Average cost for Thanksgiving dinner? About $50


NBC's Chris Clackum reports on how this year's drought will affect the price of Thanksgiving dinner.

For the average American heading to the supermarket to buy Thanksgiving dinner, bringing a $50 bill should do the trick.

The average cost of a 10-serving Thanksgiving dinner will cost $49.48 this year, according to a study by the American Farm Bureau Federation, a nonprofit grassroots organization advocating farmer interests. The group relied on 150 volunteer-shoppers across the country to price out traditional Thanksgiving menu items including turkey, rolls and pumpkin pie. Based on their findings, we identified how much foods have changed in the last year and those that are more or less expensive.

Read: Two Foods Making Thanksgiving Pricey This Year

With the United States having experienced its worst drought in decades this summer, there has been much concern about rising food prices. Yet the price of a Thanksgiving dinner in 2012 increased just slightly from its cost of $49.20 in 2011. In fact, of the 12 items calculated by the AFBF for the dinner, eight got cheaper compared to last year, while only three became more expensive.

“All the talk that there has been about the drought … sort of fed this expectation that we’d see a big jump in the Thanksgiving dinner price survey,” AFBF Deputy Chief Economist John Anderson said in an interview, but added, “I’m not terribly surprised by this result.”

Anderson noted that the effects of the drought haven’t been incredibly evident in retail prices yet, since decisions about retail strategy and pricing for Thanksgiving are often made “months, or at least weeks” in advance. The drought effects will hit consumers’ wallets hardest within the next three to six months, Anderson explained. But prices in the coming months will be determined based on many other factors, including energy prices, the overall strength of the economy and the continuing behavior of Mother Nature.

Although the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner barely changed from 2011, it is significantly higher from $42.91 back in 2009 and $43.47 in 2010. Anderson explained that prices as a whole were still rising during the years of the global recession due to higher demand worldwide, but retailers were reluctant to pass along those costs to consumers. “Consumers were just incredibly cost conscious during the recession,” Anderson said. By 2011, however, the economy was on strong enough footing that retailers began charging higher prices.

Related: How to deep fry your ENTIRE Thanksgiving dinner

24/7 Wall St. reviewed the items on the AFBF’s report on the cost of Thanksgiving dinner to gain perspective on price shifts of food, including 16-lb. turkey, 12 rolls, 1-lb. relish tray of carrots and celery, 1/2 pt. of whipping cream, 14 oz. of cubed stuffing, 3 lbs. of sweet potatoes, 1 gallon of whole milk, 12 oz. of fresh cranberries, 1 lb. of green peas, 30 oz. of pumpkin pie mix and two pie shells. We considered data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to identify changes in production for various commodities to determine why food prices may have changed. We eliminated the 1-lb. relish tray of carrots and celery from this list because the price stayed the same at 76 cents. We also eliminated miscellaneous ingredients from the list because the measured amount of some of the items was too small.

These are the Thanksgiving items rising or falling in price.

 Price Losers

1. Pie Shells (2)
2012 price: $2.51
2011 price: $2.52
Price change: -$0.01
Pct. change: -0.4%

While the price of grains has been rising, that hasn’t made it into packaged items such as pie shells yet — the price of pie shells actually dropped one cent year-over-year based on the AFBF study. Anderson said that for many foods, notably packaged foods such as pie shells, the way major retail chains market the items and how much to stock on the shelves could lead to slight price fluctuations year-over-year.

2. Pumpkin Pie Mix (30 oz.)
2012 price: $3.02
2011 price: $3.03
Price change: -$0.01
Pct. change: -0.3%

It was a mixed year for pumpkin producers in 2012. While some producers complained the national drought hurt their crop, others said the drought actually benefited them since pumpkins tend to thrive in warmer weather. Anderson pointed out that unlike major crops such as corn and wheat, pumpkin production takes place on a much smaller scale. This allows pumpkin growers to mitigate the effects of negative weather on their crops compared to other farmers. He also noted that pumpkin growing season takes place at different times depending on location, helping to spread out the risk of a bad production season.

Also Read: Ten Brands That Will Disappear In 2013

3. Green Peas (1 lb.)
2012 price: $1.66
2011 price: $1.68
Price change: -$0.02
Pct. change: -1.2%

It’s been a good year for bean producers, which includes pea producers. Although the Department of Agriculture doesn’t specifically track the production of green peas, it noted in a recent report that dry bean production is expected to be up 35% in 2012. In Michigan, where peas constitute roughly a third of all dry bean production in the state, yields are expected to rise a more modest 4% in 2012.

