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Cost of Thanksgiving Dinner

I am the host of T day dinner for the family. This year there will be 23 of us. I take care of the dinner, pies, fruit bowl, chips, salsa,cheese/crackers, wine etc. Family brings appetizers and their signature "goodie." We have a wonderful day eating and relaxing. Have been shopping all weekend. For the heck of it, I decided to keep track of my receipts. So far, I am over $300.00- and have not picked up the turkeys or wineyet- looks like it will be a more than $400.00 meal. SOunds like a lot, but is really less than $25.00 per person. Does anyone else keep track of what they spend?
I shop at BJ's, Trader Joes, two local supermarkets and buy all my produce at a local farm.

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  1. I've just returned from the local grocery store where I spent about $120 on items for my 8 person Thanksgiving meal, and I have not yet picked up the turkey or wine. Since we entertain a lot, cheese & crackers, nuts and other appetizer items are a regular staple in our home. I'm actually surprised that you haven't spent more! Your guest list of 23 is a lot- how will you seat them? Do you do it buffet style?

    1 Reply
    1. re: maddogg280

      No- we do sit down! i have a large dining room, and I put my kitchen table in the dining room.With the leaves in both the dining room and the kitchen table, I can seat 24 for a sit down.
      I am pleasantly surprised at how good I have done shopping so far. I spent $98.00 on fresh produce, and another hundred at the supermarket on butter, cream, stuffing bread, etc. Only one more trip to the store on Wednesday, and then- let the cooking begin!!

    2. I have 13 guests this year for Thanksgiving, I am always the host because everyone loves my cooking I buy only fresh from the farm organic turkeys and I brine them in a secret recipe for 2 days before hand, and I won't even get into my "tell you and I have to kill you recipe" for stuffing. HOWEVER, I ask people coming to bring something significant, such as a bottle of wine, gourmet dessert, side dish or appetizer. I spend over $200.00 each year plus my valuable time, but it is worth it in the end to have good food, good wine, and good memories.

      3 Replies
      1. re: gryphonskeeper

        Wish I could brine my birds- but I have to buy two large birds, and hev no place to keep them for long, so I buy them from the farm, pick them up Wednesday and each one goes into a large cooler for the evening! And the stuffing at our dinner HAS to be the same one as the one our grandmother and mom made- this year it will be made with 10 loaves of bread. And you are right- this holiday is all about good times. Two of my brothers stopped by today, and it was great to see how excited the kids- and my brothers- are about dinner. I remember all the fun my brothers and I had at Thanksgiving when we were kids, and it is so nice to see that the next generation loves it as much as we did- and still do.

        1. re: macca

          FYI you can brine your birds in the cooler chests for future reference. Lots of people do this. Just replenish freezer ice packs in with the brine.
          Have a nice Thanksgiving.

          1. re: emilief

            Never thought of that!! Will have to remember this for next year. Thanks for the tip.

      2. We spend A LOT on this day. So far we've spent $200 and don't have the turkey (another $70 or so) and need more wine, Bloody Mary Mix, vodka, etc.

        1. i am not sure how to calculate the cost of a meal. Often when cooking for 10 i spend about 2-300 dollars. I make everything from scratch but i use very good ingredients and often will have 1-2 very expensive ingredients. 20-30 dollars sounds like a lot when you're cooking from scratch, but i have noticed that often i have quite a bit of leftover unused ingredients. When i cook for this many, i always have a meal or two left for the two of us, and i always have enough veggies left for the whole week.

          1. i was listening to public radio the other day and they were talking about "the average cost of a homemade thanksgiving dinner for 12" being UP this year-- to a whopping $40!

            i about fell down on the knives. i have no idea what kind of cheap crap they are talking about but i can only assume it's a small turkey, can of cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, flour gravy, canned green beans. ice water to drink. thanks for nothing!!! can't remember the last time i cooked a meal for a group of 12 nonvegans for $3.33/head!!!

            20 Replies
            1. re: soupkitten

              My hubby and I were just discussing this! I just got back from buying all the fresh veggies/perishables. I do two different shops. About a week ago I shopped for the the canned and frozen stuff and things I can keep refrigerated. (This is when the old fridge in the basement comes in REAL handy) Today I bought the fresh veggies, fruit and herbs. I cook for 8. We've spend right around $220 for all food stuff, turkey and 2 bottles of wine.

              1. re: Axalady

                see that sounds about right to me! (between $21-$29 head with wine, in the low teens if someone else brings the wine & desserts)

                forty bucks won't get me the ingredients for bread pudding for 12, let alone the rest of the meal, yo.

                1. re: soupkitten

                  Okay, now you've lost me. How on God's green earth can you spend $40 on bread pudding ingredients? It's stale bread, eggs, cream, and sugar!!! Sure a little liquor adds a nice touch, but what are you using? Louis XIII?

              2. re: soupkitten

                You sure that wasn't a per-person price, soupkitten?

