Thanksgiving foods may cost less in Columbia than nation

Thursday, November 20, 2008 | 4:13 p.m. CST; updated 9:26 p.m. CST, Thursday, November 20, 2008

COLUMBIA — Whether it's the expansive poinsettia displays at Hy-Vee or the traditional Thanksgiving foods at each end of the aisles at Wal-Mart, the holidays are on full display in Columbia's grocery stores.

For some, the holidays can cause extra stress and financial frustrations, especially in the struggling economy. But despite economic hardship around the world, families can be thankful for affordable Thanksgiving food.

While retail food prices have risen 10.5 percent since this time last year — largely due to high energy prices — the cost of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner has only risen about 5.6 percent, according to informal surveys from the American Farm Bureau Federation.

During its annual national survey, the Farm Bureau estimated that the cost of a meal for 10 people including a 16-pound turkey, boxed stuffing, sweet potatoes, green beans, buttered rolls, fresh cranberries, a celery and carrots relish tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream and coffee and milk can cost as little as $44.61, up from $42.26 last year.

At about $4.46 per person, Farm Bureau economist Jim Sartwelle points out the cost is cheaper than a value meal at a fast-food outlet. In 1988, that same meal cost $26.61, but accounting for inflation, the price has actually declined 8 percent since then.

The specific amounts of each item on the $44.61 budget gives each person 1.6 pounds of turkey, 4.8 ounces of sweet potatoes, 1.6 ounces of green beans, less than one roll and 3 ounces of pumpkin pie.

That may be less than the average person eats on Thanksgiving, but some Columbia shoppers thought the budget was reasonable.

Gayla Hauck, who spent about $35 at Hy-Vee to feed her family of five, said, "I have enough to feed that many people already."

Marilyn Kuhn, who was shopping at Wal-Mart with her husband, William, and spent $25 on turkey and potato supplies, also said she thought it was reasonable but that it was necessary to stick to the staple items.

"Turkey's cheap. Potatoes are cheap. Gravy can be homemade. Just add a couple of vegetables. That's the way we eat," Kuhn said.

The Kuhns will be meeting their family in Glennonville in southeast Missouri this Thanksgiving, and to help offset costs, each of the 12 guests will be bringing a dish.

Also helping area shoppers is the fact that prices at Columbia grocery stores are cheaper for most items than the Farm Bureau found in its national survey. While the survey estimates that turkey costs about $1.19 per pound, a 9-cent increase from last year, stores in Columbia have frozen turkeys for as little as 88 cents per pound.

Other Thanksgiving staples are also cheaper. At one store, fresh sweet potatoes were 33 cents per pound, compared to $1.04 per pound found in the survey, and green beans cost 49 cents per pound in another store, as opposed to $1.58 per pound in the survey.

With these prices, Kuhn said she did not feel the need to cut back this year.

"At the time when gas was expensive, we cut back on that," Kuhn said, "But we won't cut back on food."

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