4. Fresh Cranberries (12 oz.)
2012 price: $2.45
2011 price: $2.48
Price change: - $0.03
Pct. change: -1.2%

Although lower yields tend to lead to higher prices, this hasn’t been the case with cranberries. Production of cranberries is projected to be slightly less than last year, according to the most recent estimates by the Department of Agriculture. Cranberry vines faced heat stress in parts of the country due to high temperatures in the summer. But other places had less problems. Wisconsin, which produces 57% of cranberries in the U.S., is on track to produce 2% more than in 2011. The department noted that growers in Wisconsin “reported excellent pollination and limited impact from the summer’s high temperatures and dry conditions.”

5. Whole Milk (1 gallon)
2012 price: $3.59
2011 price: $3.66
Price change: -$0.07
Pct. change: -1.9%

Milk prices are lower than last year due to extra supply built up during last winter’s mild temperatures. The low milk prices, along with the high feed costs, have put enormous financial pressure on dairies. Dozens of dairies located in California, the largest producer of dairy products of all states, have recently filed for bankruptcy. To combat the low prices, cows are now being slaughtered at high rates. Already, this has led to an ascent in dairy prices in the last few months and could lead to record high dairy prices in 2013.

6. Sweet Potatoes (3 lbs.)
2012 price: $3.15
2011 price: $3.26
Price change: -$0.11
Pct. change: -3.4%

Although the country’s drought has led to a lot of crop damage, that hasn’t been much of a problem for potato farmers. The Department of Agriculture notes that potato production is expected to grow by nearly 7% this year. Idaho, where more than a third of the nation’s potatoes are produced, grew its production by 11% in the fall season. The market value of the potatoes produced in 2012 is expected to rise by nearly 10% to $4.4 billion.

Also Read: America’s Poorest States

7. Cubed Stuffing (14 oz.)
2012 price: $2.77
2011 price: $2.88
Price change: -$0.11
Pct. change: -3.8%

The price of a 14 oz. package of cubed stuffing dropped a sizable 11 cents from 2011 to 2012, although Anderson said it was hard to deduce much from this cut. He noted the value of the raw commodities in the stuffing play just a small role in the overall cost of the stuffing, with costs such as packaging, transportation and marketing playing a much larger role. He suspects the price drop has a lot to do with retailers heavily promoting stuffing.

8. Whipping cream (1/2 pint)
2012 price: $1.83
2011 price: $1.96
Price change: -$0.13
Pct. change: -6.6%

Of all the Thanksgiving groceries, the price of whipping cream has declined more than any other, which can be attributed to the price of dairy products. Although fluid milk prices have begun rising due to the cow slaughtering, those prices have yet to be reflected in packaged food. But this won’t last forever. The Department of Agriculture predicts those prices will be fully reflected within the next 10 to 12 months.

Price Gainers

1. Rolls (12)
2012 price: $2.33
2011 price: $2.30
Price change: +$.03
Pct. change: +1.3%

Wheat prices have risen in recent months due to drought, which caused a supply shortage. The upcoming harvest season is not looking much better. Only 36% of this year’s winter wheat was rated good or excellent — the quality most used for making wheat products. Last year, 50% of the wheat was rated good or excellent, according to the Department of Agriculture. Similarly, this year 22% of the what was rated poor or very poor compared to only 14% last year. Drought conditions in other countries such Russia and Ukraine also hurt crops there, further pressuring wheat prices higher.

2. Turkey (16 lb.)
2012 price: $22.23
2011 price: $21.57
Price change: +$.66
Pct. change: 3.1%

Unfortunately for Thanksgiving diners, the most expensive item on the shopping list was also the item that rose in price more than any other. Prices have risen compared to last year due to droughts affecting the Midwest, which have increased the price of turkey feed. Worse, drought effects on turkey prices are expected to last through at least 2013. The increased turkey prices have left many charities hosting Thanksgiving dinners facing a turkey shortage.

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Discuss this post

Nothing wrong with getting a pizza.

  • 1 vote
Reply#1 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 8:51 AM EST

Nothing like going out to dinner either. No cooking or cleaning up afterwards and since we are gong to a buffet, a delightful variety of deliciousness awaits us as we belly-up to the trough.

  • 1 vote
#1.1 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 10:27 AM EST

These numbers must have come from the White House ... Not in touch with reality, but neither is the other side ...

  • 2 votes
#1.2 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 1:05 PM EST

How many pizzas does it take to feed 10.....?

    #1.3 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 6:45 PM EST

    Where can you get one pound of celery and carrots for $0.76 ? Has the AFBF been shopping recently?

    • 6 votes
    Reply#2 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 8:51 AM EST

    I just bought celery on a 10 for 10 sale. It cost me a dollar, and I thought it was a good deal at 33% off. I, also, want to know where they get their information.

