Thanksgiving: The Cost of Cooking vs. Takeout vs. Dining Out
Thanksgiving is a time for friends and families to 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. But hosts have options besides preparing a meal from scratch: carry out from a commercial eatery or grocery store, organize a potluck or dine at a restaurant.
Believe it or not, the alternatives are easier on the wallet. In a comparative price check, Cheapism.com found that a home-cooked meal for eight rang up at $13.20 a person compared with $10 for restaurant takeout, $11.25 for grocery store takeout, and $11.99 for an adult restaurant meal.
Many restaurants and grocery stores offer prepared meals that include everything needed to satisfy Thanksgiving cravings. A quick survey of takeout menus and prices at several national chains found that a Thanksgiving meal with all the fixings can be procured for about $10 a person.
Takeout From a Restaurant
National chain Bob Evans charges $79.99 for a complete turkey dinner for eight ($10 a person). Four can enjoy a similar repast for $49.99 ($12.50 a person).
- 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. potatoes/32 oz. gravy)
- Cranberry relish (12 oz.)
- Rolls (12)
- Pumpkin bread loaf
- Pumpkin pie with topping
The Kroger supermarket chain offers the "supreme" Thanksgiving dinner, which serves eight, for $89.99 ($11.25 a person).
- Roasted turkey (13-16 lbs.)
- Mashed potatoes (two 24-oz. containers)
- Stuffing (two 32-oz. containers)
- Turkey gravy (two 24-oz. containers)
- Cranberry celebration (two 16-oz. containers)
- Dinner rolls (two 12-count packages)
Kroger also offers just the essentials for six diners, which lowers the price to $49.99 ($8.33 a person). When planning the budget, remember to factor in a few homemade side dishes and dessert to round out the meal.
- Roasted turkey (10-13 lbs.)
- Mashed potatoes (24 oz.)
- Stuffing (32 oz.)
- Turkey gravy (24 oz.)
- Dinner rolls (12)
To avoid meal prep and cleanup entirely, eating out is the way to go. The price is about the same as takeout for adults, and considerably less for children. Many restaurants offer kids' meals at a savings of about $5. A Thanksgiving meal at the Cracker Barrel chain costs $11.99 for adults and $6.99 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
Surprisingly, a Thanksgiving meal from scratch is the most expensive. Based on full prices for Kroger store brands, the grocery bill for eight people eating a complete turkey dinner at home totals $105.59 ($13.20 a person). Halve the number of guests and the price comes to $65.91 ($16.48 a person).
- Turkey (16 lbs.): $25.44
- Mashed potatoes/gravy: $15.41
- Stuffing: $12.01
- Green bean casserole: $8.86
- Buttered corn: $4.14
- Cranberry relish: $3.98
- Pumpkin pie: $31.96
- Rolls: $3.79
Raid the pantry before heading to the store, and keep an eye out for sales and savings that come with a loyalty card. Alternatively, purchase a pre-cooked turkey and the side dishes that are the costliest to make from scratch and prepare the rest of the feast in the kitchen. A no-frills takeout meal that includes mashed potatoes saves $10 for the ingredients, along with the time and effort required to boil and mash them. A store-bought pumpkin pie costs about $5 compared with nearly $15 to bake from scratch. Another money-saving idea: Delegate responsibilities by arranging a potluck. The host provides the turkey or ham and the guests contribute the fixings.