Let’s Talk Turkey: The Cost of Thanksgiving Dinner

How does your family celebrate Thanksgiving? Are you joined by friends and/or family for a special feast? What do you eat? Most American families celebrate Thanksgiving by cooking turkey. According to EatTurkey.com, approx. 88 percent of U.S. households eat turkey on Thanksgiving at an average weight of 16 lbs a turkey that adds up to 736 million pounds that will be eaten this Thanksgiving.


turkeyHow does your family celebrate Thanksgiving? Are you joined by friends and/or family for a special feast? What do you eat? Most American families celebrate Thanksgiving by cooking turkey. According to www.butterball.com, 90 percent of U.S. households eat turkey on Thanksgiving and 50 percent eat turkey on Christmas day.

Have you ever wondered what it costs to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, cranberries, and other goodies? The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) has conducted a Thanksgiving dinner price survey for each year since 1986. Surveyed shoppers are asked to report local costs of twelve basic items found on the dinner table on Thanksgiving day. Survey responses are used to determine the average cost of a Thanksgiving dinner prepared for 10 people.

See "Cost of Classic Thanksgiving Costing More in 2011 ."

View Interactive Activity

  1. According to AFBF, what was the average cost of Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people in 2011? [$49.20]
  2. How does this compare to the 2010 cost? [2010 cost was $43.47. The cost in 2011 was 13.2 percent higher than it was in 2010.]

Learning Objectives

  • Explain that a price index is used to measure the price level.
  • Explain that a change in a price index represents inflation or deflation.
  • Explain that an increase in the price level indicates inflation while a decrease in the price level is referred to as deflation.
  • Explain that a price index is constructed by comparing current prices of a market basket of items to the prices of the same market basket of items in some base year.
  • Inform students how to create their own price index.
  • Describe some of the events that can cause a change in prices of agricultural.

Resource List


 A Thanksgiving Market Basket

The twelve components of the survey can be thought of as a Thanksgiving market basket of items. This is similar to the procedure that is used in tabulating the monthly Consumer Price Index (CPI). The CPI measures the monthly change in the cost of a fixed market basket of items that is purchased by the typical urban household. The monthly cost of this market basket is compared to the cost of the same basket during a predetermined base year (this is the year in which the price index is usually set equal to 100 that is used to compare changes in economic variables). By comparing the current CPI to its base-year value, we can see how much the average price level has changed over time. We can also use two consecutive annual CPI measurements to determine the rate of inflation (an increase in the average price level) or deflation (a decrease in the average price level). [Note: The Thanksgiving market basket is an illustrative example of a price index. This index should not be confused with the CPI as the 'basket' is much smaller and thus much less representative.]


The years from 1982-84 are considered the base period in the construction of the CPI. That is, 1982-84 = 100 in calculating the CPI.

View Interactive Activity

  1. By what percentage have consumer prices (based on 2011 estimate) increased since the base period? [125.4 percent. This is simply the percentage increase in the current CPI from its base year value.]
  2. What was the annual rate of inflation for 2010? [1.6 percent]
  3. How is this calculated? [The percentage increase between the CPI in 2010 and the CPI in 2009.]

Return to "Classic Thanksgiving Dinner Costing More in 2011."

Note the market basket of items in the Thanksgiving Day dinner survey. In the following table, you will find the 12 items in the Thanksgiving market basket and their 2011 prices. Note that, unlike the CPI, the AFBF survey is not intended to be scientific. In addition, while items in the CPI market basket are weighted by their relative importance in household purchases, no such weighting scheme is employed here (although the largest cost item, turkey, does account for over 40 percent of the total cost of the Thanksgiving market basket).

The AFBF has tracked the average cost of the same basket of Thanksgiving dinner items since 1986. This allows us to make meaningful comparisons of the total costs reported in past surveys.

View Interactive Activity

  1. What was the cost of the Thanksgiving meal in 1986? [$28.74]
  2. How does this compare to the 2011 cost? [The 2011 cost was 71.8 percent higher.]
  3. How does the 2011 Thanksgiving dinner cost compare to its value one year earlier? [It was 13.2 percent higher.]




% Change from 

16-pound turkey


$17.66 [+3.91]
14-oz. package of cubed stuffing


$2.64 [+.24]
1 gallon of whole milk




3 lbs. of sweet potatoes


$3.19 [+.07]
12-oz. package of brown-and-serve rolls


$2.12 [+.18]
30-oz. can of pumpkin pie mix


$2.62 [+.41]
12-oz. package of fresh cranberries


$2.41 [+.07]
Package of 2 nine-inch pie shells


$2.46 [+.06]
16-oz. package of frozen green peas


$1.44 [+.24]
Combined group of miscellaneous items (including coffee and ingredients to prepare the meal)




1-pound relish tray (carrots and celery)

$0.76 $0.77 [-.01]

1/2 pint of Cream

$1.96 $1.70 [+.26]
Total cost of market basket


$43.47 [+5.73]


A Thanksgiving Price Index

A price index for a given year is calculated by comparing the cost of the market basket of items in the current year to its cost in the base year. Specifically, a current year price index can be calculated as:

(Current cost of market basket/Base year cost of market basket) x 100

Thus, the price index in the base year equals 100 since the current cost of the market basket must equal the base year cost since they are the same.

