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12 Alternatives to Turkey for Thanksgiving Dinner – Substitute Food Ideas

For plenty of Americans, Thanksgiving is synonymous with turkey. It can also be synonymous with excess and food waste. The National Resources Defense Council reports that we toss around 200 million pounds of turkey in the trash during Thanksgiving week. When holiday leftovers end up in the garbage, you’re not just throwing away food. You’re also throwing away money and the energy spent to raise the turkey, ship it to the store, and get it to your house and into your oven.

Avoiding food waste is just one reason to rethink your Thanksgiving dinner. Many people don’t hold gatherings large enough to merit 20 pounds of poultry. That’s 15 meat-eaters, according to Delish. And you can take off 1.25 pounds for every vegetarian or vegan (or turkey hater). And it’s especially crucial to save that dough if money’s tight so you reserve it for your holiday budget.

But whatever your reasons for sidestepping a giant bird, you can enjoy a festive fall feast without the traditional turkey.

Pro tip: Before shopping for this year’s Thanksgiving meal, make sure you download the Ibotta and Fetch Rewards apps. Simply scan your grocery receipt and earn cash back.

Alternatives to a Thanksgiving Turkey

It’s hard for many people to think of Thanksgiving without turkey. But there’s a lot you can serve instead. You can shine a spotlight on meat-free dishes or choose to serve a less expensive, less labor-intensive type of meat. You can also get creative and serve a main dish specific to your region or that pays homage to your cultural heritage. The hardest part is choosing an alternative.

1. Thanksgiving Side Dish Feast

Sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and mashed potatoes — let’s be honest: a lot of the appeal of Thanksgiving lies in the sides. We call it “turkey day,” but really, everyone’s rooting for the sides.

So why not skip the traditional Thanksgiving turkey completely this year and serve a menu made solely of Thanksgiving side dishes?

Centering your Thanksgiving menu around the sides is ideal if you’re holding a small gathering since you can tailor the side dishes’ sizes to the number of people attending. A good rule of thumb is to have one side dish for each person. If you’ve invited five people, serve five distinct sides.

But there are so many favorites that choosing the sides can get tricky. So create an online poll using a service like Doodle or Straw Poll, and ask your guests to vote on their favorites. You can also ask each person to bring along their favorite dish for a Thanksgiving potluck. Just ask people to share what they’re making in advance. Use a site like Perfect Potluck or SignUp Genius to have guests share what they’re bringing so you don’t end up with five different takes on sweet potato casserole or three versions of green bean casserole. Variety is the spice of your side-centric Thanksgiving dinner.

Or you can assign people dishes. That way, you can ensure you cover all the bases with your menu. But remember to cater to everyone’s skills in the kitchen. If you have that one friend who’s a hopeless cook, ask them to bring along the cranberry sauce or store-bought dinner rolls.

Need some ideas to get your side dish feast started? Give these a try:

  • Ultimate Mashed Potatoes. What sets this mashed potatoes recipe apart is the use of heavy cream and garlic for extra flavor and a rich, creamy texture. To ensure your potatoes are lump-free, use a ricer or sieve the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer.
  • Best-Ever Green Bean Casserole. “Good Eats” guru Alton Brown’s green bean casserole is a step up from the basic back-of-the-soup can recipe. The handmade panko-breaded fried onions are crisp and less salty than the prepackaged variety. Sprinkle them atop green beans swimming in a rich, garlicky mushroom sauce for a holiday staple that’s anything but stodgy. And if you can’t find fresh green beans in your area, you can easily sub a bag of frozen.
  • Apple-Orange Cranberry Sauce. If you’ve tried plain cranberry sauce and thought “not tart enough,” give this recipe a try. It adds in Granny Smith apples to make the sauce even zingier (but not too sour). Orange zest and juice brighten up and enhance the flavors of apple and cranberry.
  • Butternut Squash and Leek Bread Pudding. Creamy and sweet, butternut squash plays nicely with the mild onion flavor of leeks in this comforting bread pudding recipe. Using a loaf of brioche ensures the casserole is rich and welcoming, but you can easily swap in another type of bread, such as sourdough or even a plain sandwich loaf. Using three kinds of cheese adds complexity to the dish, but you can cut it to one if time, budget, or preference require it.
  • Sweet Potato and Sage-Butter Casserole. This make-ahead sweet potato casserole skips the cloyingly-sweet marshmallow topping. Instead, Martha Stewart’s recipe combines white and sweet potatoes enrobed in a delicious brown butter-sage sauce. Top the mixture with breadcrumbs for an appealing crunch and more sage for plenty of flavor. For an extra-impressive presentation with minimal effort, fry the sage leaves.

