger moments together. They laugh together at each others’ antics and marvel at how small they once were.

Cooking together is another fun choice for families. One of our favorites is making homemade pizza. The smell of warm yeast quickly gathers everyone around the kitchen counter, and eager hands rapidly knead the dough. Once the dough has risen, and is rolled out to the desired shape, children enjoy choosing their own toppings, and “decorating” their pizza. It is simple to make personal sized pizzas, allowing each child to become a master chef for the evening.

A family game night is an inclusive choice for families with children of varying ages. Older children can pair up with younger siblings for more challenging games, thus allowing co-sibling teams to be formed. On the flip side, younger children delight in playing their favorites with older family members. If every family member chooses one game, no one feels excluded. But, of course, who chooses first? Put numbers in a bowl and allow everyone to choose. This not only ensures a fair order, but also assists younger children in easy number recognition (as a homeschooling mom, I can’t resist those “teachable moments”!).

As odd as it sounds, we have also made family cleaning into a fun evening on more than one occasion. We have a master list of weekly chores that we highlight as we go along. When we choose this “divide and conquer” method, every child picks a few jobs out of each category. We then divvy up washcloths and cleaners (or spray bottles of water for our younger ones), put on some loud music that we all enjoy, and dive in. Afterwards, the kids tend to find a treat that has mysteriously appeared on the counter– usually ice cream!

The possibilities for a planned day or evening together are endless. The end result however, is priceless. Everyone goes away with such a feeling of connectedness–a sense of belonging that cannot be recreated outside this integral family unit. These moments are worth more than any number a price tag could bear.

Katie is a homeschooling mother of four. She blogs at Cincinnati Cents,
where she shares money-saving ideas, deals, and frugal activities to
enjoy as a family.

From Crystal: What are some of your family’s favorite ways to celebrate a night of fun together without spending a lot of money? I’d love to hear!