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The Hidden Costs Of Thanksgiving Dinner

Alexandra Kerr

With the skyrocketing price of corn, organic produce and specialty turkeys, your Thanksgiving dinner may become the priciest meal you eat all year. If you're planning to host this season's feast, be prepared for a variety of items to cost more than you remember.

The Problem with Corn
The USDA reported the average cost per bushel of corn in 2012 to 2013 would increase by $1.20 or more, bringing it over the six dollar mark. Why the increase? Combined with crop-damaging weather and supplies diverted to feed livestock, our quantity of edible, available corn has been reduced due to the rise in popularity of ethanol, a fuel made from corn. How will this impact your Thanksgiving dinner? Expect to pay more for this harvest staple in its original form, as well as in any product made from corn. Some common grocery items using corn include:

  • snack foods

While it might be hard to imagine Thanksgiving dinner without corn, keep this pricey veggie (and products made from it) to a minimum for a small reduction in your grocery bill.

Designer Turkeys
As the star of Thanksgiving dinner, a bad turkey can ruin your night. Do you really need to spend $120 or more on boutique birds? While heritage turkeys are becoming the go-to choice for a tasty and trendy dinner, they're also a great way to spend your entire budget on a single item. Known for their near 50/50 ratio of white to dark meat, heritage turkeys are prized for their centuries-old bloodlines and distinctly gamey flavor (your average supermarket turkey has been bred to produce predominantly white meat). Do you prefer white meat? If you do, then heritage turkeys likely aren't worth the money. If you do like dark meat but can't afford the $7+ per pound price tag, consider buying two or more small, traditional-brand turkeys at around $1.50 per pound and slow roasting them. More turkeys mean more dark meat, and a slow roast method will help preserve juiciness.

Organic Side Dishes Will Cost You
As if the price increase of corn wasn't enough, other vegetables are likely to cost you more this year as well. While organic produce is always a great choice when it comes to your health, it's also an easy way to spend $50 or more on Thanksgiving produce alone. Instead of shelling out the extra cash or skipping your fruits and veggies altogether, check out which produce is worth the higher organic price.

The Dirty Dozen
These 12 fruits and vegetables feature the highest levels of pesticides, making pricier organic options actually worth the money:

  • Apples

The Clean 15
By contrast, these fruits and vegetables tend to have the lowest amount of pesticides on them, making it safer to buy them as non-organic at a lower price. Consider frozen or canned options for an even bigger price drop:

  • Onions

Carefully selecting which fruits and vegetables are worth the higher costs can make a pretty big impact on your Thanksgiving grocery bill. If you're truly concerned with pesticides, then set aside a healthy chunk of your dinner budget for fresh, organic produce. Otherwise, stick to traditional frozen and canned versions of your favorite fruits and vegetables to see significant savings.

More Money-Saving Tips for Thanksgiving Dinner

  • Provide ice cream with pies. It costs less, and will help fill up most guests before they want another slice!

The Bottom Line
Expect to pay more for corn and products made with it, as well as any organic fruits and vegetables included in your holiday meal. Need big savings on your Thanksgiving dinner costs? Skip Heritage Turkeys and you'll likely save up to $100. Your average supermarket turkey won't have as much dark meat, but several smaller birds from your local store can easily be slow-cooked, providing plenty of delicious dark meat. Supplement pricey pies with cheaper sweets and invest in a few faux pumpkins and garlands to reuse year after year.

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