2. Festive Lasagna

Lasagna is a budget-friendly main course that looks just as impressive as a turkey on your Thanksgiving table. It’s festive, and most people recognize how much effort a really delicious lasagna takes.

There are loads of lasagna recipes out there. You can whip up a vegetarian lasagna for Thanksgiving or try a meat-based option.

  • Vegetarian Thanksgiving Lasagna. Serve up a wallet-friendly lasagna that stars two of the season’s most popular vegetables: butternut squash and pumpkin. The lasagna has a rich, creamy sauce made from pumpkin puree and creme fraiche drizzled over slices of roasted butternut squash and nutty shredded fontina alternated between layers of pasta. Baby arugula leaves add a bit of peppery zest to balance out the richness, while a hint of nutmeg and fresh sage leaves remind you of the season.
  • Lasagna Bolognese. Bon Appetit calls this recipe the best thanks to a “meatball approach,” which helps you avoid overbrowning the meat. Combine beef and pork with tomato paste for umami richness, pancetta for a bit of salty savoriness, and whole peeled tomatoes to brighten the flavor. Layer everything between lasagna noodles and a creamy bechamel sauce that gets added depth from hints of cayenne pepper and nutmeg.
  • Easiest Lasagna. With a bit of creamy ricotta and chewy mozzarella in each bite, this easy beef and cheese lasagna is the simplest way to feel at home at your Thanksgiving table. The recipe calls for jarred sauce, though you can make your own, so you can really customize the flavor. Pick a Diavolo sauce if you want a bit of heat or red pepper Romesco sauce for a Spanish twist.
  • Fast and Easy Pesto Lasagna. If you can find basil in your area near Thanksgiving, give this pesto lasagna a try. With its bright, grassy flavor and verdant color, this pesto lasagna harkens back to summer, even if you serve it in November. You can use walnuts instead of pricey pine nuts to make the pesto more budget-friendly or even opt for store-bought pesto.
  • White Spinach Artichoke Lasagna. Transform spinach-artichoke dip into lasagna with Ree Drummond’s recipe, which adds briny artichokes to a garlicky-rich Alfredo sauce. Layers of creamy ricotta and melty mozzarella make the dish even richer and more comforting, while wilted spinach brings an earthy quality. The recipe calls for zucchini slices along with pasta, but if you can’t find zucchini in November, you can leave them out.
  • Taco Lasagna. In this Tex-Mex spin on an Italian classic, flour tortillas take the place of pasta, while fire-roasted tomatoes step in for marinara sauce, adding some smoky flavor. Add sweet corn and black beans to the sauce before spooning it over alternating layers of tortillas; hearty refried beans; a mixture of savory taco seasoning-spiced ground turkey, bright green peppers, and sauteed onions; and a zesty Mexican cheese blend. You can make DIY taco seasoning or use a packet. You can also add a bit of heat by substituting chopped green chiles for the peppers or stirring a few dashes of hot sauce into the refried beans.

Depending on your dinner crowd’s size and dietary preferences, you can make several different recipes.

3. Vegetarian Turkey Alternative

Even if you and the majority of your guests are vegetarian or vegan, you can still cook something that approximates the traditional turkey at the heart of your holiday meal — either for nostalgia or the meat-eater or two in the group. Vegetarian turkey alternatives give you something like a turkey minus the actual meat.

Meatless turkey alternatives used to leave a lot to be desired in terms of texture and flavor. But things have come a long way since the early days of Tofurky. Meatless options available today (which you can usually find in the freezer section at a grocery store or near the tofu) taste pretty good. No one will think they’re eating turkey, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious.