                1. re: soupkitten

                  Soupkitten,

                  Don't know quite why your reply bothered me, but it did. Lots of people have to make do with what they have, even on Thanksgiving. And inexpensive food doesn't necessarily mean bad food (or, in your words, "cheap crap").

                  So long as you aren't serving premium meat or alcoholic beverages, $40 for 12 people sounds pretty reasonable. My local Safeway is selling 20-pound turkeys for $10, and the other items on my traditional T-day menu come primarily from the produce department: potatoes, yams, fresh green beans, cranberries, lettuce, apples, and onions. A couple cans of pumpkin and some eggs for the pie, some butter, milk, and cream from the dairy case, and flour, sugar, cornmeal and spices if they aren't already in the pantry, and we're good to go.

                  Now I'm firmly opposed to the commoditization of meat products, so Safeway's loss-leader bird will not be gracing the table on Thursday. And a few bottles of good wine will enhance the meal and inflate the budget. But to disparage a meal prepared by someone unwilling or unable to splurge seems a little harsh.

                  1. re: alanbarnes

                    I agree with alanbarnes, Thanksgiving, while alot about the food, seems to me should be at least as much about the people we choose to share it with. I will spend the day cooking with loved ones, sharing stories and gossip and recipes. The turkey will be a Butterball (partner's 82 year old mother will NOT cook anything else..lol). And while I love to cook and try new recipes, there's no way I would try to mess with tradition and try to convince her to cook an organic turkey raised on hand-picked imported baby acorns...lol. I will be counting my many blessing that I will be surrounded by friends and family, eating a great meal prepared with love. Hope you all are as blessed......Tim

                    1. re: alanbarnes

                      I thought it was a bit harsh too. You have to remember that here in this forum, you're not talking to the average eater. Sure, to a chowhound, $40 may seem paltry, but to many people that's a lavish feast.

                      And I have to agree with Alan that a Thanksgiving meal with good quality produce doesn't have to cost $200. Turkey and wine would probably be the major costs, but the sides and desserts, particularly if you make everything yourself, can be much more reasonable.

                      1. re: Kagey

                        Don't know- I could not do my meal for $200 ( serving 23). I am a frugal shopper, and go to lots of stores to get the best deals for what I need- but do admit I won't skimp on the produce. My produce bill alone was almost 100- that includes all the fruit for my pies, fruit for the fruit bowl ( a family tradition), nuts, and the vegetables. Had to buy 15 pounds of potatoes alone ( lots of teenage boys!). The supermarket trip included 10 loaves of bread for my stuffing, 4 pounds of butter, gallon of cream, whipping cream, sour cream, cream cheese, cheeses, milk, two gallons of cider, 4 dozen rolls, peas, boiled onions- and other things I am sure I fogot. That was another 100. the turkeys will be around $90- Am buying fresh killed, as one of my guest is a celiac, and I do not want a turkey with any kind of additives. Will pick up the wine, mints, and soda which I am sure will run another 70-100 dollars. We do make everything ourselves which probably helps cut the cost. I do agree that it is a bit harsh to criticize what others spend, however. We have a traditional meal with the entire family and it is wonderful. As twh said, it is great to b e surrounded by family and friends, and our meal is cooked with love and lots of family history.

                        1. re: macca

                          I think 23 people is a different matter! I think $40 for 12 people would be difficult for me, too, but again, it doesn't necessarily mean "cheap crap."

                        2. re: Kagey

                          My MIL will be spending less than $40 for 4 of us. She's making a chicken, frozen creamed pearl onions, frozen squash, and Pillsbury crescent rolls. If I wasn't bringing desert, she'd be putting out Entermann's pumpkin pie. She is not a great cook and doesn't enjoy the concept of eating.

                          Over in Staten Island, my aunt, who should have her own Food Network show or catering business, will be spending a small fortune for 10 people with appetizers, a seafood course with shrimp and lobster, 2 pasta dishes, the turkey and all it's trimmings, what constitutes a Viennese hour, and then desert. (This will also be done for Christmas).

                          Enough of my rambling, my point is that it doesn't matter how much you spend, it is about the people.

                          1. re: MrsT

                            Your MIL sounds exactly like my ex MIL- I remember going there on Thanksgiving, and my ex asked her if she had put the turkey in to cook on Monday- it really was that overdone! As you say, it is about the people, and that was the last Thanksgiving I spent at that house. Nuf said!!

                        3. re: alanbarnes

                          having made t-dinner from the food shelf box in the past, i won't go back now, & i spend money on my family's food, & don't buy commodity meats & other products. my business now gives loads of food back to the same food-for-the-poor charities that once supported us. i don't think i needed a lecture, but maybe i did.

                          $11.95 for the scharffen-berger, $7.48 for dried currents and apricots, $5 organic milk, $2 organic cream, 4 croissants@ $1.75ea-- the remaining $6.57 should cover the farm eggs, sugar, extract/liquor, cinnamon & spices.

