6 Main Dish Ideas for your Thanksgiving Dinner Instead of the Basic Turkey (or in addition to)!

The main course will usually be the most expensive part of your Thanksgiving meal, apart from alcohol. Being prepared can help you save money no matter what you decide to serve and what your family and guests prefer. Or, sometimes you just want some variety in your meal or to have some extra meat! In any case, here are 6 main dish ideas for your Thanksgiving dinner instead of turkey-or, in addition to your turkey!

6 Main Dish Ideas for your Thanksgiving Dinner - blog graphic.png

1. Turkey

Ok, so I said INSTEAD of turkey, but how I can I LEAVE turkey out?? Plus, I said maybe in addition to your turkey, so....Most families go the traditional route and choose a turkey. However, there are several important factors to consider. Do you want a whole bird, or just the breast? My family always cooks the whole bird. It's part of the tradition for someone to stand over it and carve it, and hand out little tastes as they carve. If your family does not like dark meat, a breast would be best. However, it will usually be more expensive per pound than a whole turkey.

A bird with a bone in it will lose about one-third of its weight by the time you discard bones, giblets, fat and so on. This means a 12-pound bird will yield 8 pounds of food. Calculate 4 to 8 ounces of turkey per person. This will ensure you have enough to go around. And, the whole bird will take longer to cook, so plan accordingly.

Consider buying a bigger bird than you need so you can cook once and then start making the most of the leftovers, such as sliced turkey breast for sandwiches or turkey chili.  

Buy a turkey that is not self-basting. You may also want to avoid organic as it is so expensive. Look for sales on frozen turkeys and turkey breasts in the run-up to Thanksgiving. At almost every store around where I live, there is some kind of special or sale on a turkey at Thanksgiving. Also try local farms or farmer’s markets to see if you can buy a fresh bird direct.

It is important to note, however, that not everyone likes turkey. So, what are some affordable alternatives?

2. Pork Tenderloin

Pork is branded as "the other white meat". A pork tenderloin is lean, tasty and versatile. You can use all the same sides as you would with a turkey or chicken. You can also use any leftover meat for a variety of homemade TV dinners, like tacos, stir fry and more. 

Your supermarket usually has great sales for pork too!


3. Roasted Chicken

Cook one or more chickens. You can usually find great prices per pound. Most people like chicken and you can use all the same side dishes and fixings as you would if you cooked a turkey. Oven stuffer roasters are usually on the large side if you just need one bird. I have also heard that some people like to buy a rotisserie chicken that is already cooked. I mean affordable AND simple? How can you go wrong?

Chicken breasts can be purchased for around $2 per pound in warehouse clubs if no one likes dark meat.

4. Ham

Some people love ham at the holidays, and will buy a baked ham while pork prices are cheap. Bone-in is usually cheaper. You can use the same sides as with a turkey. Some large families cook both turkey and ham and then make the most of any leftovers. 


5. Roast Beef

For some, a holiday meal isn’t complete without a roast dinner. And some people prefer red meat to poultry or pork. A large roast can feed many guests and often still give you enough for leftovers to slice up for sandwiches or use in tacos, chili and so forth. 

Check in the warehouse clubs or supermarket sales for the best prices. If your family loves Thanksgiving side dishes, your first thought isn't roast beef, but it doesn't mean that you can't serve them. 

6. A Vegetarian Option

Many people have given up meat, or like to eat light, so if you are not sure who on your guest list eats what, including a vegetarian or vegan main course might be a good idea. You can find many recipes for delicious nut roasts, for example, and you can buy the nuts in bulk online. You can also buy a turkey-style Quorn roast in health food stores or online, which many people find as tasty as turkey. 

You can get a one-pound roast for about $7, which can be expensive, but a little goes a long way and you can serve it with all the same side dishes. 

So, all of these options are great ideas for saving money on your main course and providing a great variety of food for your guests. I am super lucky that at my in-laws house for the holidays, there is usually AT LEAST two meats. Always turkey, and then either a pork tenderloin, a roast beef, or a roasted chicken. No matter what, it is always fantastic! As you plan your dinner, think of these other options to either add to your meal, or replace your turkey. It may surprise you that so many people like other things besides turkey at Thanksgiving! (And, it may save you a few $)

Happy Main Course Planning,