Some of the better veggie turkey alternatives include:

  • Field Roast Celebration Roast. The Celebration Roast is a vegan meat alternative bursting with the flavors of fall. The seitan-based “meat” is seasoned with woody sage and aromatic garlic and surrounds a sweet-and-savory stuffing of apples, butternut squash, and mushrooms.
  • Quorn Meatless Vegetarian Turkey Roast. Quorn uses mycoprotein, aka mushrooms, to create its meatless food products. Its turkey roast has a texture similar to the real deal to satisfy the meat-eaters at your table. But the flavor of the turkey roast is a little ho-hum on its own, so plan to dress it up with savory mushroom gravy or your favorite seasonings, like Fool a Carnivore’s Old Bay-based rub. Note that Quorn contains milk and eggs, so it’s not a good pick if you’re hosting vegans.
  • Tofurky Plant-Based Roast With Wild Rice Stuffing. Tofurky is the original fake meat, and the brand’s plant-based roast gets props for most successfully imitating a Thanksgiving turkey, without, you know, the actual turkey.
  • DIY Vegan “Tofurkey” With Mushroom Stuffing and Gravy. Epicurious’ recipe for meatless turkey delivers umami punch thanks to the base of lightly seasoned miso-soaked tofu brushed with a lightly sweet soy-maple glaze. Pecans add a bit of texture to the savory mushroom and French bread stuffing. A few minutes under the broiler, and your DIY tofurkey is ready to impress with a crisp, lightly browned exterior. Serve it with a luscious herb-and-mushroom gravy.

4. Stuffed Squash or Pumpkin

From acorn or butternut to delicata or pumpkin, fall is the time for squash. And stuffed squash is also an ideal main dish for your Thanksgiving meal. It’s easy to scale up or down. Just adjust the number of squash you serve based on the headcount. It’s budget-friendly and fully customizable.

You can choose what you put in the filling. If people at your table eat meat, you can add sausage to the stuffing. If you’ve got a crowd of pork-averse guests, leave out the sausage or use a veggie option.

Stuffed squash or pumpkin is also an excellent option if you’re looking for a make-ahead meal. You can roast the squash halves a day or so in advance and mix up the stuffing ingredients the night before. Then, right before Thanksgiving dinner, fill the squash halves with the stuffing, pop them in the oven, and bake them until they’re ready.

Kitchn has an invaluable template for making stuffed squash. It gives you a basic idea of how to put together the meal while also providing flexibility to add the ingredients you like best. Or try one of these delectable recipes:

  • Stuffed Winter Squash. Get a few different types of winter squash to create a showstopping Thanksgiving display with this recipe. In addition to leftover grains and greens, it uses a cacophony of fall flavors, such as tart green apples, mild leeks, and bold and fragrant sage. The recipe calls for a hint of umami from sausage or chorizo, but you can leave it out to make the vegetarians at the table happy.
  • Quinoa-Stuffed Butternut Squash. Caramelized butternut squashes become elegant boats full of protein-packed quinoa and chickpeas with hearty leaves of kale. A toss of tart cranberries and zesty orange peel add color and vibrance.
  • Stuffed Squash. The brilliant mind of Alton Brown brings us this stuffed acorn squash full of earthy spinach, zesty onions, sweet carrots, and crisp celery mixed with delectable ground pork. While pine nuts add a buttery crunch, you can make the recipe more budget-friendly by skipping them in favor of chopped almonds or walnuts.
  • Paella-Stuffed Squash. Rachael Ray delivers a Spanish-inspired twist on stuffed squash made with piquant cured chorizo, flavorful roasted red peppers, and creamy arborio rice.

5. Harvest Vegetable Tart or Galette

Another way to put fall veggies to good use and create a showstopping turkey-free Thanksgiving dish is to make a vegetable tart or galette.

You usually need a tart pan with a removable bottom to make a tart. But a galette is freeform, meaning you roll out the dough and shape it by hand. It’s definitely more rustic-looking, which works perfectly if you’re trying to create a homespun vibe for Thanksgiving.

If you want to try a more-formal looking tart, some options include:

  • Squash Tart. With its layers of thinly sliced vegetables, Bon Appetit’s tart is practically a work of art. It starts with a whole-wheat pie crust slathered with mustard and sprinkled with cayenne. Add caramelized onions for a rich, sweet flavor and mature cheddar or Gruyere cheese for unexpected depth. Then arrange the squash. The butternut adds a nutty flavor, while the delicata is subtly sweet. For even more drama, top it with the thyme-scented butter and sea salt right at the dinner table.
  • Caramelized Garlic Tart. This recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi calls for three heads of garlic caramelized with rosemary and thyme syrup. Mild, buttery chevre and butterscotchy aged goat Gouda add flavor and depth to a rich and creamy filling that perfectly complements the melt-in-your-mouth-buttery puff pastry crust.
  • Provencal Vegetable Tart. This ratatouille-inspired tart features a traditional pie crust filled with roasted eggplant, zucchini, sweet peppers, and tomatoes tossed with fresh herbs. Fruity fontina cheese nestled between the rich caramelized vegetables adds a surprisingly sharp note. Not only is it flavorful, but the layers of colorful vegetables make it impressive to behold.