This allows us to compile a Thanksgiving price index using past information reported by AFBF. For example, if we use 1986 as the base year, then the Thanksgiving price index equals 100 in 1986 (calculated as {$28.74/$28.74}x100). In 1987, the price index declines to 85.3 (calculated as {$24.51/$28.74}x100).

Year Average Price  Year  Average Price
1986 $28.74 1999 $33.83
1987 $24.51 2000 $32.37
1988 $26.61 2001 $35.04
1989 $24.70 2002 $34.56
1990 $28.85 2003 $36.28
1991 $25.95 2004 $35.68
1992 $26.39 2005 $36.78
1993 $27.49 2006 $38.10
1994 $28.40 2007 $42.26
1995 $29.64 2008 $44.61
1996 $31.66 2009 $42.91
1997 $31.75 2010 $43.47
1998 $33.09 2011 $49.20

Using the information reported in "Classic Thanksgiving Dinner Costing More in 2011," compile a Thanksgiving price index[Note to teachers: You may wish to assign this as homework if you wish. You also may wish to make this a group activity. The correct answers are found in the table below.] (Round to One Decimal Place.)

Year Index Year  Index
1986 100 1999 117.7
1987 85.3 2000 112.6
1988 92.6 2001 121.9
1989 86 2002 120.3
1990 100.3 2003 126.2
1991 90.3 2004 124.1
1992 91.8 2005 128
1993 95.7 2006 132.6
1994 98.8 2007 147
1995 103.1 2008 155.2
1996 110.2 2009 149
1997 110.5 2010 151.3
1998 115 2011 171.2


The price system in a market economy is subject to constant changes in information about the relative values of goods and services. Changes in prices are a reflection of new information being digested by the market about the supply and demand for goods. The goal of calculating inflation is to determine whether or not the changes in price are real or nominal phenomena. Given the fact that the supply of money and credit typically expanding, one can assume that over time prices will rise at some rate. However, the rate of increase is not given and can usually only be determined after the fact. By calculating the rate of inflation, individuals can determine whether or not the price increases or decreases are subject to the forces of supply and demand or if they are caused by a loss or gain in purchasing power of a currency. 

Extension Activity

Calculating the Cost of the Thanksgiving Market in your Home Town

Print out a copy of the table of the Thanksgiving market basket of items in 2010 and 2011 that is found earlier in this EconomicsMinute. Your teacher will split you into groups of four or five people. Your group's project is to go to a local supermarket and collect information on the current market prices of the items in the Thanksgiving market basket. (Teachers: If there are a number of supermarkets in your region, assign a different supermarket to each group.) In collecting prices for the items, select the best in-store price that you can find. Avoid using coupon specials to keep this as simple as possible. Note that the price of miscellaneous items has been calculated for you (it is assumed to have remained unchanged) in order to avoid confusion in replicating the AFBF survey.

When you have collected all of the necessary information to complete the table, calculate the total cost of the market basket. Use this information to calculate the local 2011 Thanksgiving price index (assume that 1986 is the base year and the cost of the market basket was $28.74 in that year). You can now determine what the percentage change in the cost of the Thanksgiving dinner for 10 is this year by comparing it to the 2010 Thanksgiving price index! As Thanksgiving day approaches, check the news releases by the American Farm Bureau Federation  to see how the cost of your local Thanksgiving market basket compares to that reported in the AFBF's annual survey.

Teachers: Possible Extension Activity. Once your students have calculated the cost of the local Thanksgiving market basket, have each group write a news release similar to that of the AFBF release. Choose the best news release and send it to your local paper.


Compare CONSUMER PRICE INDEX, 1913-  to your Thanksgiving price index.

The Thanksgiving price index helps you see that the average cost of Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people has increased by 71.2 percent since 1986. You can also see that there have been many years in which the overall price index has declined (note that this represents "deflation" in the Thanksgiving dinner market). Comparing the Thanksgiving price index to the CPI over the period 1986-2011 leads us to some interesting observations.

View Interactive Activity

  1. Have overall consumer prices increased by more or less than Thanksgiving dinner prices? [More. The increase in the CPI over the 1986-2011 period was 106.5 percent. Calculated as ({[226.3 – 109.6]/109.6}x100). This compares to a 71.2 percent increase in the Thanksgiving price index.]
  2. In general, which of the two price indexes has been more variable over the 1986-2011 period? [The Thanksgiving price index. While the CPI has increased every year with the exception of 2009 in a range between -0.3% and 5.4%, the Thanksgiving price index has fluctuated in a range of -10.1% and 16.8%. Teachers: You may wish to ask students to calculate the percentage change in the Thanksgiving price index for each of the years in the sample. The price index declined by 10.1% in 1991 and increased by 16.6% in 1990.]
  3. How might you explain that the Thanksgiving price index has been characterized by more variability than the CPI over the 1986-2011 period? [There may be a number of explanations, but one would certainly be that the Thanksgiving price index places a considerably larger weight on agricultural items than the CPI. Food prices are typically much more volatile than non-food prices because changes in local, regional, national, and global events have a relatively large impact on the agricultural sector. Changes in weather, growing conditions, export-import markets, technology, government policies, etc. can have particularly dramatic effects on the agricultural markets. Teachers may ask students to brainstorm about some market events that may cause changes in observed prices in the Thanksgiving price index. Teachers may also note why these changes will not have as large a percentage impact on the CPI.]