Frugal Feast: Pre-Made Thanksgiving Dinner vs. Home-Cooked

Written By Scott Kessman
Last updated November 3, 2021

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Money Saving Tips
November 3, 2021

Simple. Thrifty. Living.

Meal kits have become a popular dinner option for many who don’t want to take the time to cook their own meals from scratch. Meal kits can be ordered from a service or purchased in the supermarket. They are designed to save you time, you don’t have to go to the store to shop for ingredients, and money, since you don’t have to purchase extra amounts of ingredients you don’t really need. With the wide availability of meal kits in the marketplace, many are wondering if they could also purchase a pre-made Thanksgiving dinner this holiday season. Thanksgiving dinner can often be a costly expense, especially for large families or those entertaining family and guests from out of town. Many restaurants, fast-food chains, and supermarkets have always offered options for pre-made Thanksgiving dinners. But are they really less expensive than making your own Thanksgiving feast?

Consider a basic Thanksgiving dinner. It typically comprises the turkey, of course, but also a multitude of sides. Sides normally include stuffing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and pumpkin or pecan pie for dessert. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, it costs approximately $47.00 on average to feed 10 people on Thanksgiving. The largest expense is the turkey, and the sides are all relatively inexpensive. Of course, this cost can increase based on how much you typically like to present for your Thanksgiving meal, as well as the type of turkey and ingredients you purchase.

Comparatively, consider the following prices for pre-made Thanksgiving dinners:

  • Boston Market, a popular choice for pre-made Thanksgiving dinners, offers a similar traditional menu for $90 to 120, but this only feeds four to six people.
  • Cracker Barrel, another strong option, also offers a pre-made option that serves four to six for $69.99.
  • Even Whole Foods offers a surprisingly inexpensive pre-made dinner, considering most of their prices are much higher than average. Their pre-made Thanksgiving dinner costs $69.99. But, it only feeds four.

Mid-range and lower-cost supermarkets typically offer better value than restaurants and fast-food chains for pre-made Thanksgiving dinners. For example, Kroger offers one meal option for $60 that feeds six to eight people. Safeway is even cheaper, with a price of $49.99. Their meal includes turkey breast, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and rolls. Other inexpensive supermarket options offering a similar menu at comparative prices include Food City, Albertsons, Sprouts and Fry’s.

Comparison Shopping

Compare the pre-made Thanksgiving dinners at the supermarkets in your area. Besides the prices, be sure to compare how many people each meal feeds, and what the dinner contains. Selections will vary from store to store. Some supermarkets also offer more than one dinner option, allowing you to select a meal for more or fewer people. It’s also important to keep in mind that some items may still require cooking time at home, not just heating up. If your goal is to avoid cooking altogether, you’ll want to consider that before making a selection.

Of course, you don’t have to bring home a pre-made Thanksgiving dinner. You can also opt to dine out. Many restaurants offer Thanksgiving dinner meals, such as Bob Evans, Cracker Barrel, and Denny’s. Prices range from $10 to $20 a person, not including drinks and tipping. If you want the meal from one of these or other restaurants but would prefer to enjoy it at home, you can always get it to go. Doing so saves you money on drinks and tipping. And, the food is already fully cooked, so you just need to reheat it.

As you can see from the many pre-made Thanksgiving dinner options above, a home-cooked meal for a group of six to 10 can still be cheaper than most of the pre-made options. But, a home-cooked meal also means a lot more time spent shopping for food, prepping it and cooking in the kitchen. Consider these tips to save both time and money on your home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner.

Look for Turkey Sales

The turkey is always the most expensive part of the meal. Many supermarkets offer sales on turkeys before the holiday, so keep your eye out. Frozen turkeys are typically cheaper than fresh turkeys. You can also save money by purchasing just a turkey breast, as opposed to the whole turkey. But someone will have to give up on the enjoyment of biting down into those delicious wings and drumsticks! If you’re only cooking for a small group, such as three or four people, you might even be better off purchasing a large chicken or even a ham as opposed to a turkey. You’ll save a lot of money, and you won’t be stuck with a huge amount of turkey leftovers. Of course, if you have lots of plans for those leftovers, getting the turkey actually makes better use of your food budget.

Look for Inexpensive Alternatives

Purchasing all the ingredients for a pumpkin pie can cost about $10. But you can usually find pre-made pumpkin pies for sale at many supermarkets for much cheaper. Other items, however, such as mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and stuffing, are cheaper to make on your own. Look for ingredients that are on sale and use coupons or store cards to increase your savings. You can also buy canned or frozen ingredients, which are usually significantly less expensive than fresh ingredients.

Delegate Dish Preparation

You don’t need to make all the food yourself. Ask others to contribute a dish to the Thanksgiving dinner. This not only relieves you of some of the burden in the kitchen, but of some of the cost as well. And, it’s pretty likely that everyone has a favorite holiday recipe they’d like to make and share.

Don’t Get What You Don’t Need

How many side dishes do you usually prepare just because they are a traditional part of Thanksgiving? Does anyone really want green bean casserole? Do you really need two or three types of pies for dessert? Don’t be afraid to eliminate a side dish or dessert if it isn’t something anyone is really craving. Because then not only are you just wasting money by making the dish, you’re also wasting food when you throw it out the next day.

About the Author

Scott Kessman

I possess a strong 20-year background in marketing, digital marketing, and advertising. However, writing has always been a true passion of mine, and after working in corporate offices for many years, I turned my passion for writing into a full-time job. As a contract content writer for the last 12 years, I can craft engaging and informative content about a wide variety of subjects. I have also written and published two fantasy novels and a collection of short stories.

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