    • 1 vote
    #2.1 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 6:40 PM EST

    LOL I think they are way off on prices. I would love to only spend 50 buck on turkey day meal.

    • 8 votes
    Reply#3 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 9:15 AM EST

    Where else could you get a delicious, home-made meal, with desert and pickins' for $5.00, I tell you NOWHERE!!!!! It's basically an all you can eat buffett. And the next day is even better. Nothing beats microwaved stuffing with gravy on top.

    • 1 vote
    Reply#4 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 9:54 AM EST

    The celery and carrot prices must have been the bags that you find that should have been thrown out.

    One has to be especially careful around the holidays and avoid the sale items. They are on sale for a reason. A few years ago, I had seen a pumpkin pie on sale and bought it. The next day being Thanksgiving, I took it out of the fridge and when I took it out of the package, it was covered with moldy spots. I took it back the following day and they asked me if I wanted to exchange it - I told them that one was enough and lost interest in Pumpkin pie for a while! It ruined my Holiday as well as others. I probably will pass on the pie again this year and I did not stop and pick one up. There is just something wrong with finding cottage cheese on your pumpkin pie!

    • 2 votes
    Reply#5 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 10:32 AM EST

    While I don't blame you for being upset, the lack of a pie should NOT ruin your or others' Holiday! It's a pie!

      #5.1 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 5:27 PM EST

      It ruined my Holiday as well as others.

      WOW, I would hate to be you if the lack of pie ruins your holiday!

      • 1 vote
      #5.2 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 6:43 PM EST

      20 lb. Turkey, stuffing, fresh green beans, cream cheese corn, baby carrots, sliced fresh tomatoes, cranberry sauce, fresh rolls, gravy and pecan or apple pie, coffee w/ pumpkin spice creamer (or iced tea), pumpkin spice cookies for during the football game....... $40, and w/ $10 extra ingredients a turkey enchilada casserole later.

      Just takes practice, and you don't have to be Martha Stewart. Plan ahead before you go to the store.

        Reply#6 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 11:07 AM EST

        You can buy a turkey for $12, can of green beans for $1, can of corn $1, mashed potato mix $1, gravy $1, stuffing mix $1, pie $3.

        All prices I just saw at Target, Walmart and most grocery stores. A family can eat Thanksgiving for $20.

        People can eat Thanksgiving for much less than $50.

        You're only going to spend $50 if you shop at Whole Foods.

          Reply#7 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 11:22 AM EST

          If you are going to Whole Foods, you are spending WAY more than $50.

          • 1 vote
          #7.1 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 3:57 PM EST

          If you are OK with canned corn, canned green beans, boxed potatoes, ready made stuffing and a store made pie... I wouldn't want to have Thanksgiving at your house! ISH!

          • 1 vote
          #7.2 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 6:45 PM EST

          Just bought a fresh 18.5 turkey for $44 yesterday.

          • 4 votes
          Reply#8 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 11:39 AM EST

          I'd like to find the store you purchased your Thanksgiving meal - I've gone shopping on two occasions - one for $250, including a 27 pound turkey at $47 and another trip for $110, mostly perishables like vegetables, fruit, etc.. My husband and I have dinner for 22 - mostly adult males who eat quite a bit. Making pumpkin pies and purchasing chocolate and pecan (to save time as I do the rest of the cooking) costs about $60 alone. We have turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, two vegetables, fruit salad and Jell-o salad for the kids, relishes, pickles, olives, rolls, butter and pies. Like I said, there is no way anyone can feed a group of 10 for $50. Thanksgiving has always been a special occasion in our family and our meal is traditional - passed from my mother and her family. As a child we celebrated with our grandmother - with her 8 children and 23 grandchildren.

          • 4 votes
          Reply#9 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 11:40 AM EST

          I LOVE Thanksgiving! We make enough dinner for each guest to go home with a full meal for the next day including dessert, AND we make enough for us to have left overs. The only thing the guests have to bring is a bottle (or 2) of wine. Obviously, we're way over the magic $50 mark, but we're off the hook for Christmas dinner every year, too! This is really our gift to family members each year, and they all look forward to lots of food and none of the cooking and clean up.

            Reply#10 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 11:52 AM EST

            Food prices are going up because we are now using 60% of our corn crop to produce ethanol for the governments 85E gasoline blend. Corn is the most vestal food we have. The idea that field corn is not people food is crazy. Feed it to a cow, and we get milk and cheese and butter and hamburger. Feed it to a chicken and we get eggs, and to a pig we get bacon. We alter its form and we have sugar, or corn syrup or vodka or sour mash whiskey. We can even make a bio-degradable plastic out of the stuff.