                          1. re: soupkitten

                            Soupkiktten,

                            Spending money on quality food is important to you, as it is to me. You shouldn't be lectured. l buy the $5 milk too. I just cut corners else where.

                            The people on this board care about food. We love, celebrate, and IMO are slightly more educated about in general. I think more people are catching up to us thanks to all the cooking shows as well as concerns about health and the environment. Maybe if we all help spread the word on the quality ingredients, supporting local farmers, that $5 organic milk may be go down in price....but that is another thread for another day.

                            What ever you spent for the day, I hope everyone enjoys it. Even if you're stuck eating the cooking of a person who "kills a dead bird" :)

                            1. re: soupkitten

                              Didn't mean to lecture, just to provide an alternative viewpoint. I'm with you on your food preferences, and only wish that it were easier / more common for people to avoid commodity foods at every price point.

                              Your bread pudding ingredient list has me drooling. Care to share the recipe?

                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                i appreciate your down-to-earth viewpoint Alanbarnes. i'm frequently blunt if not mouthy--*usually* don't mean to offend anyone, sorry if i rubbed the wrong way on that one.

                                two things i'm thankful for this t-day: i work with beautiful ingredients every day, & get to feed lots of people every day, the best food i can make.

                                recipe, eek i don't think i have one, i was walked through it by a better dessert cook than i-- here's what i do though:
                                crud i just realized i'll get chastised for putting a recipe on the wrong board-- so i'll put it on home cooking right now and come back & edit

                                here's that method: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/462474

                                1. re: soupkitten

                                  Perhaps when the public radio station came up with that figure, they averaged in all the people who are living on public assistance, etc. In the past, I've worked in soup kitchens where nobody had to pay anything for their Thanksgiving meal. While it seems that many Chowhounders have the luxury of buying fleur de sel, etc. there are still many people who can only afford buying Morton's salt. I remember reading that Hung Huynh (winner of Top Chef 3) was very poor at times that he could only afford to eat bread and sugar.

                          2. re: soupkitten

                            Soupkitten - I rarely post on this board, but I had to reply. I'm poor. I'm a widow. I work very hard 6 days a week and earn very little. I'll be dining on grilled cheese with bacon on Thanksgiving. And I'll be thankful that I can afford bacon this week, as well as bread and butter and gas to cook with. This is not always the case. I'm alone now, but have dogs & cats for company. They'll get a share of the cooked bacon, and some cheese too. It will be Kraft singles, because I just can't afford better right now. And I'll enjoy it.

                            I come here to get my fix of food - in my previous life (before my husband died 3 years ago) I was a fairly good cook, and had $$ to spend on good ingredients. He was a diabetic, and I learned to cook very tasty meals with very little sugar. I watched the early Food Network channel, and was in a very minor way a Foodie.
                            Now times have changed, but I still love to read about fine food, even though even McDonald's is generally too expensive for me.

                            Anyway, enjoy your Thanksgiving. And give thanks for all that you have.

                            1. re: Catskillgirl

                              you may have misunderstood my post, catskillgirl
                              i'm not a stay-at home rich lady who cooks for her family, i'm a chef who works 60-70 hours a week, feeding people good food made out of good ingredients. i had the opportunity, using a small govt loan made available to people living under federal poverty level, to start a food biz. i was advised to use processed foods because it would be less work & more profitable. however my dh/partner & i chose to use good ingredients from local farms and try to change the way people in our community eat. i chose to do it the hard way. my dh & i don't make a lot of money & haven't had any medical coverage for over 15 years, yet we are now able to give lots of food to local charities. i believe that good food made of non-processed ingredients has the power to transform poor people's lives as it has ours. taking a local farmer's heritage produce and transforming it into real food that can nourish hundreds of people who will then become more connected with their food & where it comes from. . . well that's beyond the scope of chowhound, but it's my greatest privilege, a privilege i am truly thankful for.

                            2. re: soupkitten

                              I didn't hear that report, but I remember reading a similar one in the paper many years ago. What they figured was like, 4 oz of turkey per person, half a cup of mashed potatoes, 2 oz of gravy, a spoonful of canned cranberry sauce, 1/4 cup of creamed onions (I thought that was weird, since creamed onions aren't exactly one of the most common side dishes), 4 oz of green beans and 1/12 slice of pumpkin pie. Maybe stuffing was included, I don't remember, but the estimates were extremely conservative and the menu very limited. Under those guidelines, maybe you could serve 12 people for $40, but who on earth uses those guidelines? The piece was pointless, IMHO.

                              1. re: mercyteapot

                                Creamed onions are a very New England dish. I don't know whether or not they're still served on Thanksgiving. All I know is that as newlyweds living in Boston many decades ago, we were introduced to creamed onions.

                                The first Thanksgiving after moving back to my hometown in the mid-Atlantic region, I kept creamed onions on the Thansgiving menu. My family and friends took polite tastes but no one went back for seconds. I took the hint. I certainly wasn't going to peel all those little onions if people were going to ignore them.