A golden, cooked-to-perfection turkey gracing the dinner table is the defining image of Thanksgiving. After all, what would Turkey Day be without the turkey?
But turkey prices are expected to hit an all-time high for Thanksgiving 2022 due to inflation and a particularly virulent bird flu that’s reduced stock. Families facing high food bills might want to consider turkey alternatives for Thanksgiving this year.
We’ve rounded up three Thanksgiving meal plans, including vegan and vegetarian dishes, that skip the turkey but still deliver on flavor. Who knows, you might discover a new favorite that will become a family tradition!
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3 Alternative Thanksgiving Meal Ideas You Need in 2022
It will be more expensive than ever to get Thanksgiving dinner on the table in 2022. The highly contagious and lethal H5N1 strain of avian flu (or “bird flu 2022”) has killed millions of turkeys, chickens, and other birds.
For American families, this means turkey will likely be at historically high prices this Thanksgiving. The retail price for boneless, skinless turkey breasts reached $6.70 per pound in September. That’s a record-high price, and it’s 112% higher than it was in September 2021, when turkey breasts cost $3.16 per pound. Inflation is a factor, too. According to the American Farm Bureau, retail food prices were 11.4% higher in August compared to the same time last year.1
Budget-conscious Thanksgiving hosts needn’t fear. The non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner menus below focus on cheaper alternatives to turkey paired with simple side dishes and desserts. Besides, you didn’t want to worry about when to start defrosting that turkey, anyway!
1. Ham with Sweet Potatoes and Collard Greens
Layer on the Southern charm for Thanksgiving 2022! This Southern-inspired menu features a classic glazed ham with sweet potatoes and collard greens, and a pumpkin roll for dessert.
Glazed Spiral Ham is almost as traditional as turkey, and it’s even easier to make! It’s a great way to feed a large crowd, too. A single 10-pound turkey can serve 15-20 guests. At around $3 per pound, ham is usually pricier than turkey. But this year, ham is the cheaper main dish.
These Spicy-Sweet Roasted Sweet Potatoes skip the marshmallow topping but amp up the flavor with chili, paprika, and cayenne for something a little different.
Slow Cooker Collard Greens, made the Southern way with bacon and drippings, not only taste great but they also balance out the sweetness of the ham and sweet potatoes. Plus, they’re made in the slow cooker, so they don’t take up valuable oven or stovetop space.
This Classic Pumpkin Roll is a fun and delicious alternative to pumpkin pie. Great if you love baking but fear making pie crust.
2. Vegan “Meatloaf” with Wild Rice and Green Beans
Thanksgiving dinner ideas without turkey are nothing new to vegetarians and vegans. This vegetarian-friendly Thanksgiving menu has meatless “meatloaf” accompanied by wild rice stuffing, a green bean dish, and a simple apple crisp for dessert.
This Vegan Meatloaf uses chickpeas – an affordable ingredient at around $1-2 per can or 1-pound bag – as its main source of protein.
Vegan Wild Rice Stuffing with Cranberries is a great complement to the meatloaf, and it looks beautiful on the table, too!
These Green Beans with Mushrooms bring together crisp cooked green beans and garlicky mushrooms. Replace the butter with oil to make it vegan.
This 5-ingredient Best Vegan Apple Crisp is a simple and delicious alternative to apple pie.
3. Stuffed Acorn Squash with Mac and Cheese and Brussels Sprouts
A show-stopping stuffed acorn squash is the star of this menu, which also features baked mac and cheese and Brussels sprouts followed by a festive cheesecake with cranberry compote for dessert.
This Stuffed Acorn Squash is a vegetarian Thanksgiving turkey alternative with a real wow factor. One acorn squash costs around $1-2, with each squash feeding two guests. Include the optional chickpeas to up the protein.
Baked Mac and Cheese is a filling, stick-to-your-ribs dish – perfect for Thanksgiving! This recipe calls for gruyere cheese, which is pricey at around $15/pound, but you can substitute less expensive Swiss cheese or Emmental instead.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Lemon, Parmesan and Breadcrumbs are simple but look and taste great.
This Creamy Cheesecake with Cranberry Compote can be made in advance, giving you one less thing to do on the day!
Thanksgiving on a Budget
In addition to choosing a turkey alternative, another great way to save money on Thanksgiving dinner is to turn to wholesale stores like Costco and Sam’s Club, especially if you’re feeding a large crowd.
Both Costco and Sam’s Club offer fresh ingredients, premade sides, and platters that are perfect for Thanksgiving day appetizers. Don’t forget the drinks! Both stores have a good selection of delicious yet affordable wines and liquors, plus non-alcoholic sparkling beverages, sodas, and bottled water.
Ultimately, Thanksgiving isn’t about the turkey. It’s about family, friends, tradition, and togetherness. And those ingredients don’t cost a thing.