If you've ever hosted Thanksgiving dinner, you know that it can be expensive. This year, hosts will spend an average of $31 per guest, according to a new report from LendingTree. But a dinner featuring staples like turkey and mashed potatoes doesn't need to be that pricey, as long as you're willing to make some things from scratch and stick to a budget: the American Farm Bureau Federation estimates the average 10-person meal costs $48.90. Their menu includes turkey, gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls, peas, cranberry sauce, as well as a vegetable tray as an appetizer and pumpkin pie and coffee for dessert.
I set out to determine if I could split the difference and feed eight for under $50.
That's a lot of food for not a lot of money, especially since I live in New York, where food prices are higher than the national average. Taking a cue from the Farm Bureau, I opted for a straightforward menu consisting of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce and crescent rolls, as well as apple pie for dessert (sorry, not a fan of pumpkin). Oh, and coffee.
The final shopping list for Thanksgiving dinner came to 22 items. For the purposes of my test I assumed that I would already have on hand pantry staples like flour, sugar, oil, salt and pepper. I took that list to five popular grocery chains: Acme, Aldi, Trader Joe's, Walmart and Whole Foods.
Here's how much I was able to get for $50 at each store.
When your turkey is more than half of your budget ($29.88 for a 12-lb., fresh, free-range, young bird), it's difficult to buy a lot of side dishes. Without going over $50, I was only able to also purchase ingredients for stuffing and mashed potatoes.
By spending on high-quality ingredients, I could end up serving a couple of filling, carb-heavy sides, a turkey and ... that's it.
Trader Joe's offered a slightly cheaper price on its all-natural, fresh young turkey in brine ($1.99 per lb.). I spent about $25 for a turkey here. That gave me a little extra to spend on sides, so I was able to purchase the ingredients for stuffing, mashed potatoes, and a small green bean casserole.
A somewhat fuller meal, but hardly a feast.
At this conventional grocery store, I was able to buy the entire Thanksgiving meal, but no dessert or coffee. Maybe you don't even need it after all that food? At least my guests could enjoy stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce and rolls.
There were still some trade-offs, though. I had to reduce the size of my green bean casserole, and I got a standard frozen turkey ($1.99 per lb.) instead of the higher-quality varieties offered at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods.
Aldi and Walmart tied for first prize in this challenge. I was able to get the entire meal I planned for eight people for under $50 at both places. The biggest win at Aldi was the turkey: A basic bird was on sale for just $0.59 per lb. That's a fantastic price!
Walmart came in a few dollars cheaper, but I was able to get more food and higher-quality ingredients at Aldi. The more food part wasn't exactly on purpose, either: Because of Aldi's limited produce section, I had to buy a whole bag of oranges, though I only needed one, and Aldi also had double the size of poultry seasoning I needed to season the stuffing. Still, I stayed under budget.
My $50 even allowed me to buy organic milk and low-fat cream of mushroom soup for the green bean casserole.
Walmart was ultimately the cheapest option, even though its turkey, a frozen Jennie-O variety at $0.69 per lb., was slightly more expensive than Aldi's. And like at Aldi, I was able to purchase all the components for my Thanksgiving feast: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, rolls, apple pie and coffee.
This chart breaks down the prices I found for all of the items in my Thanksgiving recipes at the five different stores I tried.
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