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Clean Pantry

Thanksgiving Costs Are Rising: How to Host a Holiday Meal on a Budget

Inflation is driving up the price of traditional essentials, but these cost-conscious tips and tricks will help.

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It’s not exactly a surprise that hosting is going to be more expensive this holiday season. Throughout 2022, inflation drove food prices up by as much as 10 percent, according to the USDA’s estimates. roceries got particularly pricey, with the cost of eating at home rising by 10.5 to 11.5 percent. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should skip hosting and make the holidays a low-key affair – with some tweaks to your menu and grocery list, you can keep costs affordable. 

As you prepare for this year’s Thanksgiving meal, here’s a glimpse into what’s going to be more expensive than usual and what you can do to keep  your celebrations within budget. 

Turkey Prices Are Rising Rapidly

While most food prices have climbed all year long, there’s one particular item that’ll impact your wallet come November: turkey. Thanks to a national turkey shortage , this particular poultry is seeing prices rise even higher ahead of its most in-demand day of the year.

All types of poultry are suffering from a supply reduction thanks to a rapidly-spreading avian influenza. This flu strain is responsible for the loss of 6.4 million turkeys in just eight months, and it’s still hitting commercial farms. 

But that’s not the only reason turkey prices are high: Production costs at farms across the U.S. have also skyrocketed. And, of course, we can’t overlook inflation alone, a factor that’s driving up grocery prices as well as production prices for farmers. 

So, just how much more will your Thanksgiving turkey cost this year? CBS News reports shoppers paid an average price of $23.99 for a 16-pound turkey last Thanksgiving. Right now, 16-pound turkeys are priced at about $29.92. That’s an increase of $1.50 per pound. 

Even Side Dish Ingredients Are More Expensive

It’s not just the main dish that’s seeing price increases ahead of the holidays. Staple ingredients and popular side dishes are also being hit by inflation, supply shortages, and other woes that are causing prices to rise.

Beyond turkey, side dish ingredients like cranberries may also see shortages. Some cranberry crops may be smaller than typical this year, leading to a reduced supply on the shelves of grocery stores locally or cross-country. 

Plus, staples like butter, which you’ll need for everything from your pies to your casseroles, are shooting up in price. The Wall Street Journal reports butter has gone up 24.6 percent – nearly double the 13.5 percent increase groceries have seen across the board. 

Whether you’re worried about these potential shortages or not, it’s always a good idea to plan in advance. Toni Okamoto, founder and CEO of Plant-Based on a Budget, “I always start my planning and purchasing really early to avoid missing out on key ingredients. It’s inevitable that my local grocery store will run out of canned pumpkin, plant-based ‘turkeys,’ and cranberries, so when November 1st rolls around, I start to stock up.”

And if you simply can’t get your hands on the ingredients you need, everything is adaptable! “Thanksgiving planning can be pretty stressful, so I suggest you show yourself grace and try to have a flexible attitude,” Okamoto says. “If your store runs out of canned pumpkin, try making a sweet potato pie instead, if there are no cranberries, try using your same recipe with frozen raspberries instead. Try not to stress too much about creating a perfect dinner, and focus instead on gratitude and sharing a delicious meal with your loved ones.”

How to Save Money on Thanksgiving Essentials

Plan – and Budget – Before Grocery Shopping

“I start my Thanksgiving planning by figuring out what I want to cook from scratch, and what can save time and money by purchasing premade,” says Okamoto. 

The cost of pre-made side dishes can be higher than cooking your own from scratch; however, the opposite can also be true. It depends on prices at your local grocery store. So, take your time to do a little research and estimate the cost of ingredients versus a pre-made dish.

Your costs will likely vary, but Okamoto suggests keeping these particular dishes and foods in mind: “The list of what I found is usually cheaper and tastier to make from scratch includes: mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, and all the veggie dishes. Meanwhile, I opt for boxed vegetable stuffing that is usually a couple bucks and only calls [for] an onion, celery, and vegetable broth. Store-bought rolls cut down precious oven-space and you can commonly be found a dozen for under $5. And I’ve been loving the many accidentally vegan store-bought pies with premade coconut whipped cream.”

Shop Farmers Markets at the End of the Day

While it’s usually best to get to your fave farmers market right when it opens to get your pick of the fresh produce available, you don’t want to shop early if you’re looking for a deal.

“If you’re looking for high-quality ingredients at lower prices, go to your local farmers market an hour before closing time,” suggests Jesse Lane Lee, CNP and holistic nutritionist. “This is when farmers are starting to pack up and they are happy to unload whatever is left at a good price. Kale which was $3 a bundle is now only $1 because it’s more cost-effective for them to sell it rather than pack it up, drive it to the farm and store it.”

This can help you cut down on the cost of those vegetable side dishes – or vegetarian and vegan main dishes – with even bigger savings.

Cut Back on Meat (or Go Plant-Based)

Don’t be afraid to skip the turkey – and any other meat you might usually serve for the holidays. “You’ve probably heard that cutting down your meat intake will help lighten your grocery bill,” Okamoto explains. “Your holiday meals are no exception.”

Skipping a meat-based main dish can lead to significant savings, but you can also reduce your expenses by leaving meat out of your side dishes. Okamoto suggests swapping mushrooms for sausage in your usual gravy recipe, or forgoing beef in place of lentils in your stuffing. She also recommends stuffed acorn squash as an elegant main dish alternative to turkey or ham. 

Lee agrees. “I know, I know, turkey is supposed to be the star of the meal, but you can still have a wonderful Thanksgiving spread without it,” she says. “You can make mushroom gravy, oven-baked stuffing, and have fun with fancy sides like Brussels sprouts with sage brown butter, hot honey hasselback squash, and my Harvest Fall Salad.”

Host a Potluck Instead of Cooking Every Dish

Instead of purchasing all the ingredients and cooking every dish needed to complete your holiday spread, turn Thanksgiving into a potluck and make it a joint effort. When your budget is leaner, asking guests to bring a dish can dramatically reduce your costs and.

“Make the turkey, gravy, and stuffing, and delegate the rest!” Lee suggests. “Most people love to contribute to the meal. To make sure this is a success, assign dishes or courses to everyone attending so you don’t end up with three pumpkin pies and no side dishes.”

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