If you prefer a more rustic, rough-hewn look, these galette options are a better fit:

  • Build-Your-Own Vegetable Galette, Choose your own adventure with this flexible galette blueprint from Serious Eats. It gives you basic instructions for assembly, but the vegetables and cheese you choose are up to you. I’ve had success with roasted butternut squash, mushrooms, kale, and goat cheese. The savory mushrooms balance the nutty squash and slightly bitter kale, while the goat cheese adds a creamy texture and salty flavor. Add fresh herbs, such as sage, before baking to enhance the flavor.
  • Winter Galette. Inspired by the flavors of Southern France, this galette features a pastry crust layered with creamy lemon-ricotta filling and sweet sauteed shallots, then topped with ribbons of squash, celery root, and potato. Slicing the vegetables into thin ribbons means you don’t have to precook them before making the tart. They’ll roast as the galette cooks, turning brown and crispy and enhancing their flavors. A sprinkling of fresh oregano, rosemary, and thyme amp up the flavor. Finish it with a lemon-honey glaze.
  • Spicy Sweet Potato Galette With Broccoli, Bacon, and Balsamic Reduction. This garlicky and spicy sweet potato mash gives you a shortcut by calling for refrigerated pie dough. Layer on earthy broccoli and luscious bacon for a flavorful textural contrast. For a bit of tang and an extra layer of sweetness, finish the cooked galette with salty goat cheese and a balsamic vinegar glaze.

6. Potpies

Many people think of potpie as a recipe to use up leftover veggies and meats. But there’s no reason it can’t be the star of your holiday meal. You can make a vegetarian-friendly pie or go for a meat-based one.

  • Turkey Potpie. If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of a big Thanksgiving bird but still want some poultry on the table, Pioneer Woman’s traditional turkey potpie lets you enjoy the best of both worlds. Use what you have, whether it’s turkey or chicken, with classic potpie aromatics (a mirepoix of carrots, onions, and celery). The addition of heavy cream yields a rich and comforting sauce, while the shortening crust turns out extra flaky.
  • Root Vegetable and Mushroom Potpie. Bon Appetit’s drop biscuit potpie features a host of underused root vegetables with a complex combination of flavors: sweet celery root, earthy parsnips, buttery rutabaga, and pleasantly bitter turnips. Combined with carrots and mushrooms, it makes a filling and vegetarian-friendly main course. The pie has a rich, savory gravy thanks to porcini mushrooms, and the rosemary-infused biscuits make it extra-comforting.
  • Lobster Potpie. If you live near the coast and can get a good deal on lobster, try a decadent lobster potpie. Start by sweating fragrant onions and fennel before creating a creamy sauce spiked with Pernod, an anise-flavored liquor that complements the indulgent flavor of the crustacean. Pour the lobster, sauce, frozen peas and pearl onions, and parsley into a pie plate prepared with a bottom crust. Top it with the other crust, and crimp the edges before baking. The combination of lard and butter in the crust ensures it comes out tender and flaky.
  • Pancetta, White Bean, and Swiss Chard Potpie. Smitten Kitchen’s recipe bathes creamy white beans, earthy Swiss chard, smoky pancetta, and mirepoix in a velvety sauce before topping it all with a flaky crust. You can leave out the pancetta to make the recipe vegetarian. You can also make the sauce several days in advance.
  • Mini Beef and Stout Potpies. Bring the flavors of a British pub to your Thanksgiving table with these beef and stout potpies with root vegetables, mushrooms, rosemary, and garlic. The pies get a rich, malty flavor from the dark beer sauce. Frozen puff pastry gives you a shortcut with an added surprise: a piquant blue cheese layer to balance the umami-heavy filling.

You can make one big pie to serve in slices or divide the dough into smaller pieces and make individual pies, either in mini pie tins or a jumbo muffin pan. For mini pies, a single standard pie crust makes about three 5-inch pies. Just cut your dough into three equal pieces after it comes together, then roll them out after letting them rest in the fridge. To make muffin-size pies, roll out your pie dough, then use a pint glass to cut out circles.

