Affordable Thanksgiving family activities

Oct 21, 2009 at 4:04 p.m. ET

Thanksgiving is the official start of the winter holiday season -- time to break out the festive table runner, some apple cider, your favorite family recipes... and the checkbook.

Family harvesting apples

With gifts, holiday outfits and parties, mistletoe won't be the only green thing looming above your head this season. Thoughts of your ever-diminishing pile of cash will be there, too.

So why not push off the start of your holiday spending by doing some less expensive activities with your family this Thanksgiving break? Here are some ideas to get you started.

Pick your own crops

Head to your local orchard to pick a pumpkin or apples. Tickets are normally less than $8 a person and include an entire day's worth of picking, hayrides and, sometimes, entertainment. Plus, you have the bonus of fresh produce to take home.

make Placecards

Avoid that pre-dinner pause of seating confusion by making placecards with your family for Thanksgiving dinner. For younger kids, trace their hands on construction paper, cut them out, write guests' names on them, and have the kiddos decorate the cutouts to look like turkeys.

Older children can do more sophisticated placecards with some fall leaves, a gold fabric pen, waxed paper and an iron. Have them write down a guest's name on each leaf in gold pen and then iron the leaf between two sheets of waxed paper to preserve it. Encourage the kids to get fancy by mimicking calligraphy fonts you can find online or in your word processor program. For most households, these projects require only supplies on hand; if not, it's just a quick trip to the craft store for less than $10.

hold a Neighborhood football tournament

With many of the houses on your block teeming with visiting relatives, everyone's going to be eager to get out and play to work off all that food. Find an open field or backyard and let the games begin! Create some fun rules to level the playing field and include all levels of athletic prowess. For example, touchdowns can be scored only by pee-wee players, or passes to Grandma must be interception free. This is totally free fun if you already have a pigskin.

create your own Iron Chef: Leftovers

By day four, no one's excited for a turkey sandwich. Mix it up this year by creating your own version of Iron Chef. Split up into teams -- adults cooking with kids judging or kids cooking (under supervision!) with adults judging -- and see who can make the best dishes from day-old turkey, stuffing, potatoes and whatever else you have in your pantry. You might be surprised at the creativity that can come out of your kitchen.

Thanksgiving should be about giving thanks, not your whole paycheck, and these activities should make that a little easier.

More Thanksgiving planning tips

Planning your family's Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving time savers for busy families
Thanksgiving traditions: 9 Ideas for families