It’s Thanksgiving time…

“Do you want to get a free-range turkey for Thanksgiving?” My husband texted me a local farm’s screenshot for $5.99/pound. “Is that a good price?”

I’m a vegetarian. I’m happy with a carrot. I usually make Indian food–the smell of fresh-ground spices blends with the scent of roasting turkey causing the non-vegetarians to tell me how much “that doesn’t smell like Thanksgiving.”

It does to me.

Still, I understand why we need to cook the huge meal. It’s tradition. Kids all over America are drawing turkeys right now, donning Pilgrim hats, putting feathers in their hair.

A proper Thanksgiving dinner must be on the table before football and Black Friday begin.

And so, most of the nation stuffs themselves, rushing to express gratitude for the 6PM sales that mean some cashier somewhere didn’t get time with their families.

If we’re going to celebrate Thanksgiving, let’s get this thing right–Pilgrims didn’t eat Butterballs. According to William Bradford’s diaries, dinner on that first Thanksgiving was most probably deer, eels, shellfish, and wildfoul.

“Wildfoul,” could have been turkeys, but was more likely to have been passenger pigeons, geese, or ducks stuff with onions and chestnut stuffing, not a lot of sugar–that was hard to come by. Pilgrim food was the kind of food you eat when you’ve nearly starved to death–when your mom says, “Eat that sandwich, kids all over the world are starving.” These were those kids.

There wasn’t any of the sort of food that makes diners happy at the moment then crying to lose weight at the end of the holiday season. You wouldn’t have gained much weight that first Thanksgiving season.

First off, there was no wheat–only corn for grain–so no carb-loading bread, no apple or pumpkin pie, and no fighting over that last Pillsbury crescent. There was no seven-layer dip, no green bean casserole with those little crunchy onion ring crusts on top, no egg nog.

Even potatoes hadn’t made it over yet. According to the Smithsonian and Plimouth Plantations museum, it’d take spuds another fifty years to get to New England from South America. Sweet potatoes were still stuck in the Caribbean, and since there was no sugar for the cranberries, no cranberry sauce.

Still want this meal? Sad, isn’t it?

The food isn’t the only thing that’s troublesome about historical Thanksgiving. It’s the way kids learn history. I’m a history teacher, so I think about these things.

History books show Americana–gatherings of Pilgrims with Native Americans, gratitude, and prayers. We make Turkey crafts–from kindergarteners to Martha Stewart herself, decorate with cornucopia, and we pull out all the stops to make the holiday spectacular.

Many Native Americans, though, view Thanksgiving as a National Day of Mourning–the start of a national genocide. My son has Mic Mac heritage and I have students who are Narragansett, Cherokee, Blackfoot, Seminole, Mashentucket. It’s important to acknowledge the history of their people. We can’t change history, but we can examine it then do our part to deserve the gifts we’ve been given.

That’s what the holiday’s about, that’s why we celebrate with gratitude every year.

“How about a cheesecake, too?” The request came through in a timely manner. That would have been dessert number three–calories, not gratitude.

“No,” I said. Not that I can’t whip up a cheesecake from scratch pretty easily, but the request list was growing. I’m working hard to reclaim the holidays, make them less about money, things, and perfection, and more about things like love, service, and gratitude.

Holidays have gotten completely out of hand, which takes away from relaxing and enjoying. I’m always remembering something I didn’t do, make, or buy.

That’s why we need to talk cost savings and simplification.

Martha Stewart made a boxed Thanksgiving meal for $179 where she’ll send you the turkey, ingredients for the sides, and dessert, and instructions. All you have to do is cook. For an extra couple bucks, I hear she’ll send one of her employees to do it for you. He’ll thoughtfully clip herbs and make a sage in brown butter sauce for each of your side dishes. You can dine in style.

That’s expensive–the average Thanksgiving dinner for ten (sans alcohol or extras) is fifty bucks, according to the American Farm Bureau.

Martha’s out of my price range, and maybe yours, too. There are other places to get prepared food. Our grocer makes dinners, too, with a fully-prepared turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and pies for $2.99/pound. That comes in way under Martha, but way over average.