            And it isn't like that 85E gas is great stuff...you get about 30% better mileage burning gasoline. This administration is nuts. I hope Obama takes a good look at what EPA has done to reduce the standard of living of the American people.

            • 2 votes
            Reply#11 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 12:17 PM EST

            Prices way off. This is a good way of comparing food inflation year over year, but is super misleading to say "TGiving for $50?"

            The major flaws - (1) is that nobody has just turkey and a couple of vegetables for Thanksgiving (oh and one pumpkin pie). Any real TGiving has stuffing, gravy, pecan pie, a few other pies and/or desserts, squash, mashed potatoes, some sort of casserole, lots of vegetables - oh, and more than 1 dinner roll per person!!!

            They also didn't account for 'incidentals' like butter for the turkey and the sides (every dish I make requires a large amount of butter), maybe you are low on flour or sugar, add that to the list. You need paper towels and this and that. Napkins and a tablecloth or whatever. Some andies candies or something for the candy dish, some nuts and pepperoni / cheese to keep people quiet as they're waiting for turkey. It all adds up. Dinner for 8 this year set me back $165 - and I haven't even bought the booze yet! :)

            $50 for dinner for 10 sounds like some sort of food pantry special. Nothing wrong with that if it's all you can do, but what they mention in this article is more of a core to build your entire meal around.

            • 3 votes
            Reply#12 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 12:28 PM EST

            You said it!!! This number is bogus!!!

            • 1 vote
            #12.1 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 12:43 PM EST

            I must be doing something wrong. I'm at $200+ after buying drinks, ingredients, and everything else needed.

            • 3 votes
            Reply#13 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 12:29 PM EST

            people should just stop eating turkey, and then the problem is solved.

              Reply#14 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 1:04 PM EST

              Be thankful for family and your health. If you still have them. The turkey is of no significance.........There are many out there who will have neither ....

              • 1 vote
              Reply#15 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 2:26 PM EST

              this list is way off base.

              This year it is just my and my husband. We spent about $50 for just us.

              we're having salad, rolls, roasted chicken, kale, potatoes, stuffing, cake and wine and apple cider. The expense came mostly from the little stuff: honey, cheese, herbs, butter, garlic, spices, peppers, nuts, flour, olive oil... How can they leave these things off the list???

              You can't count out the little stuff, it adds up very quickly.

              3 lbs of sweet potatoes people one pound of green beans for ten people????

              And next year, you can spend only $10 for thanksgiving, because nobody is coming back for one ounce of cranberry sauce, 1.6 ounce of green beans, and a dry dinner roll and a glass of water.

              • 1 vote
              Reply#16 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 4:38 PM EST

              $ 10 Turkey Breast, $ 1 Stuffing, $ .59 Green Beans, $ .48 Celery, $1.36 1# Cream Cheese, 1.98 Spanish Olives, $1 Instant Mash Potatoes, $ .84 Sweet Potatoes, $1.42 Brown Sugar, $1 Cranberries, $1.72 Club Crackers. $3 Pumpkin Pie= $24.39

                Reply#17 - Tue Nov 20, 2012 6:53 PM EST

                Ok folks - it sounds like "the chickens" are spreading rumors...or something - because a Turkey Dinner cost much more than this simple $50 some, including this
                so called "author" is speaking about. Everything has increased in price in the states we live in or have lived in...our friends and family keep us posted and it's sad they are allowed to write this false propaganda. A traditional Turkey feast and not just a breast and not all this prepackaged garbage full of chemicals and God only knows what other crap some of these "easy" meals contain - well, let's just say the pilgrims were traditional - some of what is being said on here isn't - simple but truthful. Sounds like another government cover-up or misinformation. Or is this written by one of those "1%" ers'???? $50 - no Way! Reality - Party of One - Samuel Weigley , 24/7 Wall St. Someone needs to take a drum stick to this article - shame...shame on you...and after all this country is going through and the people losing their jobs...you should hang your head and pray for some reality "Wall St."

                • 1 vote
                Reply#18 - Wed Nov 21, 2012 2:08 AM EST

                Finally - "Reality" - party of one! Samuel Weigley , 24/7 Wall St.

                • 1 vote
                #18.1 - Wed Nov 21, 2012 2:10 AM EST

                after buying all the wine I don't have $$ for food but am still very thankful ;)

                  Reply#19 - Wed Nov 21, 2012 7:01 AM EST

                  I just find it amazing that the scare mongering about inflation just isn't true... take a look:

                    Reply#20 - Wed Nov 21, 2012 3:54 PM EST
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