With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I was very excited for the opportunity to interview Melissa d’Arabian from Food Network’s Ten Dollar Dinners. I loved watching Melissa on Season 5 of The Next Food Network Star and was so happy when she won. She’s a mom of four children and I felt connected to her in that she strives to cook well for her family while staying in the budget. Ten Dollar Dinners has turned out to be a wonderful show full of incredible recipes, tips, and tricks for creating fantastic low-budget meals for your family.
Last year Melissa took on the challenge of making an entire Thanksgiving dinner for $20. I thought who better to ask about how to create a memorable low cost holiday meal.
Tired Mom Tésa: Hi Melissa. How can we incorporate pantry items we may already have into our Thanksgiving meal?
Melissa d’Arabian: You know, you’ve touched upon a strategy, a skill, that is so near and dear to me that I love hearing that you’re interested in developing it.
Get really good at going into your pantry and looking at the same ingredients you see all the time and turning them into something special. So if you can see eggs, flour, and sugar and think about turning them into some sort of custard or pudding, that’s going to take you a long way to stretch your dollar. So get very good at your pantry first.
A couple of strategies. One is when you look into your pantry, and I’m going to include the refrigerator as well, make sure you have a scheduled scan of your pantry and refrigerator as part of your menu planning or shopping process. Why? Because then you can check to see are there any ingredients that have been sitting around for a long time…get very good at checking your pantry and seeing and knowing what you have there. Even just a 5 minute scan once a week before you put together your grocery list will get you very good at pulling those ingredients forward and using those ingredients as a start for your menu planning for the upcoming week and then you can fill in the blanks with your upcoming shopping.
In terms of shopping, this time of year I’ve got a great tip when it comes to pantry items and shopping before the holidays. Here’s the thing, it’s good news and bad news.
The good news is a lot of the typical foods that you need for Thanksgiving are going to be on uber-sale…starting next week. It’s going to be not a lot of money and very inexpensive. For instance, you can get a turkey for not a lot of money per pound.
The bad news is that stuff like flour, sugar, all of those items are not going to be on sale. Now, they are not going to raise the prices on you, they just aren’t going to be on sale.
The whole idea is that they use all of these Thanksgiving items as their loss leaders. Now a loss leader is an item that is advertised at a low price and the retailer is happy to take a cut in their profits. Sometimes they’ll even take a loss in that one profit, hence the title loss leader. They’ll take a cut in their profits to get you in the store where you’ll also buy your flour at full price, your sugar at full price, your eggs at full price.
So the strategy for pantry ingredients around the holidays is really try, two weeks before the holidays come up, try to make sure that you have a stocked pantry and try not to buy your pantry items right around the holidays because usually they are not the stuff that’s on sale.
Tired Mom Tésa: What are your favorite special low cost Thanksgiving or holiday drink ideas?
Melissa d’Arabian: Absolutely. Here’s my budget tip for having drinks at a party. Have one signature drink that you serve to everybody. That way it makes it festive and no one feels like they’re cheated out on something and if you’ve got that one special drink whether it’s your signature Sangria or your special Bloody Mary if you’re doing a brunch.
Now for that drink what you can do to create that drink, try thinking about making some interesting simple syrups. You can make a simple syrup out of almost anything. All you need is half water and half sugar – so let’s say a cup of water and a cup of sugar. Put it into a pan and bring it to a simmer for 3 or 4 minutes with something in it. It could be a orange zest…it could be a lemon zest or a lime zest. You could marry in an herb or a spice. It could be a cinnamon stick. It could be anything.
Look around your pantry and see, what could you boil up in a little bit of water and sugar and create a simple syrup. You know what is delicious? Do it with dried cranberries or mix in a little bit of your cranberry sauce before you put it out on the table. I don’t know about your house, but my house we have it out on the table and it does not get eaten. There is room to spare in that cranberry sauce to go into my simple syrup.
So make up a simple syrup. Limes are a great way to zest or orange zest is a great way to get a lot of flavor for a little money and then toss in an herb…You can mix in this simple syrup either with a really inexpensive sparkling water or you could even take white wine and sparkling water and the simple syrup and make up a little spritzer.
So you’ve got alcoholic drinks for the adults around your Thanksgiving table and you’ve got like a lime soda or an orange soda for the little ones around your table. And everyone feels like it’s special and really it costs you the price of a cup of sugar which of sugar.
Tired Mom Tésa: Thank you Melissa for taking the time to talk with us and for providing such wonderful tips!
- Thanksgiving will air Sunday, November 14th at 12:30 pm ET/PT. Melissa gets creative with classic Thanksgiving leftovers creating Turkey Taquitos with with Cranberry Salsa and Sweet Potato Empanadas for dessert.
- $10 Holiday will air Sunday, December 5th at 12:30 pm ET/PT. Melissa prepares Roast Beef with Marsala Gravy and Pork Roast Stuffed with Ham & Cheese – both for $10 or less!
She will also be appearing in the upcoming episode of Dear Food Network – Top 10 Thanksgiving Problems Solved, this Saturday, November 13th at 9pm. Along with an incredible line-up of other Food Network stars, Melissa will countdown the most common Thanksgiving Day questions as searched on FoodNetwork.com.
You can also find Melissa on Twitter and Facebook where her fun, bubbly personality and limitless food knowledge shine through.
Thank you to the Food Network for setting up this interview. No compensation was received.