The Cost of Thanksgiving Dinner: Cooking vs. Buying

By   

View as:

whole homemade Thanksgiving turkey with all the sides
Photo credit: Brent Hofacker/shutterstock

Thanksgiving is a time for families and friends to share a festive meal and reflect on their blessings. With that comes the expectation of a full-on turkey dinner and the stress associated with planning, shopping, and cooking. But hosts have options besides preparing a meal from scratch. And believe it or not, the alternatives may be easier on the wallet, especially considering the time they save. In a comparative price check, Cheapism.com found that a home-cooked meal for four rang up at about $13 a person compared with $12 for a restaurant meal at a national chain (before tax and tip) and $12.50 for family-style takeout with all the fixings. Dinner for eight, though, was cheapest at home: $9.30 a person. Here's how the prices break down.

Related: 11 Classic, Affordable Thanksgiving Recipes

man brings roast Turkey brought to table on platter
Photo credit: Sean Locke Photography/shutterstock

A Thanksgiving feast made from scratch is the most expensive option for four people. The total bill for the cheapest available ingredients from Kroger is $51.93, or $12.98 a person. But double the number of guests, and the total cost comes to $74.37, or $9.30 a person. These totals reflect a special price of 79 cents a pound on turkey for shoppers with a (free) Kroger card who spend $35 on other groceries. Many supermarkets have sales on turkey this time of year, selling the birds at a loss to attract customers purchasing all the trimmings. Prices below are for eight people and assume that a few pantry staples, such as sugar for the cranberry sauce, are already on hand.

Turkey (16 lbs. on sale): $12.64
Mashed potatoes (potatoes, milk, butter): $9.17
Gravy (made with turkey drippings)
Stuffing (bread, celery, poultry spice, chicken broth): $10.46
Green bean casserole (green beans, fried onions, cream of mushroom soup): $8.25
Corn: $2.76
Cranberry sauce: $3.98
Rolls: $3.99
Pumpkin pie (canned pumpkin, eggs, sweetened condensed milk, pumpkin pie spice, pre-made crust, tins): $23.12

family eating lunch with their children and the grandmother
Photo credit: Robert Kneschke/shutterstock

To avoid meal prep and cleanup entirely, eating out is the way to go. A Thanksgiving meal at the Cracker Barrel chain costs $12 for adults and $7 for children (tip and tax not included). That brings the total to $38 for a family of four.

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
Beverage

closeup of roasted turkey with mashed potatoes, vegetables, stuffing and gravy
Photo credit: cobraphotography/shutterstock

Many restaurants and grocery stores offer prepared meals that include everything needed to satisfy Thanksgiving cravings. Kroger offers the "supreme" Thanksgiving dinner, which serves eight, for $90 ($11.25 a person).

Roasted turkey (13-16 lbs.)
Mashed potatoes (24 oz.)
Turkey gravy (24 oz.)
Stuffing (28 oz.)
Green bean casserole (30 oz.)
Cranberry celebration (16 oz.)
Dinner rolls (12)
Pumpkin pie (10 inches)

white takeout box
Photo credit: Best_photo_studio/shutterstock

Kroger also offers just the essentials for six diners, which lowers the price to $50, or $8.33 a person. Shoppers may want to factor in a few homemade side dishes and dessert to round out the meal.

Roasted turkey (10-13 lbs.)
Mashed potatoes (24 oz.)
Turkey gravy (24 oz.)
Stuffing (28 oz.)
Green bean casserole (30 oz.)



Related: Skip the Turkey: 10 Great Getaways for Thanksgiving Weekend
homemade Thanksgiving turkey on a plate with stuffing and potatoes
Photo credit: Brent Hofacker/shutterstock

National chain Bob Evans charges $80 for a complete dinner for eight ($10 a person), with a choice of a slow-roasted whole turkey, ham, or pot roast. That's just a bit more than buying groceries to feed eight ($74.37). The same Farmhouse Feast for four people costs $50 ($12.50 a person).

Turkey, ham, or pot roast
Bread and celery dressing
Home-style mashed potatoes
Buttered sweet corn
Green beans with ham
Cranberry relish
Gravy
Dozen rolls
Pumpkin pie with whipped topping
Pumpkin bread

smiling woman holding roast turkey at home in the kitchen
Photo credit: wavebreakmedia/shutterstock

Although takeout might be a cheaper option, for some people there's just no competing with a homemade Thanksgiving feast. To cut costs, keep an eye out for sales and savings that come with a loyalty card. Alternatively, save money and time by purchasing the dishes that are costly to make from scratch and prepare the rest of the feast in the kitchen. A store-bought pumpkin pie costs about $5 compared with about $16 to buy the ingredients. Another money-saving idea: Delegate responsibilities by arranging a potluck. The host provides the turkey and the guests contribute the fixings.

Cheapism.com participates in affiliate marketing programs, which means we may earn a commission if you choose to purchase a product through a link on our site. This helps support our work and does not influence editorial content.