You can do better.

If you plan, cook, and freeze, you can have a waste-free affordable meal that will go the distance, feeding you for a month, and you won’t even feel like you’re eating leftovers.

I can do better than that.

Let this Thanksgiving season be the year you stop the madness. Spend less, relax more, and make a solid attack plan to not overdo Christmas so you don’t need to punish yourself on New Years.

Here are some tips for doing that. Enjoy Thanksgiving with elegance–without overspending–and save some time for your glass of eggnog or wine.

  1. Shop the pre-holiday turkey sales. This year, I bought two turkeys for $.59/pound each, $6 and $7 dollars each. I had to spend $25 to get that offer. There was a limit of two turkeys, but they also had natural turkeys for $.99 so I picked up one of those, too. I spent $13.50 on that one, $6 more than the less expensive turkeys but $19 less than doing another $25 checkout. So, altogether, I have three turkeys, two in the freezer for later in the year–huge savings!
  2. Make it at home. I really love Martha, but you simply must cook your own holiday meals. She’d want you to do that, especially if you’re in a difficult budget situation. Gather your recipes ahead of time, and write out your menu for Thanksgiving. Writing it out is important. It prevents waste, forgotten side dishes, and scatter-brained cooking.
  3. Simplify. Plan out your meal like you would plan your weekly meal prep. You really don’t need seventy side dishes and eight pies. Choose a few showcase items then make the other stuff that people requested for another big dinner.
  4. Pack it all up. People waste so much food after Thanksgiving. We get tired, then food sits on the counter. Pack it all up immediately. Prepare yourself with Foodsaver bags, Tupperware, or Mason jars, then enlist a kitchen brigade to help you do it before you sit down.
  5. Create meals for the freezer. When packing food, don’t just put the turkey and foil in the fridge to be forgotten. Make lunch-sized portion meals packed in labeled containers that are easy to identify in the freezer. On a night you’re busy, you’ll have several dinners ready.
  6. Freeze the desserts, too. Slice up the leftover pies. Freeze them by the piece, placing them next to each other on a cookie sheet and freezing for a couple hours, then transfer them to a large container. Take out individual slices when you need them.
  7. Make your soup stock. Have some chopped carrots, celery, and onion. You needed this for your stuffing, make extra for after Thanksgiving dinner. After your turkey is nearly gone, make a stock immediately by putting a bit of olive oil in the pan, sautéing the veggies, and adding water with the turkey scraps and bones in that pot. Simmer. Go watch football.  After an hour or two, turn off your pot. Cool, take out the bones, and pack this up for the freezer, too. It’ll make a great risotto, soup, stew or flavoring for many meals to come.
  8. Skip the Black-Friday-Starting-on-Thursday nonsense. Resist Black Friday–rest. This year, commit to doing Christmas prep after you’ve enjoyed Thanksgiving and in as fun and simple a way as possible, without rushing, line-fighting, or insanity.
  9. Make a plan for giving back that fits the budget. Many of us give and give in our classrooms and communities. This year, I want to do more, but I want to do it with my boy. I grew up with my parents starting and working in soup kitchens. Thanksgiving and Christmas are days of amazing generosity. The thing is this–there are 364 other days, some years 365 where the world seems to pass on by. This year, I’m going to find some way to make the world a better place. I’m going to research with my 9-year old, and let him help pick. Remember this when giving–there are three ways to do it. You can use your time, talent, or treasure. if you’re in money-saving mode, pick one of the other two!
  10. Stop, relax, and enjoy. If you’ve planned ahead, simplified, used the holiday bounty to prep ahead meals, you should have a minute or two Thanksgiving weekend to stop and enjoy. Skipping the holiday rush means you can afford that time, which is essential to yourself and your wellbeing. Don’t forget about that! When you start taking time out to really relax–despite the fact you’ve got a million things to do, clean, prep, buy, or organize, you’ll start to realize the benefits of simplicity, and you’ll be hooked.

Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy every moment, and don’t forget to build in some time for yourself!



[Painting: Jennie Augusta Brownscombe,1914 “The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth,” oil on canvas]