Mix ‘n Match $2 Holiday Meal

Cheap Thanksgiving dinner

Here is a link to a fun Excel spreadsheet so you can create your own Thanksgiving dinner, using different menu items and serving sizes and prices to see what you can come up with to create a nice, traditional holiday meal for $2 per person or less.

In this post, I’ll show you the per-person serving cost for Thanksgiving dinner items I’ve found in November 2021 in the metro Atlanta area, and you can then pick and choose how you want to put together different meal combinations, and see what your cost would be.

Obviously, this all depends on where you live.

This post is basically about how most people can try to look for cheaper items than name-brand foods, wherever you live and pay much less than the $5-per-person national average for Thanksgiving dinner quoted by the American Farm Bureau Federation and other sources.

Great Deals During the Pandemic

I was shocked to find that, even during this pandemic period, with all the supply chain issues and inflation and grocery stores running out of food and jacking up prices, that I was able to still find loads of deals and figure out how to put together a really good, traditional holiday dinner for less than $2 per person.

I often bulk buy (maybe 6 to 12 items) when things are on sale during the year, but not for this exercise. I pretty much just used things that were on sale during November in my area.

Holiday Food Deals Last Several Weeks

This is the only time I recommend that you shop at multiple stores. Normally, driving from store to store to save a few dollars here and there is a waste of your time and money; however, Thanksgiving and Christmas specials go on for weeks, so as you’re driving around town doing other things, you can stop into several grocery stores as you go by them.

So, I’ve read that the average cost per person, for Thanksgiving dinner in 2021, which is pretty much the same menu as Christmas dinner, will be $5 per person for an 8-person meal. The average cost quoted for turkey is $1.36 per pound. I found it for much less than that – as little .45 cents per pound.

Now, for someone on food stamps, or who’s just struggling to make ends meet, $5 might be more than your daily allotment for food. And remember, you’re probably going to need at least two meals on Thanksgiving or Christmas day.

If you look at the table of food above, it shows the different foods you might want to serve, but it’s not 8-person servings in this picture. I just didn’t want to have to open up all the cans and boxes and make all this food for the photograph, and then have to eat Thanksgiving dinner for a whole week.

Cheap Thanksgiving dinner
Inexpensive Thanksgiving dinner

Now, this picture shows a plate of food for one person, but it turned out to be way too much food for me. I’m a big guy who can eat a ton; however, I couldn’t come near to finishing all of this.

I didn’t eat the soup, the salad or the pumpkin pie. I was really stuffed and uncomfortable for several hours, just eating what was on this platter.

And here’s something very interesting. A number of the websites that I checked recommended up to a 1-and-a-half pound serving of turkey per adult. This platter only has 3/4- of pound, and I was still stuffed.

I am also showing half-cup servings of everything else. By the time I finished my meal, I got to taste and eat turkey, stuffing, cranberries, mashed potatoes, dinner rolls, etc.

When you eat enough food to be satisfied and full, you really don’t care that you didn’t get a huge extra serving of stuffing or potatoes or cranberries. You’re happy with the portions you got, and you’re happy that you got to eat some turkey and stuffing and gravy and all that good stuff

So, here’s how I was able to get this meal so cheap.

Low 2021 Thanksgiving Food Prices

First off, almost everything I bought, I bought within two weeks of Thanksgiving. I grab things when they’re on sale during the year, but I didn’t need to rely on anything I had purchased months earlier for this post and our video. If I had, I could have made Betty Crocker brownies for a cost of 50 cents for the whole box, as opposed to paying $2 for a pumpkin pie, for example.

Cheap macaroni and cheese
Really cheap macaroni and cheese

This is a BIG amount of mac and cheese for only 34 cents a box (plus milk and butter)!

If you are really struggling financially and still want to serve a traditional Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, one of the keys is dropping a few of the more expensive items and not serving so many different side dishes.

For example, if you look at a typical dinner mom puts out during the week, you’ll get a piece of chicken, some mashed potatoes, one or two vegetables, a piece of bread and something to drink. And that’s a pretty filling meal.

For a good holiday meal, do you REALLY need to serve green beans and corn and macaroni and cheese and sweet potatoes and collards and turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing and cranberries and two dinner rolls?

What if you just served turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, gravy, green beans, a dinner roll and a drink? That’s still more than a typical weeknight dinner.

You know how you can get people to want even less food?

Start with Soup and Salad

Sit everyone down while the turkey is resting after you take it out of the oven, and serve everyone a cup of soup, a small salad, a dinner roll and a drink.

Now, the soup is basically flavored water, but it’s a nice way to add a course to your holiday meal, and by the time everyone starts digesting the soup, salad, roll and drink – when the main meal comes, NO one is going to be STARVED and want huge portions and multiple plates.

I found some cheap onion soup earlier in the year for 40 cents a box, or 5 cents per serving, but even today, you can get it for 65 cents per box, or 8 cents a serving.

So, the next slide will contain my cost-per-serving for each item, and the slide after that will show you where I found these prices. I normally shop at Kroger, but for this exercise, I used prices for almost everything from Aldi, Lidl and Walmart.

The only item I got from Kroger, was milk and a manager’s special pumpkin pie. Kroger still has great deals on manager’s specials, when they mark things down half price.

Holiday Food Prices Per Box/Can/Serving

Turkey – Walmart/Lidl – .87 per pound (Butterball!) .45/pp Kroger*

Stuffing – Lidl – .69 a box – 12 cents per serving

Mashed potatoes – Walmart – $1.33 a box – 7 cents per serving

Corn – Lidl – .25 a can – 8 cents per person

Green Beans – Lidl – .25 a can – 8 cents per person

Cranberries – Lidl – .89 a can – .30 cents per serving

Mac and cheese – Lidl .34 a box – .10 per serving (w/ milk and butter)

Gravy – Lidl – .30 per packet – 10 cents per person

Dinner rolls – Aldi – .13 per roll

Milk – Kroger – 1.76 gallon

Iced tea – Walmart – .08 16 oz. glass

Lettuce – All stores – $1.78 per head – .22 per person

Salad dressing – Walmart – .92 – .06 per person

Soup mix – Aldi – .65 – .08 per person

Sweet potatoes – Walmart – $2.38/40 oz. can – .47 per serving

Marshmallows – Lidl – .89 per bag – 3 cents per serving

Corn bread – Lidl/Walmart – .52 Jiffy (add milk and egg) – .09 per serving

Pumpkin pie – Kroger – 1.99 (mark down)

Brownies/Cake – Kroger – .50 box (special)

Jell-O – Kroger .discount – 50 per box – .13 per serving

Brownies – Kroger discount – .50 box (+ 3 eggs) – 4 cents per serving

Cupcakes – Walmart – .92 box + eggs/milk – 5 cents per serving (unfrosted) – 15 cents frosted

Use Our Excel Spreadsheet

OK, visit this link and go to the Food Stamp Challenge website to download the Excel spreadsheet, which should be fun to play with.

You just pick the menu items you want in the first column, and type their amounts into the second column, and the bottom total cell will update your total cost, to show you what your meal will cost.

Each time to delete or add or change an item, the bottom total will change.

I hope you found this useful. If you belong to a buyer’s club or bulk buy during the year or use coupons or find manager’s special, you can probably do even better than I did.

Please share this link on your social media channels, so we can share this information with more people, including those who work with the poor, the homeless and those on food stamps.