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Thanksgiving Dinner: Comparing the Cost of Cooking, Takeout, and Dining Out

Posted on 11/17/2014 8:17 EST

Thanksgiving is a time for friends and families to gather, share a festive meal, and reflect on their blessings. Along with that comes the expectation of a full-on turkey dinner, not to mention the stress associated with planning, spending, and cooking.

thanksgiving meal cost comparison
Photo by flickr.com/artbystevejohnson

Instead of preparing a meal from scratch, you can carry out from a commercial eatery or grocery store, dine at a restaurant, or organize a potluck. Believe it or not, the alternatives are easier on the wallet: In a Cheapism.com price comparison, a home-cooked meal for eight rang up the highest tab, at $13.20 per person, compared with $10 per person for takeout from a restaurant.


Many restaurants and grocery stores offer prepared meals that include everything to satisfy Thanksgiving cravings. A quick survey of takeout menus and prices at several national chains found that the average cost of a Thanksgiving meal is about $11.25 per person for four and $10 per person for eight.

Option #1: Restaurant. National chain Bob Evans charges $49.99 for a complete turkey dinner for four. Eight can enjoy a similar repast for $79.99.

Roasted turkey breast or sliced boneless ham (4 lbs.)
Bread and celery dressing (40 oz.)
Green beans with ham (40 oz.)
Buttered sweet corn (40 oz.)
Mashed potatoes with gravy (40 oz./32 oz.)
Cranberry relish (12 oz.)
Rolls (12)
Pumpkin bread loaf
Pumpkin pie with topping

Option #2: Grocery Store. The Kroger supermarket chain provides a complete Thanksgiving dinner that serves six to eight people for $89.99 ($11.25 to $15 per person).

Roasted turkey (13-16 lbs.)
Mashed potatoes (two 24-oz. containers)
Stuffing (two 32-oz. containers)
Gravy (two 24-oz. containers)
Sweet potato casserole (32 oz.)
Cranberry celebration (two 16-oz. containers)
Pumpkin pie (one 10-inch pie)
Dinner rolls (12)

Option #3: Grocery Store (Express). Kroger also offers just the essentials (again, for six to eight diners), which lowers the price to $44.99 ($5.62 to $7.50 per person). Remember to factor in a few side dishes and dessert to round out the meal.

Roasted turkey (10-13 lbs.)
Mashed potatoes (two 24-oz. containers)
Stuffing (32 oz.)
Gravy (24 oz.)
Dinner rolls (12)

Dining Out.

To avoid meal prep and cleanup entirely, simply eat out. It's about the same price as takeout for adults and considerably less for children. Many restaurants offer a kids meal that can save you $5 or so. A Thanksgiving meal at the popular restaurant chain Cracker Barrel costs $10.99 for adults and $5.99 for children (tip and tax not included).
Turkey and gravy
Cornbread dressing
Sugar-cured ham
Sweet potato casserole
Cranberry relish
Choice of country side
Biscuits or corn muffins
Slice of pumpkin pecan streusel pie with real whipped cream

Cooking From Scratch.

To our surprise, a Thanksgiving meal from scratch is the most costly. Based on our calculations (full price on Kroger store brands), the grocery bill for four people eating a complete turkey dinner at home totals $65.91 ($16.48 per person). Double the crowd and the price comes to $105.59 ($13.20 per person).
Mashed potatoes/gravy
Green bean casserole
Buttered corn
Cranberry relish
Pumpkin pie

Savings Tips for Home Cooks.

Raid your pantry before heading to the store, and keep an eye out for sales and savings with your loyalty card. Either way, out-of-pocket expenses fall slightly.

cheap thanksgiving meal
Photo by flickr.com/artbystevejohnson

Alternatively, purchase a pre-cooked turkey and the side dishes that are the costliest to make and prepare the rest of the feast yourself. A no-frills takeout meal that includes mashed potatoes saves you from shelling out $10 to boil and mash them at home, and a store-bought pumpkin pie costs about $5 compared with nearly $15 to bake from scratch.

Then, too, you can delegate responsibilities with a potluck. You provide the turkey or ham and let your guests take care of the fixings.

Per-person price
Restaurant chain
Supermarket chain (full meal)
(feeds 6-8)
(feeds 6-8)
Supermarket chain (essentials)
(feeds 6-8)
(feeds 6-8)
Restaurant chain
(2 adults, 2 children)
(4 adults, 4 children)

Prices may vary by market and do not include tax or tip.

by Emily Lugg (Google+ Profile)

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