Cost analysis: Premade Thanksgiving dinner vs. home cooked

The cost of Thanksgiving dinner varies depending on the size of your household, the recipes you use and whether you cook it at home or buy it premade.

But whether you’re thinking of ordering out this year or are committed to cooking every dish from scratch, there are ways to save money on your Thanksgiving Day feast.

Here’s what to know about spending less on your holiday dinner — and an analysis of cooking Thanksgiving dinner versus buying it premade.

[Read: How to Host ‘Friendsgiving’ on a Budget.]

How Much Does Thanksgiving Dinner Cost?

The 2019 cost of a 10-person Thanksgiving dinner was $48.91, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

That includes $20.80 for a 16-pound turkey, $3.32 for pumpkin pie mix and $3.75 for 3 pounds of sweet potatoes.

The Farm Bureau’s cost breakdown is for a traditional Thanksgiving menu, says John Newton, chief economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation.

But your individual cost will depend on a range of factors, including the recipes you use and where you source your meal. “Every family splurges a bit and goes beyond that traditional Thanksgiving basket,” Newton says.

If you choose to make your famous Grey Goose martinis or mix saffron into the mashed potatoes, you’re probably going to pay more for your Thanksgiving Day feast. If you decide to keep the party small and serve the basics, you could spend less.

To save money, you’ll need to be thoughtful about the recipes you use, the dishes you cook and your grocery store shopping strategies.

But cooking at home is a good start. “I think that, generally speaking, homemade can be cheaper, but not necessarily,” says Jessica Fisher, a San Diego-based cookbook author and blogger at Good Cheap Eats.

Additionally, during the coronavirus pandemic, your costs may shrink as you choose to celebrate with a smaller group of people to limit your exposure risk.

[Read: Party Food and Snack Ideas on a Budget.]

How Much Does a Premade Thanksgiving Dinner Cost?

A premade Thanksgiving dinner for four to six people ranges from $40 to more than $200, depending on the details of the meal and location from which you order.

You’re likely going to spend more on the premade dinner than you would cooking the ingredients yourself, but it may be worth it for peace of mind and some assurance of quality. It may also spare your having to purchase new kitchen equipment, spices and other materials.

Here are a few restaurants offering premade Thanksgiving meals to celebrants. Note: The area around the District of Columbia was chosen as a sample market when prices are posted based on location.

Boston Market Holiday Meals for Four to Six
Serves: four to six people.
Cost: $90 to $120 (check your location for prices).

Bob Evans Farmhouse Feast With Turkey
Serves: four people.
Cost: $59.99 (check your location for prices).

Buca di Beppo Thanksgiving Dinner To-Go
Serves: six people.
Cost: $138 (check your location for prices).

Cracker Barrel Thanksgiving Heat n’ Serve
Serves: four to six people.
Cost: $69.99.

Harry and David Gourmet Turkey Feast
Cost: $215.

Popeyes Cajun Style Turkey
Cost: Starts at $39.99.

Whole Foods Classic Roast Turkey Breast Dinner
Serves: four people.
Cost: $69.99 (check with your location for prices).

Marie Callender’s Turkey Breast Feast
Serves: four to six people.
Cost: $119.99.

Don’t forget to factor in fees or gratuity if you choose to have the meal delivered. Additionally, check your local grocery store, which may have affordable catering options or premade entrees and sides for reasonable prices.

[Read: 7 Kitchen Remodel Ideas on a Budget.]

Ways to Save Money on Thanksgiving Dinner

Whether you’re ordering from a restaurant or cooking Thanksgiving dinner at home, there are some strategies to save money.

Comparison shop. Folks ordering food from a restaurant should compare the options offered locally and by national chains to determine the best price for the meal that meets their needs.

Folks cooking at home can visit a low-cost grocery store, use coupons and purchase ingredients on sale in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving to get the best deal.

Don’t forget to take stock of what is in your pantry before you head to the supermarket.

Make a plan for your leftovers. Think about how you’ll use that half-jar of sour cream, uneaten turkey or unused portion of onion, Fisher says. Are there ways you can repurpose your ingredients into weeknight meals to ensure that no food goes wasted?

That will help stretch your food budget and make sure that anything you buy for Thanksgiving does double duty during the week.

Ditch the turkey. If you’re cooking for a small group — and nobody’s craving turkey — rethink your menu. Perhaps you can use ham. Or just cook the turkey breast. A roast chicken can still give you that homey Thanksgiving feeling while being smaller and potentially cheaper.

When ordering a premade meal, ham may be cheaper than turkey. For example, at Bob Evans, the Farmhouse Feast with ham costs $54.99 for four people. The turkey feast is $5 more expensive.

Evaluate your priorities. Don’t like cranberry sauce? Don’t make it. Feeling pressured to bake three kinds of pie? Stick to just one.

“We tend to think we need to do all this variety, and I think that’s where a lot of our cost comes in,” Fisher says.

Keep things simple to lower your costs.

When ordering out, remember that some restaurants let you order dishes a la carte, meaning you can choose the foods you want catered and skip the extras.

If you have a smaller celebration on the schedule due to the pandemic, don’t feel obligated to adhere to the classic recipes. You are free to create your own traditions this year.

More from U.S. News

9 Secrets to Save Money on a Shoestring Budget

12 Shopping Tricks to Keep You Under Budget

12 Useless Fees Draining Your Budget

Cost Analysis: Premade Thanksgiving Dinner vs. Home Cooked originally appeared on

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