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As a college student, the holiday season can get not only lonely if you’re spending it away from home, but also quite expensive. Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas are all wallet-emptiers.  So, here is your guide for making a financially feasible, student-friendly Thanksgiving dinner that feels homemade and something that even the poorest of cooks (like myself) can make.

I will be sharing food to buy that serves around six people. You can find all of these items at your local Vons, Ralphs or Target.


First up, we have the stuffing (my personal favorite). A classic Thanksgiving meal that is often complemented with gravy. The boxed Kraft Stove Top Turkey Stuffing Mix can be found at Target for $1.49. This mix not only tastes great but is cheap too. Now, it says that one box serves six people but according to my personal experience, this is not accurate. I would get 2 boxes to be on the safe side, especially if you are eating with around five other college students. All you have to do is add water and butter to the stuffing mix and you’re set.


The Idahoan Mashed Potatoes packet is a go-to for mashed potatoes that take zero effort and is super affordable. It is only $1.67 (member price) or $1.99 (non-member price) at Vons. You can make this both on a stovetop or in the microwave. 

For the stovetop:

  1. Add two cups of water to saucepan and heat on high until it boils
  2. Remove boiling saucepan from the stove and immediately add the entire pouch of potatoes
  3. Mix potatoes in and let it sit still for one minute

For microwave:

  1. Put two cups of water in a microwave-safe bowl
  2. Microwave for four to five minutes (be careful, this will be very hot)
  3. Add the pouch of potatoes to the bowl and stir. Let it sit for one minute


While this is the most expensive item on this list, it is honestly a great price for the amount of turkey you get. Additionally, it comes with a gravy packet.

For turkey, I found a Butterball Frozen Boneless Turkey Breast Roast that is $11.99 (member price) or $13.99 (non-member price) at Vons. This is the main item at any Thanksgiving table, so it makes sense that it is also the most sought after, most expensive and takes the most time. However, fear not, because preparing the turkey breast takes practically no work at all. Overall, the preparation and cooking time takes approximately one hour and 30 minutes.

To prepare:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit 
  2. Remove outer yellow plastic netting and wrapper 
  3. Refrigerate gravy packet until ready to use
  4. If thawed drain juices and pat roast with paper towels (not necessary if frozen)
  5. Lift string netting and shift position on roast to make removal easier after cooking. Do not remove string netting from roast prior to cooking
  6. Brush roast
  7. Cook until 165 degrees Fahrenheit 


Not every household makes green beans; people make a variety of vegetable-related dishes for Thanksgiving. Some common ones are steamed broccoli and carrots, brussel sprouts, sauteed green beans, etc. For this list, I chose a green bean casserole which makes any non-cook look professional with little to no effort. First off, if you would rather have green beans, you can get the canned Del Monte Fresh Cut Green Beans Cut Blue Lake for $1.67 (member price) or $2.19 (non-member price) at Vons. I would recommend getting two cans to serve six people. 

For regular green beans:

  1. Empty into microwave-safe bowl and cover
  2. Heat for two to three minutes
  3. Stir and drain
  4. Season accordingly

If you want to make a green bean casserole, you will need ¾ cup of milk, one can of condensed cream of mushroom soup, two cans of green beans, black pepper and crispy fried onions for the topping. One can of Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup is $1.50 at Vons. If you don’t want to spend money on crispy fried onions, you can use any Cornflakes, Crispix, or Chex from your pantry (they can be stale).

For green bean casserole:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit 
  2. Mix cream of mushroom soup, milk and pepper in a one  ½-quart baking dish
  3. Stir in green beans and ⅔  cup of preferred topping
  4. Bake for 30 minutes or until hot and stir
  5. Top with remaining ⅔ cup of preferred topping and bake for five minutes


Lastly, you have the pumpkin pie. Making pumpkin pie can be fun, but it also takes a lot of time and preparation and is quite expensive. I would recommend buying the pre-made pumpkin pie. At Ralphs, an eight-inch pumpkin pie is $3.99.


  • Can of Ocean Spray Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce: $1.69 at Target
  • Sweet Potato Tater Tots(Puffs): $2.99 at Vons

If you choose to buy and make all of these dishes, you end up spending a grand total of $26.64 (adding non-member prices). This is around the price of a regular whole turkey. Not to mention, this list feeds six people. I hope you try out and enjoy this low-budget meal.

Allister Loftus

Cal Poly '24

Alli is a second-year journalism major and environmental studies minor at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. She is from the Bay Area and currently on the editorial team for Her Campus. Alli is interested in writing about environmental justice and social justice topics. In her free time she likes watching movies, reading comics, and playing with her dogs.
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