Thanksgiving dinner cost drops for first time since 2004

thansgiving dinnerAfter five years of price increases, the cost of a classic Thanksgiving dinner dropped 4% this year -- down $1.70 to $42.91 for a feast for 10.

The figures are from the American Farm Bureau Federation, which has conducted the annual survey since 1986 as an informal gauge of price trends around the nation.

The menu starts with a 16-pound turkey at $18.65 or roughly $1.16 per pound, a decrease of 3 cents per pound or 44 cents per turkey compared to 2008.

I only wish my Thanksgiving turkey were that cheap. But I'll get to that in a minute.

The AFBF meal includes bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream and beverages of coffee and milk.

The largest price drop was milk, at $2.86 per gallon, down 92 cents.

The only items to increase were pumpkin pie mix at 11 cents more, two pie shells up 8 cents, and cube stuffing up 8 cents.

"Consumers are benefiting at the grocery store from significantly lower energy prices and the effects of the economic slowdown," AFBF economist Jim Sartwelle said on the group's Web site. "Again this year, the cost per person for this special meal is less than a typical 'value meal' at a fast-food outlet."

In my house, there's nothing better than lunch the day after Thanksgiving with turkey sandwiches. But this year, instead of going with an inexpensive bird of about $1 per pound at a large chain grocery store, we're going with a free range turkey that costs at least four times as much.

We won't be saving any money on the Thanksgiving feast this year, but the bird is supposed to taste a lot better. I doubt if I will be able to tell the difference between this one and the $10 turkey we bought last year, so I'm not thrilled about shelling out the extra money.

Free range turkeys are becoming more popular, so you'd think the price would drop more as more are bred. But they must not be breeding many of them in my neighborhood, as I'll be paying $60 for a turkey this Thanksgiving. Maybe the American Farm Bureau Federation will factor that into next year's Thanksgiving meal cost.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area who can be reached at
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