7. Whole Chicken

Want to serve a whole bird at Thanksgiving but don’t have the crowd size to justify a whole turkey? Try serving a whole or roast chicken instead. A whole chicken is usually about a quarter the size of a typical turkey (around 7 pounds compared to around 20 pounds), meaning fewer leftovers and food waste. As with a turkey, you can put the chicken carcass in a slow cooker with water and aromatic vegetables like onions, carrots, and celery to make homemade stock. Use the stock to make soup or gravy.

  • Perfect Roast Chicken. People now refer to Ina Garten’s roast chicken recipe as “engagement chicken” because it’s supposedly the recipe people make right before getting married (just ask Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex). This simple recipe yields tender, lemony, and garlicky meat. Whether you plan to pop the question or not, it’s worth making.
  • Salt-Roasted Chicken. Chef Thomas Keller’s take on roast chicken is also a snap to prepare. It has a crispy, delicious skin thanks to lots and lots of salt. Keller also takes a firm stance against buttering or basting the chicken before putting it into the oven, which he says creates steam. For the juiciest bird, you want dry heat.
  • Thai Grilled Chicken. This simple Thai street food recipe takes the stress out of Thanksgiving without sacrificing flavor. Peppercorn and coriander in the brine and baste deliver on depth and aroma. Brining the chicken first produces a tender, juicy bird. And if you can tolerate the cold weather for a few minutes at a time to check on it, cooking it over charcoal adds delicious smoke (though there are oven instructions too).
  • Pomegranate and Za’atar Roast Chicken. Za’atar — a woody, acidic, and nutty spice mix popular in the Middle East — provides a complex flavor that can jazz up everything from hummus to poultry. Sprinkle it all over the chicken, then roast it in a bath of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice to add a subtle fruitiness to the proceedings. Finish with a refreshing walnut, cucumber, and radish salad.
  • Cornish Hen With Stuffing. Sometimes called broiler chickens, Cornish hens are smaller than most chickens and ideal for a limited Thanksgiving gathering. Allow one full bird per person. Stuff the petite birds with a nutty cranberry-apple wild rice. Then baste them with a sweet-tart glaze of Dijon mustard, maple syrup, and apple cider.

8. Pork Tenderloin

In terms of eating healthy on a budget, pork tenderloin is one of the leanest affordable cuts on the market. It’s also usually the most tender part of the pig and can make a spectacular presentation perfect for an unforgettable holiday meal. At only around a pound per loin, it lets you control leftovers by making only what you and your guests can eat. And since the cut is long, slender, and boneless, it also cooks very quickly, a bonus for busy hosts.

Try these centerpiece-worthy pork tenderloin recipes:

  • Sage- and Garlic-Crusted Pork Tenderloin. Make it look like you spent hours preparing Thanksgiving by serving this flavorful pork enrobed in a spicy and fragrant Thanksgiving-appropriate rub of garlic and sage. It pairs perfectly with your family’s favorite sage stuffing recipe.
  • Pork Tenderloin With Seasoned Rub. Jazz up lean tenderloin with an exciting rub of fragrant garlic, smoky cumin, and floral coriander in this quick and easy recipe.
  • Roast Pork Loin With Carrots and Mustard Gravy. You only need to season the pork tenderloin with salt and pepper. A bright mustard pan gravy adds the punch of flavor you’re looking for.
  • Southwestern Spiced Pork Tenderloin. Bring a spicy Tex-Mex flavor profile to your holiday meal by seasoning your meat with smoky chili powder, cumin, and paprika before roasting. The warm spiciness of cinnamon adds depth and contrast.
  • Teriyaki Pork Tenderloin. For a sweet-and-tangy take, try this teriyaki-roasted pork tenderloin. Make the homemade teriyaki sauce by mixing savory soy sauce and sesame oil with mirin or rice wine vinegar for brightness. Add flavorful ginger, garlic, and pineapple and some caramel-sweet brown sugar.

9. Whole-Roasted Cauliflower

Who knows who came up with the idea of roasting an entire head of cauliflower whole, but applause to them. The final result is a centerpiece dish so attractive your guests will completely forget about the turkey. Roasted cauliflower is caramelized, charred, and crispy on the outside but soft and creamy on the inside.

One head of cauliflower serves about four people, especially if those four people have plenty of other Thanksgiving side dishes to choose from. If you’re hosting a larger party, just roast more cauliflower heads as needed.

