How a Clever Cook Substitutes 10 Common Thanksgiving Ingredients

Is the grocery store out of boxed chicken broth? Did you forget to buy canned mushroom soup or stuffing cubes? If you don't have a few commonly-used ingredients for your Thanksgiving dinner, here's what you can substitute.

Slow Cooker Chicken Broth
Alison Bickel and Emma Christensen

If there's one thing we’ve all learned in the past two years, it's that the global supply chain is far more finicky and delicate than we had any idea of. Anyone shopping for the commonly used holiday ingredients may find themselves out of luck at their local grocery this season, which can feel devastating when you and your family spend all year looking forward to the holiday dishes you share annually. 

Not to worry! We’ve got a handy list of ingredient substitutions that will help any home cook work with what's available this holiday season.

10 Holiday Ingredient Substitutions

Follow these guidelines whenever you need to substitute ingredients unexpectedly. 

1. Use frozen cranberries instead of fresh cranberries.

Fresh cranberries have a very brief season. While November is the peak of it, they can be in short supply.

If fresh cranberries aren’t available, choose frozen. Proceed as usual with your cranberry sauce recipe once they’ve thawed on the counter for an hour but use a dash less water to make sauce with the same thickness as the fresh version. 

White sweet and garnet sweet potatoes

Simply Recipes / Lori Rice

2. Use white sweet potatoes, squash, and carrots instead of Garnet sweet potatoes.

White sweet potatoes taste similar to the traditional orange-flesh Garnet sweet potato (which is not a yam); they just don’t have any of the color and are starchier in texture. 

To make up for this discrepancy, combine white sweet potatoes with butternut squash and carrots for a mash that rivals the original. Follow your favorite mashed sweet potato casserole recipe, but for the boiling part cut the white sweet potatoes smaller than the carrots and squash, as they take a little longer to cook. Boil together and proceed with your casserole. 

Alternatively, forget boiling and steam the potatoes instead!

Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes
Elise Bauer

3. Try mashed cauliflower and root vegetables instead of mashed potatoes.

Mashed cauliflower is beloved by many eaters, but it doesn’t exactly scream “holiday indulgence.”

To make it more festive, make a mash of cauliflower and a variety of white root vegetables like parsnips, turnips, or rutabagas. Cook them separately from the cauliflower, as they will take much longer to soften, then mash together with your favorite mash ingredients, like butter or sour cream. 

4. Make homemade mushroom sauce instead of buying canned .

Can't find canned mushroom soup to top your green bean casserole? Make it from scratch!

You may not think it's worth it to make a batch of homemade mushroom sauce just to top your green beans, but once you've tried it, you may never want to go back to the canned version. Our homemade version uses a combination of mushrooms, stock, cream, and parmesan.

Bouillon cubes

Simply Recipes / Lori Rice

 5. Use a vegetarian no-chicken broth instead of boxed turkey or chicken broth.

It takes more than just drippings to make enough turkey gravy for a crowd; boxed turkey or chicken stock are often used by the cupful. If your grocer is out of both, though, try a vegetarian no-chicken broth, as they taste and look surprisingly close to the real thing!

Alternatively, opt for a bouillon cube or container. 

Toasting bread cubes to make mushroom and bacon brioche stuffing
Alison Bickel

6. Make your own bread cubes instead of buying precut stuffing cubes.

This is the easiest one of all: if you can’t find precut stuffing cubes, any bread will suffice. Yes, even a sliced loaf of white bread is fine! Just cut it into cubes and toast on a cookie sheet in the oven until lightly golden. Let cool, then proceed with your stuffing recipe. 

7. Buy turkey parts instead of a whole turkey.

With the knowledge that there is nothing like a big ol’ turkey, you can still have a festive main dish if they’ve all been gobbled up (pun intended). If whole birds are sold out, parts are usually still available. Buy individual turkey breasts and legs to roast, then arrange them around stuffing or a cooked vegetable for a pretty presentation. 

Or take this opportunity to make a dish like a stuffed and rolled turkey breast or these braised turkey legs.

Coconut whipped cream

Simply Recipes / Sabrina Modelle

8. Use coconut whipped cream instead of regular whipped cream.

That stuff in the canister isn’t a close second to fresh whipped cream for anyone who loves the stuff, but surprisingly, this vegan version made with coconut milk is. Canned coconut milk is rarely out of stock anywhere, and requires nothing more than time spent in the fridge to separate and some beaters to make a delicious whipped topping. 

9. Make your own pumpkin pie spice mix.

If there’s no bottle pre-made for you, you can make your own spice mix. If you don’t have all the spices on hand, as long as you have cinnamon and at least one other, you’ll be fine. Cinnamon is the most prominent flavor in the mix. 

10. Use canned butternut squash instead of canned pumpkin.

You sadly can’t substitute a fresh pumpkin for the canned version. The texture is entirely different, with fresh roasted pumpkin being much runnier. You can, however, substitute a can of mashed butternut squash, or an equal amount of roasted and mashed butternut squash. 

More Ingredient Substitutions