To make your roasted cauliflower truly spectacular-looking when it comes out of the oven, leave some of the stalk and green leaves attached. If you can, look for purple or orange cauliflower, instead of basic white. Your best bet for finding an orange or purple cauliflower is to visit a local farmers market, although some supermarkets sell them as well.

  • Whole-Roasted Cauliflower With Spicy Tahini Sauce. A dipping sauce really livens up roasted cauliflower. The Los Angeles Times’ recipe serves roasted cauliflower with a chile- and black pepper-spiced tahini sauce. If tahini isn’t an option, make a quick cumin yogurt sauce instead.
  • Mustard-Parmesan Whole-Roasted Cauliflower. Brushing the cauliflower with garlic and mustard before roasting gives the finished dish an intense, savory flavor. A sprinkle of grated parsley-spiked Parmesan near the end of cooking gives it a crisp coating and complements the nuttiness of roasted cauliflower.
  • Whole-Roasted Cauliflower With Brown Butter Gravy. This recipe steams the cauliflower before roasting it, giving you a vegetable that’s melt-in-your-mouth tender on the inside and crispy on the outside. Serve it with a luscious onion gravy to make the cauliflower even richer and more flavorful.
  • Whole-Roasted Cauliflower With Turmeric Tahini Sauce and Pistachios. Food 52 suggests topping tender roasted cauliflower with toasted pistachio-sesame sauce, briny pickled pearl onions, and dried kalamata olives. Add spicy Fresno chiles and an herbaceous mix of parsley, mint, and dill before sprinkling on tart pomegranate arils. Serve it with homemade turmeric tahini sauce with a kick of ginger. If pistachios and olives are too pricey, substitute another mild nut and dried green olives.

10. Turkey Breast or Legs

If you just can’t skip turkey on Thanksgiving Day but also don’t have the crowd size to justify a whole bird (and all those leftovers), prepare and serve turkey breast or legs instead.

Turkey breast has a few other benefits beyond being a more manageable size than a whole bird. It only has white meat, which some people prefer. Stick with the legs if you prefer dark meat. Both are also much easier to cook.

To free up coveted space in your oven on Thanksgiving Day, cook your turkey breast or legs in a slow cooker. You can also fry the turkey or prepare it on the grill.

Cooking turkey breast is ideal for a party size of around six to eight people.

  • Slow Cooker Turkey Breast. This forgiving slow cooker recipe’s extended cooking time produces meat that’s juicy and satisfying. An easy mix of dried seasonings lends an herbal, smoky flavor reviewers rave about.
  • Pastrami-Style Grilled Turkey Breast. Coat the turkey in a peppery rub of black and Szechuan peppercorns, citrusy coriander seeds, and anise-like fennel, then grill-smoke it or roast it in the oven.
  • Gravy-Braised Turkey Legs.  To take full advantage of the moist and flavorful dark meat, braise turkey legs in their own lucsious gravy with aromatics and dry white wine.
  • Stuffing-Fried Turkey Cutlets. Deep-frying a turkey produces meat that’s moist and tender, but the process of frying a whole bird is a pain. Frying turkey cutlets on the stovetop is a simpler alternative. The crunchy coating has garlic and onion powder and poultry seasoning, mimicking the flavor of your favorite holiday stuffing.
  • Turkey Tamales. Making tamales lets you get your family involved in the cooking process. While they can be labor-intensive, rolling tamales isn’t difficult, and many steps are age-appropriate for even some of the youngest kids. Hosting a family “tamalada,” or tamale-making party, could even become a new Thanksgiving tradition. These juicy dark meat turkey tamales are extra special thanks to a black mole sauce, or mole negro. Mole negro is strong and spicy, powered by pungent ginger and charred chile seeds. This recipe calls for a wrapper of banana leaves, but you can substitute soaked cornhusks if that’s what you have.

11. Other Holiday Meats

While Thanksgiving equals turkey for many, other holidays usually have their own signature main course, such as ham on Easter and roast beef or brisket on Christmas. If you’re going to skip the turkey this year, borrow from your favorite holiday. Other main course meats tend to serve smaller crowds, so they’re perfect for reducing food waste.

  • Slow Cooker Honey-Glazed Ham. Juicy, salty ham isn’t just for the spring. Make this recipe in the slow cooker so you can spend most of your Thanksgiving meal prep focusing on sides and desserts. It also forces you to avoid the biggest cut you can find since you need something that fits in your slow cooker crock (10 pounds is as big as you can go for a 6-quart crock). The low heat keeps the meat from drying out, for a moist and tender main dish. The syrupy clove-scented honey-mustard glaze brings the warmth and zing you expect from a holiday ham without being a carbon copy of your Easter dinner centerpiece.
  • Salmon With Green Olive Caper Sauce. While still nontraditional, salmon is gaining popularity as an alternative holiday main. Bring a Mediterranean nod to your Thanksgiving table with this earthy and bright salmon dish. The green olive caper sauce dresses up heart-healthy salmon with just the right amount of brine. Lemons in the sauce help keep the flavors bright without overwhelming the palate.
  • Holiday Beef Brisket With Onions. This brisket is extra savory and rich thanks to the earthy porcini mushrooms and intense canned tomatoes in the braising liquid and a simple thyme-oregano rub. Prep it a couple of days ahead so the meat has plenty of time to absorb the umami flavor.
  • Roast Goose With Crispy Skin. Tender meat with a skin that practically shatters when you bite into it? You can have it all. Goose is only slightly smaller than the overfattened turkey we see in the store. But it has much more fat, meaning it serves fewer people per pound than the traditional Thanksgiving fowl. Separating the meat from the skin allows the goose flesh to baste in that unctuous fat. The result is a juicy and rich holiday bird. Add a touch of sweet heat with a honey-Tabasco glaze.

12. Dessert for Dinner

Who says Thanksgiving dinner has to be dinner? If your favorite part of the holiday meal is the pie, skip right to Thanksgiving dessert.

A dessert-themed Thanksgiving meal is ideal if you’re holding a virtual Friendsgiving and your friends aren’t keen on the idea of preparing a whole meal just for themselves. Instead, each person can enjoy a slice or two of their favorite Thanksgiving dessert.

You can also go the potluck route and ask people to bring their favorite dessert to an in-person event. Some sweets to include are pecan pie, apple pie, and pumpkin pie. You can also put a creative spin on classic holiday desserts. Don’t forget to have enough whipped cream or ice cream to go around.

  • Butterscotch Pie With Curry Crust. A comforting butterscotch custard pie comes with a bit of a surprise — a crust lightly seasoned with curry powder. Don’t worry — the creamy, caramel-like custard cuts right through the curry’s heat.
  • Apple-Cranberry Crisp. Mix things up this holiday by serving a crisp topped with a crunchy cinnamon-scented crumb topping reminiscent of oatmeal cookies. Tart cranberries provide a lively contrast to the apples’ subtle sweetness.
  • Sweet Potato-Miso Pie With Chocolate Sesame Crust. Sweet potato pie is a classic, but it also tends to be a little one-note. Add some umami with a dose of miso to complement the seeds in the chocolate-sesame crust. Sesame seeds give the crushed chocolate wafer cookie crust a slightly nutty flavor similar to Nutella.
  • Pumpkin Cheesecake. Breathe new life into pumpkin pie by turning it into a rich, creamy cheesecake this year. A warm, spicy pumpkin pie filling joins forces with a tangy cheesecake base atop a spicy gingerbread crust. Finish it off with a sticky-sweet caramel topping.
  • Salted Caramel-Chocolate Tart. Top this tart’s sweet caramel filling with a layer of rich, semisweet chocolate ganache. A gentle sprinkling of sea salt boosts the chocolatey flavor and makes the caramel less cloyingly sweet.

Make the desserts from scratch, use a store-bought pie crust and homemade filling, or go for store-bought. Either way, you get to enjoy the best part of the holiday: feeling grateful for the friends and family you have in your life while enjoying a sweet treat.

Final Word

Thanksgiving can often be the start of a hectic and expensive time of year. But you can still save money and minimize food waste during the holiday. Instead of relying on turkey recipes, think beyond the bird this year.

You’ll get to put together a Thanksgiving feast that people will love and remember for years to come, all because you tried something new and different.

What do you plan to cook for Thanksgiving this year? How else do you plan to cut the costs and waste of the meal while still making it memorable?

Amy Freeman
Amy Freeman is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia, PA. Her interest in personal finance and budgeting began when she was earning an MFA in theater, living in one of the most expensive cities in the country (Brooklyn, NY) on a student's budget. You can read more of her work on her website, Amy E. Freeman.

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